Chrysanthemums have been cultivated in China since 500BC where they are prized not only for their beauty but are also used as a food. Introduced into Japan in the 4th century, they have become the national flower, but were for years only permitted to be cultivated in the imperial gardens and those of nobility. Both the Chinese and Japanese consider chrysanthemums an important herb in traditional medicine and believe that a chrysanthemum petal in the bottom of a wine glass promotes longevity. Brought into America as a gift from a young Japanese stowaway who was befriended by a Boston sea captain’s wife, Mrs. Alpheus Hardy, in 1892 and sent to college, they have become a symbol of the fall season throughout the country.
Adding a boost of color to the garden in late summer, these vigorous clump-forming perennials come in a variety of colors and shapes including single flowers, doubles and pom-poms. The petals also can be quills to spoon shaped to long, narrow spiders. Chrysanthemum leaves are usually dull green and give off a characteristic odor when crushed. They grow best in full sun in a rich, well-drained soil and are best planted in early summer after all danger of frost is past. This allows them to develop a strong root system before winter; however they still need a mulch to protect them in cold climates. Mums are shallow rooted and heavy feeders, so fertilize in spring and divide regularly by digging the plant, pulling or cutting apart the mass of roots and re-planting each division right away. Mums work well with hostas and fall blooming asters which add the missing blue/purple hues and may be planted in containers, perennial borders or even rock gardens.
Chrysanthemum flower petals are edible if grown with organic fertilizers and without pesticides, but should be washed thoroughly but gently after harvesting. Grasp the stem and pull the petals from the head, then cut off the white heels, as they can be bitter, before use. They range in taste from faint peppery to mild vegetal and may be used raw, blanched or seasoned by standing in salt water for 15-20 mins. The petals may be scattered in salads, but also may be added to soups or used to flavor vinegar. In addition they may be brewed into a revitalizing tea or a dye bath to color wool.
In order to produce
a compact, bushy mum plant
and more blooms for fall,
pinch back the stems by half
on the 4th of July.
". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."