An iconic symbol of autumn abundance, chrysanthemum flowers are emblematic of the seasonal shift from the warmth of summer to the chill of fall. Celebrated for centuries as an herbal ally, these vibrant mums have deep significance in various cultural and medicinal traditions across the globe. While most flowers wither when summer fades away, chrysanthemums burst into full bloom, displaying a brilliant array of colors—from orange, yellow, bronze, and red to white, pink, and violet hues. This renowned botanic treasure has a unique heritage that highlights its versatile health benefits that echo throughout the season.
The Queen of Fall Flowers
Chrysanthemum was introduced to America long after its native rise to fame in China. The resilience, elegance, and metaphoric nature of this mighty flower is reflected in all shapes and sizes, expressed in the 20,000 cultivars found worldwide. As a member of the daisy family, chrysanthemums have noble stature in Eastern traditions—signifying good fortune, happiness, integrity, wealth, and longevity. Distinguished as one of the legendary “four gentlemen” of flowers alongside orchids, bamboo, and plum blossoms, they are a longstanding societal metaphor for human virtues. Recognized as Ju Hua in Chinese medicine, the chrysanthemum name was derived from the Greek words chrysos (gold) and anthemion (flower) in the seventeenth century. Rising in popularity within the United States since the colonial era, mums were first cultivated in ancient Chinese civilization beginning in 1500 BC.
Revered as a culinary ingredient, beverage, and curative medicine for numerous diseases, the roots, leaves, and petals of the chrysanthemum plant were pivotal to the health and heritage of the Far East. The oldest surviving Chinese herbal text, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (commonly translated as The Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica), cites the medicinal use of chrysanthemum over 2,000 years ago.
Adored by the foremost landscape poet and recluse, Tao Yuanming, it became an important artistic and literary motif, representing the “hermit” within the floral realm. Around the eighth century AD, this blossoming beauty appeared in Japan, where it was soon adopted as the official Imperial Seal by the Emperor and members of the royal family. Chrysanthemum, or kiku in Japanese, is also associated with notable seasonal festivals, including Kiku no Sekku (National Chrysanthemum Day), and the Chinese Double Ninth Festival, where it is customary to savor mum wine, liquors, and colorful pastry cakes.
Believed to hold the power of life, the healing properties of this incomparable flower have prospered to modern times. With a high concentration of antioxidants, chrysanthemum contains a plethora of beneficial flavonoids, amino acids, and essential oils found in the petals, in addition to choline, betaine, and vitamins A, C, and B1. To date, more than 190 phytochemicals have been identified in their nutritional composition.
Due to the high mineral content of calcium and magnesium, it increases bone density, making it a strong preventative for osteoporosis. Enhanced immune function, detoxification, improvement of the cardiovascular system, eye health, and radiant skin, are just a few of the innumerable advantages. As an anti-inflammatory, chrysanthemum offers protection from chronic disease, fighting free radicals while neutralizing harmful pathogens in the body. Stress relief is yet another boon, as well as increased metabolic rate to support weight loss, next to the treatment of cough and cold.
The impressive medicinal attributes of chrysanthemum are emphasized even further in the long-lived knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine. Defined as a cold herb, it has bitter and pungent properties that clear away heat and detoxify the body, acting primarily through the lung and liver meridians. In ancient society, boiled roots were used to cure headaches, whereas young sprouts and petals were consumed in a salad to promote longevity. Likewise, it became a superior antidote for malaria and brewed leaves made wholesome holiday drinks. Currently declared a functional food by the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China, chrysanthemum is a key ingredient in multiple Chinese medicine formulations. Often utilized for inflammation, hypertension, vision impairment, and upper respiratory disorders, it is a reputed tonic for treating the onset of disease related to the eyes, ears, lungs, nose, throat, or skin.
Sweet and Healthy
With a slightly sweet and subtle aroma, brewed chrysanthemum tea is a simple, satisfying way to receive the nurturance of this holistic remedy. Compared to the gentle taste of chamomile, it has a soothing character that is naturally caffeine-free. Pure blooms are generally paired with complementary roots, stems, leaves, thorns, berries, fruits, and other blossoms in a host of elixirs to reap the complete restorative power. According to Chinese medicine, chrysanthemum petal color corresponds to a parallel physiological function. Bright yellow buds are for cold and flu-like ailments such as fever, headache, chills, and sore throat, while white is reserved for treating red, swollen eyes, and visual acuity. Sip a cup of chrysanthemum goji tea to rejuvenate the senses and indulge in a classic recipe for headache relief, tinnitus, and betterment of eyesight.
Tea Time Remedy
8 ounces water (approximately one cup of tea)
3 – 6 whole chrysanthemum flower buds
1 teaspoon goji berries
½ teaspoon honey to taste (optional)
- Place chrysanthemum flowers and goji berries into your teapot, strainer, or chosen brewing container.
- Bring water to a boil, and then let it cool to about 100º F.
- Pour cooled water over the flower and berry mixture, cover to steep.
- Allow 3 – 5 minutes to brew, until water becomes a yellow hue.
- Strain and remove the mixture remnants. Take a deep breath and enjoy.
Tea Time Snippets:
*Eat the soaked herbal goji berries as a sweet nutritional treat.
*Add more flower buds or increase brewing period for a stronger, pungent taste.
Such wide practical applications make mums one of the most favored and economically vital crops on an international scale—ranking a close second to the ever-immortal rose. In evolutionary plant terms, it is acclaimed as an advanced botanical family due to the complex flower structure. A floricultural leader in genetic diversity, chrysanths (another familiar name) have seemingly countless classifications, such as the pompon, windmill, pine needle, curve, and anemone types. They flourish in plenty of sunlight under a range of ecological settings from grasslands to thickets, saline areas by the seashore, and wet soils near rivers and fields. Identified as photoperiodic—blooming in response to shorter days and longer nights—mums are a choice cultivar among floral designers, outlasting other varieties in freshness, proportion, kaleidoscopic color, and aesthetic taste. Universal and beautiful, it’s no surprise these magical flowers have endured throughout the ages.
From historic Chinese roots to worldwide botanical evolution, the autumnal chrysanthemum flower is a treasure for all seasons. Spanning generations as a cultural, political, artistic, and medicinal icons, it remains an unparalleled panacea with infinite connotations. A golden mum legacy, gracing garden beds and herbal apothecaries, will continue to bloom and flourish for centuries to come.
Optional Poetry Verse Addition:
“Picking chrysanthemums by the eastern fence, I saw the mountains in the south emerging from the misty distance.” This verse is from Tao Yuanming, the revered Chinese poet cited in the piece above.
A Note for New York Locals
The annual chrysanthemum show, hosted by the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, is on display through November 1. This year’s theme “Spotlight on Kiku,” is an incredible opportunity to experience the magnificence and charm of chrysanthemum in the depth of autumn. Pre-registration is required. 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10458. (718) 817-8700.