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Chrysanthemum flowers closely resemble the common daisy with slightly stouter petals. The plants average 60 centimeters in height and have deeply lobed, almost feathery leaves. Most Chrysanthemums have white and yellow petals that encircle a golden center. They are not strongly scented flowers but offer a subtle aroma of warm spice a flavor reminiscent of carrot greens.
Chrysanthemum flowers may be found year-round with peak season in the summer and fall.
Chrysanthemums are a commonly grown perennial that range in color and appearance depending upon variety. The prolific fall blooms casually referred to as “mums”, known for their brightly colored heads of tightly packed petals, are of the species Chrysanthemum indicum, and rarely eaten. The best variety for edible applications is Chrysanthemum coronarium, sometimes known as Shunghiko or Kiku in Japanese and in China, Ju Hua.
Chrysanthemum flowers are an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene. They also contain minerals such as magnesium, calcium and potassium, all of which are necessary for a healthy immune system.
The actual blossom of the Chrysanthemum is most often consumed in the form of tea. The whole flower heads are dried and packaged as a loose leaf tea or sometimes blended with other dried flowers and tea leaves. The blossoms may also be eaten raw, but may develop a bitter flavor when mature. A common way to prepare the petals is in a quick pickling solution of water, vinegar, sugar and salt. The pickled petals are good for a few days and may be used in salads, vegetable dishes, vinaigrettes or to or garnish sushi dishes similarly to ginger.
Chrysanthemum are widely celebrated in many Asian cultures and highly revered for their healing capacities. In China they signify life and rebirth and are a common gift at baby showers and birthdays. It is believed that the Chinese practice of drinking Chrysanthemum tea originated thousands of years ago during the Song Dynasty. Today, Korean homeopathic remedies include Chrysanthemums in the treatment of inflammation, hypertension and respiratory ailments.
Originally a native of China, the Chrysanthemum has a history rooted in legend. So the story goes, there was once a village in ancient China where all the residents lived to more than 100 years old. It was said that the secret to their youth was a mountain spring surrounded by chrysanthemums. The Chrysanthemum also plays a major role in Japanese history books, with the monarchy itself referred to as the Chrysanthemum Throne. Today, after years of selective breeding and subspecies development, Chrysanthemums can be found growing word-wide in most temperate climates.