How to Grow Jiaogulan, the “Immortality Herb”

Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is a climbing vine native to parts of Asia known as the “immortality herb” for its many health benefits and adaptogenic properties. This hardy plant is relatively easy to grow both outdoors and indoors, making it an excellent choice for beginner gardeners. With its pretty leaves and vining growth habit, jiaogulan can be an attractive addition to gardens, containers, and vertical wall gardens.

Growing Conditions for Jiaogulan

While native to parts of Asia, jiaogulan is a versatile plant that can be grown in many climate zones given the right conditions. Here are the optimal growing requirements for this herb:

Light

Jiaogulan thrives in partial sunlight or dappled shade. It can tolerate full sun, especially in cooler northern climates, but too much hot afternoon sunlight can scorch the leaves. Sheltered locations that receive morning sun and afternoon shade are ideal. The vines tolerate partial shade but may become leggy and less vigorous in too much shade.

Indoors, place jiaogulan near an east or west facing window where it will receive a few hours of filtered sunlight each day without getting too hot. A south window may be too intense unless shaded. Rotate the pot regularly so all sides get even light exposure.

Soil

Jiaogulan isn’t too fussy about soil as long as it drains well and doesn’t get waterlogged. The vines will grow in most fertile garden soils with a neutral pH. Amend clay soils with compost or peat moss to improve drainage.

For potted jiaogulan, use a good quality potting mix made for containers and indoor plants. You can also make your own mix using equal parts peat moss or coco coir, perlite or vermiculite, and compost. This will provide the drainage and moisture retention jiaogulan needs when grown in pots.

Regardless of soil type, it should be kept evenly moist but not soggy wet. Allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out between waterings.

Temperature

Jiaogulan is hardy enough to withstand light frosts but grows best in warm weather between 60-90°F (15-32°C). Temperatures down to 50°F (10°C) are tolerated, especially when grown indoors.

In cold winter climates, bring potted jiaogulan plants inside before the first frost. It can be grown as a year-round houseplant in indoor conditions. Move it back outside once overnight temperatures are reliably above 50°F.

The vines may lose some of their leaves in cold weather but the roots survive winter dormancy. New growth will return each spring.

Water

Consistent moisture is key but jiaogulan does not like soggy, wet soil. Water potted plants and garden plants regularly to keep the soil moist but not saturated. Allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out slightly between waterings before soaking thoroughly again.

Water requirements will vary based on climate, season, and whether grown indoors or outdoors. Outdoor plants need more frequent watering during hot, dry spells and less in cool or rainy weather. Indoor plants may need watered weekly while outdoor plants may need water every few days during summer.

Reduce watering in winter but don’t allow potted plants to completely dry out while dormant. The roots still need some moisture.

Well-draining soil and containers with drainage holes help prevent wet feet. Allow excess water to drain away after watering.

Fertilizer

Like most plants, jiaogulan benefits from monthly feedings during the active growing season with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. Fertilize outdoor vines monthly in spring and summer. Reduce or stop fertilizing in winter when growth slows.

For indoor plants, feed every 2-4 weeks from spring through fall and once a month in winter at half strength. Organic foliar sprays made from compost tea, fish emulsion, or seaweed extract also provide micronutrients.

In very fertile garden soil, additional fertilizer may not be necessary. But container plants have a greater need for regular feeding.

How to Propagate Jiaogulan

One of the easiest ways to get started growing jiaogulan is to purchase young starter plants from a nursery. But jiaogulan is also simple to propagate from seeds, cuttings, division, or layering.

Starting from Seeds

Growing jiaogulan from seed is a great option. Sow fresh seeds indoors in pots 8-10 weeks before the last expected frost.

Fill containers with seed starting mix. Sow 2-3 seeds in each pot. Lightly cover with 1⁄4 inch of soil. Water gently to moisten the soil without displacing the seeds.

Place pots in a warm spot with 70°F (21°C) temperature. Cover pots with plastic wrap or place in a seedling heat mat to maintain even moisture and warmth.

Seeds should germinate in 1-2 weeks. Remove the plastic once sprouts emerge. Thin seedlings to one plant per pot once 2-3 inches tall.

Harden off young plants before transplanting them into the garden after the last frost. Gradually expose to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days. Transplant when seedlings have 3-4 mature leaves.

Propagating from Cuttings

Taking cuttings from mature jiaogulan plants is fast and easy. Cut 4-6 inch long tip cuttings from the end of a stem. Choose healthy stems that are not flowering.

Remove the lower leaves from each cutting, leaving just a few leaves at the top. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder to stimulate root growth.

Plant cuttings in pots filled with propagating mix or a 50/50 blend of potting soil and perlite. Insert the cut end into the soil.

Keep the potting mix warm and consistently moist. Cover pots with plastic to maintain humidity and warmth. Rooting will occur in several weeks.

Once new leaves emerge and roots are filling out, transplant into larger containers or garden beds. Pinch off any flowers the first year to promote leafy growth.

Dividing Established Plants

Mature, overgrown jiaogulan plants can be divided to make new plants. Carefully dig up the entire plant and root ball with a garden fork. Shake off excess soil.

Use two forks inserted into the root ball to gently pry and separate sections so each division has some roots and stems. Replant divisions immediately into prepared garden beds or pots.

Water well and allow divisions to establish for a few weeks before resuming harvest. Dividing every few years revitalizes growth.

Layering Vines

Jiaogulan’s vining stems can be layered while still attached to the parent plant. Choose a long stem and remove any flowers or leaves from a section in the middle.

Make a shallow 1-2 inch trench in the soil. Pin that section of the vine into the trench using a U-shaped piece of wire or stone. Cover over the section with soil.

Leaves and new roots will eventually sprout along the buried section of stem. Once well rooted, use pruners to sever that new plant from the parent and transplant.

Caring for Jiaogulan Vines

Caring for established jiaogulan mainly involves providing proper support for the vining stems, occasional pruning, and consistent moisture. Here are some tips for ongoing care:

  • Provide Support – Install plant supports like trellises, poles, nets, or wires near your jiaogulan vines. You can also grow them up a wall or fence. The twining stems need something sturdy to climb up vertically.
  • Pinch Back Vines – To encourage bushier growth, pinch off the growing tip of each vine stem once it reaches desired length. This causes two new stems to grow from below the cut.
  • Harvest Leaves – Harvest jiaogulan leaves as needed once the vines are established. Only take 1/3 of the leaves from each plant at a time to avoid stressing them. The vines are prolific producers.
  • Bring Indoors – In cold climates, dig up plants and repot into containers to overwinter indoors. Move them outside again after the last spring frost.
  • Watch for Pests – Check regularly for aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, and other common plant pests. Gently hose off with water first. Use neem oil or insecticidal soap if infestations persist.

With proper care, jiaogulan vines can produce abundantly for 4-6 years or longer. Trim them back periodically to control size. Dividing overgrown plants periodically helps maintain vigor.

Using Jiaogulan Herb

Jiaogulan has become popular because of its many purported health benefits. The leaves contain antioxidants called gypenosides believed to have adaptogenic properties to help the body adapt to stress.

Jiaogulan has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries as a whole body tonic and to support cardiovascular health, mood, digestion, immune function, and more.

While more research is still needed, initial studies are promising and support what traditional herbalists have known for ages. Some key ways to use this herb:

Brew Tea – Pour boiling water over fresh leaves to extract their beneficial compounds into a tea. Dried leaves can also be used. Sweeten with honey if desired.

Eat Fresh – Add young leaves raw to salads, smoothies, juices, and soups. The fresh leaves have a pleasant, slightly sweet taste akin to spinach.

Cook – Sauté older leaves lightly like spinach or add to stir fries and other cooked dishes. Cooking reduces potency so use only fresh leaves if maximum benefits are desired.

Tincture – Take as a liquid extract or tincture using leaves soaked for weeks in vodka or other alcohol. Shake well before using.

Start with small amounts of this potent herb to assess effects before increasing dosage. Avoid excessive use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Growing Jiaogulan Indoors

The hardy jiaogulan plant adapts well to indoor conditions, making it a great houseplant. With proper care, vines grown indoors can yield leaves year-round for regular harvest. Follow these indoor growing tips:

Soil – Use a quality potting mix, not garden soil which is too dense. Or make your own indoor soil blend. Provide drainage holes in containers.

Light – Place in an east or west window for a few hours of gentle sun each day. Avoid hot direct southern exposure. Rotate the pot to prevent leaning toward light.

Water – Allow soil to dry out slightly between waterings. Check by sticking a finger in the top inch. Be careful not to overwater.

Humidity – Mist leaves occasionally to boost humidity around the plant. Use a pebble tray or humidifier to raise humidity levels.

Fertilizer – Feed every 2-4 weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted by half during spring through fall. Reduce feeding in winter.

Support – Install plant stakes, trellises or nets for the vines to climb up inside. Keep vines trimmed back to fit your space.

Pests – Check regularly for common houseplant pests like aphids, mealybugs, mites, and scale. Wipe leaves with neem oil or insecticidal soap solution to control.

Temperature – Maintain temperatures above 50°F (10°C). Cooler temperatures may cause leaves to drop but vines will regrow when warmth returns.

Bring outdoor potted plants inside before first frost. Jiaogulan can be grown as a houseplant year-round with proper care to provide fresh leaves anytime.

Is Jiaogulan Easy to Grow?

For beginning herb gardeners, jiaogulan is one of the easiest adaptogenic herbs to grow. Reasons why this plant is so trouble-free:

  • Thrives in partial shade so doesn’t need full sun
  • Tolerates a wide range of temperatures and climate conditions
  • Adapts well to container gardening and indoor growing
  • Not particularly fussy about soil as long as it drains well
  • Very low maintenance once established
  • Regrows vigorously each spring
  • Produces lots of leaves so doesn’t need frequent harvests
  • Quickly propagates from seeds, cuttings, division or layering
  • Resilient against most pests and diseases
  • Vining growth habit is attractive in gardens or containers

The hardest part is finding young jiaogulan plants to buy locally. Seeds and starter plants are readily available from online nurseries that specialize in Asian herbs and vegetables.

While jiaogulan takes a season or two to become fully established, once mature the plants are quite maintenance free and productive. The vines basically take care of themselves as long as their basic needs are met.

Jiaogulan’s easygoing nature and medicinal benefits make it a great choice for rookie herb growers. Even experienced gardeners appreciate hardy, carefree plants like this.

Growing Jiaogulan in Containers

The vining nature of jiaogulan makes it well suited to container gardening. Pots and planters allow the vines to spill attractively over the sides. Jiaogulan grown in containers can be moved indoors and outdoors as needed.

Follow these tips for successfully growing jiaogulan in pots:

  • Use a large pot – Minimum 10-12 inches wide but bigger is better to hold the vining spread.
  • Perfect drainage – Be sure container has holes and tray to prevent waterlogged soil.
  • Potting soil – Use a mix formulated for containers, not regular garden soil which compacts.
  • Fertilize often – Container plants have greater need for regular feeding.
  • Support vines – Add plant stakes or trellises for vines to climb vertically.
  • Bring indoors – Move pots inside before frost hits. Keep near a sunny window over winter.
  • Prune back – Trim vines as needed to contain size and encourage bushy regrowth.
  • Monitor moisture – Water more frequently as pots dry out quicker than garden beds.

Follow the other care guidelines already covered to help your potted jiaogulan thrive. The containers can be incorporated into patios, decks, or anywhere a touch of garden greenery is desired.

Growing Jiaogulan Vertically

One of the most ornamental ways to grow jiaogulan is trained up vertical supports. Allowing the vines to climb adds lovely greenery to gardens, walls, pergolas, and other structures. Some ideas for vertical growing:

  • Install trellises, wires, nets, fencing or other sturdy supports near where your jiaogulan is planted.
  • Train vines up garden obelisks, pyramids, and tripods for striking vertical accents.
  • Weave stems through lattice panels attached to walls or fences for green backdrop.
  • Allow plants to scramble up the posts of a pergola to create a leafy ceiling.
  • Build free-standing panels of bamboo stakes or remesh fencing for vines to cover.
  • Position large planters or pots with jiaogulan near structures and guide stems upwards.
  • Place container plants on balconies or patios and direct vines along railings or screens.
  • Use removable plant velcro strips to affix vines against compatible surfaces.
  • Site plants at edge of retaining walls and allow trailing stems to drape down.

Get creative with how you use the vining nature of jiaogulan to your advantage. Taking advantage of vertical space makes the most of small gardens.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

When provided with its preferred growing conditions, jiaogulan is relatively trouble-free. But occasionally issues may arise. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Leggy growth – Increase light exposure. Pinch back stem tips to promote bushiness.

Few flowers/seeds – Can indicate too much nitrogen fertilizer. Reduce feeding.

Leaves drooping – Check for under watering or overwatering. Adjust soil moisture.

Leaf spots/blight – Improve air circulation. Remove affected leaves. Avoid wetting foliage.

Discolored leaves – Usually signifies a nutrient deficiency. Apply balanced fertilizer.

Slow growth – Plant may be root bound, need dividing or require more light.

Leaf drop – Can result from overwatering, underwatering, or temperature extremes. Modify care accordingly.

Pests – Common offenders are aphids, mites, mealybugs. Wipe leaves with insecticidal soap or neem oil solution.

With proper site selection, soil preparation, and care, you can avoid many issues and enjoy a thriving jiaogulan plant. Pay close attention to its needs and adjust care accordingly if problems arise.

Harvesting Jiaogulan Herb

Once your jiaogulan is happily established, you can begin harvesting leaves. Pick leaves as needed once vines are at least 18 inches tall and look sturdy.

To avoid over harvesting, follow these guidelines:

  • Never take more than 1/3 of the leaves from each plant at a time.
  • Harvest younger, tender leaves near branch tips for best flavor and potency.
  • Use scissors for clean cuts rather than tearing leaves off.
  • Pick leaves in the morning after dew dries but before the heat of midday.
  • Rinse leaves gently if needed to remove dirt then pat dry.
  • Use leaves immediately or store loosely in refrigerator for a few days.
  • Leave some mature leaves on plants for continued photosynthesis and growth.

Jiaogulan will rapidly replace any leaves removed. The vines produce prolifically all season long. Store any excess dried leaves for later use.

By harvesting judiciously and allowing regrowth between cuttings, you’ll enjoy this versatile herb for months at a time. Monitoring soil moisture and nutrients will keep your jiaogulan vigorous and productive.

Health Benefits and Uses of Jiaogulan

While sometimes called “Southern Ginseng”, jiaogulan is not actually in the ginseng family. But it does share similar holistic properties and health benefits:

  • Adaptogenic – Helps body adapt to physical and emotional stressors and build resilience.
  • Antioxidant – High in antioxidants called gypenosides that protect cells against damage from free radicals.
  • Anti-inflammatory – Soothes inflammatory conditions in the digestive tract and elsewhere in the body.
  • Immune booster – Stimulates immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies to ward off illness.
  • Mood enhancer – Has an uplifting effect on mood and focus, combating anxiety, depression and brain fog.
  • Metabolic regulator – Helps regulate cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and other metabolic functions.
  • Energy booster – Improves stamina, endurance and workout recovery time without stimulation.
  • Anti-aging – Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions slow cellular aging and free radical damage.

Jiaogulan is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a whole-body restorative tonic and general preventative against disease. More research on humans is still needed but initial studies on jiaogulan’s effects are promising.

The pleasant tasting leaves can be used in many ways:

  • Brew tea from fresh or dried leaves
  • Add young leaves raw to salads, smoothies, juices
  • Lightly cook more mature leaves like spinach
  • Use as flavorful garnish like microgreens
  • Infuse leaves in soups, broths and sauces
  • Take in capsules, extracts or tinctures if desired

Start with small amounts of jiaogulan to assess effects before increasing dosage, especially if being used in conjunction with other herbs or medications. Those who are pregnant, nursing or have liver conditions should exercise caution and consult their healthcare provider before use.

When grown yourself, you can be assured of jiaogulan’s freshness and potency. Having a ready crop of this beneficial herb right in your own garden is a great wellness asset.

Final Thoughts on Growing Jiaogulan

As you can see, the hardy jiaogulan plant is very straightforward to grow when given suitable conditions. A little attention to its basic needs for filtered sunlight, warm temperatures, moist well-draining soil, trellising and pruning is all it takes to keep these easygoing vines thriving.

If you’re looking for a super low maintenance medicinal herb, jiaogulan is an excellent choice, especially for beginner gardeners. Once established, the vigorous vines practically take care of themselves. And they generously produce an abundant supply of adaptogenic leaves.

Adding jiaogulan’s pretty foliage and vining habit to containers, garden beds, patios or vertical structures can beautify your outdoor space. Training the vines up obelisks, walls, fences and more creates attractive green features.

Indoors, jiaogulan adapts readily to life as an easy care houseplant. The vines can be trimmed back as needed to fit the space.

With so many options for using this “immortality herb”, jiaogulan is a versatile and multipurpose addition to any garden. Give it a try and you’ll soon be reaping all the benefits – physical and ornamental!