Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is a plant that grows wild in China and other countries in Asia. It belongs to the genus Gynostemma, in the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes cucumbers, gourds and melons. It is a climbing vine, attaching itself to supports using tendrils. The plant is dioecious, existing either as male or female. Therefore, if seeds are desired, both male and female plants must be grown. Jiaogulan is non-toxic. In China, it has been used for many years as a medicinal and energising tea.
In the 1970s, Japanese scientists began discovering Jiaogulan’s therapeutic qualities. What they found was a herb similar to ginseng, but in some ways superior. They found Jiaogulan to function as both an adaptogen and as an antioxidant, containing many health-giving saponins, as well as trace minerals, amino acids, proteins, and vitamins.
Jiaogulan contains a large quantity of saponins (gypenosides), whose structure is similar to the panaxosides found in ginseng, but there are four times as many in Jiaogulan. This translates into a more powerful regulatory effect on a number of bodily systems – like blood pressure, digestive system, immune system, mental function and more. Jiaogulan has anti-inflammatory activity through many of these saponins.
Research in China has shown that Jiaogulan lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) while raising HDL (good cholesterol). It also reduces blood fat levels. Whilst helping to rectify high blood cholesterol and obesity, Jiaogulan can also improve digestion, allowing an underweight person to increase absorption of nutrients and gain weight in the form of lean body mass. This regulatory effect on body function is the hallmark of an adaptogen.
A study at Guiyang Medical College in China has shown that Jiaogulan increased strength and endurance, which makes it the perfect herb for anyone wishing to improve their athletic performance.
The adaptogenic function of Jiaogulan is demonstrated by its biphasic effect on brain function, which energise or calm depending upon the body’s need. Jiaogulan regulates hormonal function, playing a major role in the body’s ability to cope with stress. In particular, it has been shown to help the body resist depression of the immune system.
Improper diet, illness, stress, substance abuse and pollution are some of the many conditions that cause a proliferation of the free radicals that lead to illness. Jiaogulan has been found to increase superoxide dismutase (SOD), which is a powerful endogenous cellular antioxidant. Studies have found it increases the activities of macrophages, T-lymphocytes and natural killer cells, and that it acts as a tumour inhibitor.
In southern China, Jiaogulan is praised as the ‘Herb of Immortality’, due to its many health giving qualities and anti-aging effects.
You can buy Jiaogulan tea or capsules, or you can always grow your own. Advice on Brewing Jiaogulan Tea
Alternatively, you can make some Jiaogulan Vodka. Place 1 part of Jiaogulan leaves in a glass jar with a tight lid, and cover with 5 parts of vodka. Shake well and store in a cool, dark place. Shake the bottle once or twice a day for 30 days. Formation of small bubbles is indicative of saponins / gypenosides – the active ingredients within the herb. Alcohol extracts these from the Jiaogulan, and helps to get them into the body as quickly as possible. Strain and squeeze the leaves to remove all the vodka. Discard the leaves and store the vodka in a cool, dark place. It will keep for many years.