The Emperor of China and How to Make Chrysanthemum Tea

Emperor of China Chrysanthemum ©Kim Smith 2012 copy

An ancient variety of chrysanthemum originating from China, the ‘Emperor of China’ resembles and is thought to be the chrysanthemum depicted in early Chinese paintings. Chrysanthemums are also grown for their medicinal properties, and their purported magic juices were an important ingredient in the life-prolonging elixir of the Daoist. Fragrant chrysanthemum tea was considered good for the health, and tonic wine was brewed from an infusion of their petals. Although thought to be rich in healing properties and lovely in form, a more modest well-being was conferred by the vigorous blossoming of the chrysanthemum. Perhaps the late flowering chrysanthemum suggests their connection to a long life, for other plants have finished flowering just as the chrysanthemums begin.

The techniques for learning to paint the orchid, bamboo, plum blossom, and chrysanthemum comprise the basis of Chinese flower and bird painting. They are referred to as “The Four Gentlemen” and are thought to symbolize great intellectual ideas. The orchid is serene and peaceful, though sophisticated and reserved from the world. Bamboo is vigorous and survives throughout the seasons, forever growing upright. The plum blossom expresses yin-yang dualities of delicate and hardy, blooming through snow and ice to herald the arrival of spring. Chrysanthemums continue to flower after a frost, are self-sufficient, and require no assistance in propogating themselves.

China owes its astonishing wealth of plant life to a combination of geographical incidents. The mountains escaped the ravages of the great ice caps and unlike much of Europe and North America, where many plants were wiped out, plant species in China continued to evolve. Additionally, the foothills of the Himalayas are moistened by soft winds from the south, creating an ideal climate for alpine plants. In this warm and moderate environment, three different floras – that of the colder, drier north; that of the sub-tropical south; and that of the alpine species – all mingled and crossed freely for thousands of years.


 Chrysanthemum tea is a tisane made from dried chrysanthemum flowers. The flowers are steeped in boiling water for several minutes, and rock sugar or honey is often added to heighten the sweet aroma. Popular throughout east Asia, chrysanthemum tea is usually served with a meal. In the tradition of Chinese medicine, the tisane is thought to be a “cooling” herb and is recommended for a variety of ailments including influenza, circulatory disorders, sore throats, and fever.

Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden.Leave a comment to be eligible to win a copy. See yesterday’s post about the Magnolia virginiana.

Read more about the ‘Emperor of China’

Chrysanthemum ‘Emperor of China’ begins its lovely tableau in mid-fall and continues to bloom through the first hard frost. Plum rose with silvery highlights, the quills shade paler toward the outer margins. When the plant is in full bloom, the rich green foliage shifts colors to vibrant hues of bronze to scarlet red. The ‘Emperor of China’ exudes a delicious lemon-spice fragrance noticeable from some distance.

As with New York asters, it is helpful to pinch the tips of each shoot to encourage branching and more blossoms. Repeat this process at each four- to six- inch stage of new growth until the middle of July, or when the buds begin to develop. ‘Emperor of China’ is hardy through zone six and thrives in full sun to light shade in well-drained soil. This cultivar forms a 21/2′ mound in only a few years. Give the plant a top dressing of compost and mulch after the first hard frost.


  • Kim, I wish you were my professor in college, your knowlege and the ease of explaining is amazing and I thank you


    • Donna that is an amazingly sweet thing to say. Thank you and thank you for your always kind and thoughtful comments–and for reading my posts. I find myself oftentimes wondering after putting information out there if there is interest or if everyone is just too busy, especially at this time of year. THANK YOU. xoxo


  • Great post Kim – so interesting and informative on so many levels! Also the photo is amazing.


  • Thank you Anna.The Emperor of China really is that beautiful. It was great to see you at EJ and Joey’s opening last night. The quality of Joey’s giclee prints are gorgeous–simply stunning! Happiest of Holidays to you and James.


  • Love them, just have a hard time remembering when to cut them back so in the fall I have very long flowers but still beautiful.


  • I absolutely love the flower, especially those giant Chinese ones that almost look like peonies. I have a concern though, Kim. Pyrethrin, the natural insecticide, is also from Chrysanthemums and it, or other compounds found in the flower, can have interactions in the human body. Before ingesting Chrysanthemum tea I would recommend anyone with drug sensitivity, allergies, or taking medications (especially Insulin) check out whether Chrysanthemum tea is a prudent choice for them. As with all “natural” things, there are chemicals at work… many beneficial but also many that can interact with others to one’s detriment.


    • Good point Deb about being mindful of chemical reactions from natural substances.

      Pyrethrum is derived from the oil bearing glands on the surface of the seed case in the flower’s head and is extracted from only two species of chrysanthemum, that I am aware, and they are Chrysanthemum coccineum (single bright red flowers) and Chrysanthemum cinnerarilfolium, with single white daisy-like flowerheads.


  • Kim- Thanks for the excerpts from your book. Well researched and beautifully written. If I’m not the lucky winner of the copy you’re donating,I’m sure i’ll be visiting the bookstore soon! [ I’m a
    Gloucester girl who lives in Ipswich.] Marion Frost


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