Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is an easy to grow - weedy, even - adaptogen native to China, Korea, and Japan, historically used primarily in Southern China where it was a folk remedy for fatigue, to increase endurance, balance the immune system and enhance longevity. In the 1960’s and ’70’s, researchers (who were looking for plant based sweeteners) discovered that several of jiaogulan’s triterpenoid saponins were identical to those found in Asian Ginseng. Since then, studies have confirmed that jiaogulan does in fact enhance immune system function and has significant antioxidant activity.
Jiaogulan in Growth & Commerce
Whereas many adaptogens are extremely slow growing or difficult to grow, jiaogulan is a fast growing perennial and because the leaves are used, instead of the root, it grows back readily, year after year. We don’t see Jiaogulan being used extensively in commercial products and rarely see it mentioned in publications or educational material. There’s even a classicism surrounding it - “poor man’s ginseng” is a common name. Perhaps it is precisely because it is so easy to grow? It is a member of the Cucurbit family after all (like cucumber, squash, and melon)!
We love to prioritize using plants that have these qualities because commercial use of slow-growing, native plants can place immense pressure on plant populations and many plants valued by the botanical industry are threatened by over-harvest (e.g. American Ginseng, ramps, and white sage). If this is exciting to you and want to try your hand at growing it, I suggest you plant it in a place where it can spread without taking over, surrounded by a lawn or in a container - it can veer on the edge of invasive!