Last Updated May 31st, 2019
If something is called the “immortality herb,” it better be powerful. The gynostemma pentaphyllum herb (also known as jiaogulan and Southern ginseng) is an adaptogen that has several rejuvenating properties, helping to protect the body from the effects of stress as well as provide many other health benefits. Here’s what the science says about this incredible herb.
What is Gynostemma Pentaphyllum?
This plant, also known as jiaogulan gynostemma, is a climbing vine that is found in certain areas of the southern portion of China and is usually found at high elevations, anywhere between 1,000-10,000 feet. It’s a five-leafed plant that comes from the same family as melons and cucumbers. But unlike its “relatives,” gynostemma pentaphyllum doesn’t bear edible fruit.
Although locals have sworn by the medicinal benefits of this immortality herb for hundreds of years, serious research into the benefits of gynostemma has only been conducted for about the last 50 years.
Gynostemma started to gain notoriety worldwide in the 1970s, when a Chinese census showed that people in the Guizhou province routinely lived to be near 100 years old. Scientists started looking into whether people in Guizhou and other provinces were living that long because they consumed gynostemma pentaphyllum on a daily basis.
Leaves of the Gynostemma Plant
The leaves of the plant are usually harvested for use in teas, but they can also be eaten raw. Gynostemma pentaphyllum is known for having a sweet taste, which is one of the reasons it has been considered as a substitute for sugar. For anyone with insulin sensitivity, gynostemma may be a good sweetening alternative to keep blood glucose levels balanced.
Gynostemma or Ginseng?
The benefits of this herb are often compared to panax ginseng, but the two aren’t one in the same. Ginseng is commonly use to help treat stress, insomnia, the common cold, and even the flu. It’s also used to improve focus and memory, and is even said to help with physical stamina.
Both gynostemma and ginseng contain triterpenoid saponins, and have some of the same attributes:
- Antioxidant properties which can prevent harm from free radicals
- Help improve resistance to stress
- Prevent cholesterol buildup
What the Science Says About Gynostemma
This herb is part of a group of healing adaptogenic herbs. To be considered an adaptogen, a plant has to help the body respond to any kind of stressing influence. In other words, adaptogenic herbs help balance, restore, and protect the body.
Gynostemma contains saponins, which are a chemical compound found in plants and plant-based foods like vegetables, beans, and herbs. If they’re consumed regularly, saponins can offer health benefits, like improved cholesterol levels, immune system health, and bone health.
The particular kind of saponins in gynostemma are called gypenosides, which are chemicals that are renowned for providing a wide range of benefits.
For example, gypenosides are believed to help modulate the functioning of the immune system, boosting it when needed and suppressing it when it becomes over-active.1
Studies have also shown that gypenosides have antioxidant properties that may help protect against inflammation.2
Gynostemma for Weight Loss
People who want to lose weight often turn to gynostemma pentaphyllum because of its ability to increase the body’s metabolism of fat. In a study of a group of people in Korea, an extract of gynostemma pentaphyllum, called actiponin, proved to be effective to help stimulate weight loss among obese individuals.3
Gynostemma tea, in combination with regular exercise and a healthy diet, may also help in the production of insulin. As a result, this can also promote healthier levels of sugar in the blood for those suffering from type 2 diabetes.4
Health Benefits of Gynostemma
These are just a few of the other benefits of gynostemma pentaphyllum, according to scientific studies:
Cardiovascular Health Benefits
Gynostemma pentaphyllum may be able to reduce the accumulation of plaque in the arteries. Since arteries are what carry blood to the heart, when they’re blocked by plaque and blood can’t make that journey, that can lead to severe problems such as heart attack and stroke.5
This anti-aging herb contains superoxide dismutase and glutathione, two antioxidants that can reduce many of the signs of aging, such as poor balance, loss of memory, and fatigue.6
Gynostemma pentaphyllum is known to activate an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase, otherwise known as AMPK. This enzyme helps keep cells in balance. More specifically, it regulates cellular energy and balances that energy throughout the body.
Reduction of headaches
A group of 50 chronic headache sufferers participated in a study that involved the consumption of between 30-50 grams of gynostemma tea on a daily basis. Nearly 80 percent of them reported a reduction in symptoms.7
Reduction of inflammation levels
A study of 86 patients suffering from tracheitis, or inflammation of the trachea, involved the use of gynostemma tea each day for a two-week period. Of those patients, 80 of them reported either some improvement, moderate improvement or a complete elimination of symptoms. Only six patients showed no improvement.8
Improved Immune System
A number of different sources have pointed to jiaogulan having a positive effect on immune system responses when regularly included in a diet.9
How Do You Get Gynostemma Pentaphyllum?
There are a lot of different types of products that contain gynostemma pentaphyllum, and you can find most of them at your nearest health food store. Many stores will carry dried leaves from the herb, while others may carry the entire plant. You can also find tea formulations, as well as supplements made from gynostemma extracts. These can be found in both capsule and powder form.
How to Make Gynostemma Tea
To get some of these benefits, you can sip some gynostemma tea. Making tea from the gynostemma herb is extremely easy. All you need to do is put a tea bag or leaves in a cup, add some hot water, let it sit for about 15 minutes, and then strain into another cup.
You can tell the tea is ready when it turns a greenish-brown color. If you’ve ever had green tea, you’ll probably notice a similarity in taste.
Growing a Gynostemma Plant at Home
If you would like to cultivate your own gynostemma plant, it’s hardy enough to be able to handle temperatures between 20-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Even if you live in an area that is prone to major temperature fluctuations, the plant should still be able to thrive.
Remember, however, that gynostemma is a vine that can stretch to as far as 25 feet – or even farther – in length.9 As a result, you’ll need to either set up a trellis in your garden or use a very elevated pot and be prepared to stake the plant as it grows.
The plant prefers shaded areas with limited sunlight, so you can grow it indoors if you prefer.
Here’s some information on how to start the plant from the seed stage:
- Put the seeds in a dish of warm water and soak them for about 24 hours to soften their outside coat.
- Fill a pot with a mixture of peat and sand, drain the seeds that have been soaking, and then plant the seeds about two or three at a time about a sixteenth of an inch deep into the soil. Then, cover the seeds with potting mix.
- Unfortunately, not all of the seeds will germinate, so you’ll want to start with more than you think you’ll need.
- Keep the seeds indoors until they start germinating. You’ll need to be patient, because the process can take anywhere from 10 days to a month.
- Keep the soil most but don’t overdo it. Once seedlings start to sprout, make sure they have a consistent amount of bright light.
- If you are planning to grow your plant outdoors, move them once leaves start to form.
- Early spring tends to be the best time for the gynostemma plant to thrive.
Jiaogulan, gynostemma, Southern ginseng–whatever you call it! Research suggests gynostemma pentaphyllum can deliver a wide range of health benefits. While no one is saying that it’s any sort of magic elixer that can cure all ills, there’s an impressive amount of evidence supporting the plant’s benefits, pointing in the direction that you should consider making it a part of your diet.
For more helpful health news, keep reading:
1. Zhang C, et al. “[Immunomodulatory Action Of The Total Saponin Of Gynostemma Pentaphylla]. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 7 June 2017.
2. Jia D, et al. “Purification, Characterization And Neuroprotective Effects Of A Polysaccharide From Gynostemma Pentaphyllum. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 7 June 2017.
3. Park SH, et al. “Antiobesity Effect Of Gynostemma Pentaphyllum Extract (Actiponin): A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 7 June 2017.
4. Lokman, Ezarul Faradianna et al. “Evaluation Of Antidiabetic Effects Of The Traditional Medicinal Plantgynostemma Pentaphyllumand The Possible Mechanisms Of Insulin Release”. N.p., 2017. Print.
5. Xie, Zhuohong et al. “Chemical Composition Of Five Commercial Gynostemma Pentaphyllum Samples And Their Radical Scavenging, Antiproliferative, And Anti-Inflammatory Properties”. N.p., 2017. Print.
6. Hunan Journal of Medicine and Herbology 1991; 7(2): 56
7. Chinese Journal of Practical Internal Medicine 1993; 13(12): 725
8. Hunan Journal of Chinese Medicine 1993; 9(4): 11
10. “Germinating Gynostemma Pentaphyllum”. Homeguides.sfgate.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 7 June 2017.