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Common Name: Tien Ma
Gastrodia elata is a perennial plant that can grow up to 1.00 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and medicine
E. Asia - China, Japan, Korea.
Woods in the mountains of N. Japan[
A saprophytic herb, it is without green parts and is entirely dependant upon a fungus for its nutriment[
]. This makes it very difficult to cultivate outside its native range. As well as its fungal host, it also requires a damp humus-rich soil in a sheltered woodland position[
The plants are very hardy, tolerating temperatures down to at least -15°c[
This plant is becoming increasingly rare in the wild, due to over-collection as a medicinal plant[
]. Methods of cultivating it have now been devised in China[
Orchids are, in general, shallow-rooting plants of well-drained low-fertility soils. Their symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil allows them to obtain sufficient nutrients and be able to compete successfully with other plants. They are very sensitive to the addition of fertilizers or fungicides since these can harm the symbiotic fungus and thus kill the orchid[
Root - raw or roasted[
This species has been used in Chinese herbal medicine for over 1,500 years[
]. The root contains a number of phenolic compounds with medicinal actions[
]. It is a sweet, acrid, herb that is analgesic, anticonvulsive, antispasmodic, carminative, cholagogue, sedative and tonic[
]. It is used internally in the treatment of convulsive illnesses (such as epilepsy and tetanus), rheumatoid arthritis, vertigo and numbness associated with liver disharmony[
]. The root is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use[
The stem is aphrodisiac and tonic[
Seed - surface sow, preferably as soon as it is ripe, into the plants natural habitat near existing colonies, or onto a bed of Quercus wood inoculated with the fungus Armillaria mellea (introduce this fungus into your land with extreme caution since it kills trees and there is no known preventative[
]). The seed of this species is extremely simple, it has a minute embryo surrounded by a single layer of protective cells. It contains very little food reserves and depends upon a symbiotic relationship with a species of soil-dwelling fungus. The fungal hyphae invade the seed and enter the cells of the embryo. The orchid soon begins to digest the fungal tissue and this acts as a food supply for the plant.
Division in autumn. The plant is very intolerant of root disturbance, any moving or dividing should be attempted in the autumn, keep a large ball of soil around the plant[