The garland chrysanthemum can be a leaf green, a garden annual … or even an edible flower! Photos: amazon.ca & teline.fr
Botanical Name: Glebionis coronata, syn. Chrysanthemum coronarium
Common Names: Garland chrysanthemum, chrysanthemum greens, edible chrysanthemum, chop suey greens, crown daisy, Japanese greens, shungiku
Chinese names: Tong ho, tong choy, tónghāo
Type of Plant: Annual
Height: 30–120 cm.
Location: Sun to light shade.
Soil: Well drained, moderately moist to dry, acidic to alkaline.
Seed Depth: 1/8 inch (3 mm)
Spacing for Seeds: 1–2 inches (2–5 cm)
Thin to (vegetable): 4 inches (10 cm)
Thin to (flower): 1 to 1½ feet (30–45 cm)
Germination: 7 to 18 days at 60–70 °F (15–21 °C)
Availability: Seed, transplants occasionally available.
Flowering Season: Various according to climate; early to late summer in temperate regions.
Uses: Edible leaves and flowers, medicinal plant, flower borders, container gardening, flower meadows, naturalization.
Wild garland chrysanthemums around a pond in Israel. Photo: MathKnight, Wikimedia Commons
If you visit the Mediterranean region at the right time of year, you’ll often see garland chrysanthemums by the thousands, if not the millions, lining roads and filling abandoned fields, especially under fairly arid conditions. They’re charming plants, with daisylike flowers about 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) in diameter. I once saw endless fields of them in Tunisia in late February: not something you quickly forget!
The white, yellow or bicolor flowers look much like daisies. Photo: ville-ge.ch
The flowers appear above the plant on individual stems. They always bear a golden central disc and a circle of ray flowers with indented tips. The latter can be either white or yellow (concolor variety) or two-tone: white at the tip with a yellow base (discolor variety), thus forming a golden halo around the disc.
Young plant just coming into bloom. Photo: Dalgial, Wikimedia Commons
The plant has an erect habit. It can be sparsely branched if crowded, but full and bushy with numerous stems when given sufficient space. It’s heavily covered with deeply cut medium green or grayish-green leaves that always remind me somewhat of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), in appearance if not texture.
Garland chrysanthemum is an annual, adapted to a wide range of climatic conditions, and grows quickly from seed to full flower. It flowers according to local conditions, starting in late winter or early spring in the mildest climates and as late as August in the coldest ones. It’s rather ephemeral in hot summer areas, quickly going to seed, but can bloom for 3 months in cooler, more humid climates.
The leaves of the garland chrysanthemum are often used in Asian cooking. Photo: finishthedish.com
But this plant is not just a wildflower. It is also cultivated … mostly as a vegetable! Indeed, under the Song Dynasty (960-1279), this plant was introduced into China where it was quickly adopted as a leaf vegetable and is a very commonly used throughout Asia, from India to Japan. In the West, you often find it in Chinese, Korean and Japanese restaurants and markets, often under the chop suey greens or skungiku (the latter being its Japanese name). If you ever wondered what that dark green, thin-leaved vegetable you see in your chop suey when you order in Chinese food was; well, now you know!
When cooked, garland chrysanthemum leaves are dark green and mushy, about the color and texture of spinach, although narrower and deeply cut. Photo: 행복한 초록개구리, Wikimedia Commons
The leaves have a pungent, herbal taste, definitely bitter, although the bitterness is reduced by light cooking. Don’t overcook them, though, or the bitterness returns.
Garland chrysanthemum is also used in stews, broths, sautéing and salads in international cuisine.
And that’s not all! Because gardeners also grow this chrysanthemum as an ornamental for the beauty of its flowers … or for eating, as the flowers, too, are edible. They have a more intense taste than the leaves and may not be your thing if you’re not a lover of bitter vegetables, although the ray flowers are milder than the disc (center of the flower).
Crown chrysanthemum is also an easy-to-grow annual that can be sown directly outdoors where you want it to grow. Photo: Photo2222, Wikimedia Commons
The plant is also grown as an ornamental, precisely for its beautiful blooms. Because of its ease of care and rapid flowering, it is often used in flowering meadows and wildflower seed mixes.
Garland chrysanthemums seeds are often included in wildflower mixtures such as this one. Photo: bbc.com
I’ve grown this plant since I was a child. I first ran across it in a seed pack labeled “Children’s Garden” that my father gave me to start my first flower bed when I was 7 or 8 years old. It took me years to discover the name of the mystery daisy that kept coming back year after year, self-sowing prettily in my little flower patch! One of my father’s Japanese friends finally identified it for me as shungiku, the name I’ve always personally used.
A Name Change: Until 1999, this plant was classified in the genus Chrysanthemum, but the genus has been split into several new ones, and it’s now included in the tiny genus of two species Glebionis, under the name G. coronata. The botanical name Glebionis comes from the Latin word gleba for “cultivated soil,” because it sometimes grows as a weed in fields, and coronata for “crowned,” referring to the flower head in the shape of a royal crown.
The garland chrysanthemum is essentially a full sun plant, although some afternoon shade is highly appreciated in the warmer months. It adapts to almost any well-drained soil, even dry ones, but if you’re growing it as a vegetable, it’s best not to stress it out with excessive drought. You’ll find the leaves more tender and tastier when it grows in rich, well aerated, relatively moist soil. When it comes to blooming, it performs longest in areas with cool summers.
Garland chrysanthemums seedlings in a vegetable garden. Photo: spicegarden.eu
The seeds can theoretically be sown in late fall. After all, that’s how things work in the wild! The seeds are very hardy and tolerate extreme cold. However, most gardeners sow them in early in spring, outdoors where they are to bloom. Ideally, this would be when the soil is still cool, but there is little risk of frost.
You can either scatter seed lightly or sow them more precisely about 1 to 2 inches (2 to 5 cm) apart, barely covering with soil. Germination will vary according notably to temperature. In case of nights below 40° C (4° C) after the seedlings are up, cover them with floating row cover or a cloche until warmth returns. Garland chrysanthemum is actually a bit frost tolerant once it’s past the emergent seedling stage, but too much cold will still seriously slow down its growth.
After germination, water when the soil begins to dry out. Also weed as necessary.
💡 Helpful Hint
For an extra-early harvest, you can sow seeds indoors 6 weeks before the last frost. Provide normal indoor temperatures and good lighting, then, when there is no further risk of frost, acclimatize the seedlings to outdoor conditions before transplanting into the garden.
Before going any further, you now have a decision to make. Are you growing garland chrysanthemum as a leafy green vegetable or for its flowers, either for decoration or as a source of edible blooms? You need to choose, because, as the plant get close to flowering, the foliage will become too bitter and tough for culinary use. So, you have to harvest early for greens, but late for flowers.
So, what’s your choice: leaves or flowers? You decide!
The Leafy Choice
So, you’ve made up your mind and want to produce a harvest of edible leaves? Perfect! Here’s what to do:
Continue basic care, as described above, especially ensuring thorough, even watering.
When the leaves of the plants begin to touch, that means they’ll begin to compete with each other and production will drop. So, it’s time to thin out the plants. Thin to about 4 inches (10 cm), cutting them at the base. Where possible, keep the strongest ones. Thinning costs you nothing and gives you a lot, because it becomes your first harvest. That’s because the plants you thin are edible! So, bring them inside and cook’em up!
Then thin again later if the plants start to get seriously crowded again.
Garland chrysanthemums leaves ready to harvest. Photo: johnnyseeds.com
After about 6–8 weeks of growth, when the plants are 4 to 8 inches (10–20 cm) tall, but the leaves are still tender, it’s time to move on to the main harvest. Simply cut the plant off at the base. If possible, water well, then harvest the next morning: that way the leaves will be fully hydrated.
You can store bunches of stems and leaves in the refrigerator for about a week, placing them in a plastic bag to maintain high humidity. If they start to wilt, slice off ½ inch (1 cm) from the base of the stems and stand them up upright in a bowl of water in water for an hour or so to rehydrate them.
Extending the Leaf Harvest
The above is, in fact, all you need to do: when the leaves are ready, you simply harvest and use them. However, it’s also possible to prolong the harvest and there are, in fact, two methods of doing so.
One way of prolonging the harvest is succession sowing. Photo: fansshare.com
The first is simply to carry out succession sowing. Just sow a few seeds in an empty spot in the vegetable garden about every 3 weeks until late summer, stopping about 10 weeks before the first fall frost. This is the best method in areas where the summer temperatures are high, above 77 °F (25 °C) most days, as the seedlings tolerate heat reasonably well during the first weeks of their existence, while even slightly more mature plants will quickly start to bolt (grow excessively tall and start to bloom), causing their leaves will lose any culinary interest. So, you just harvest early and often.
The other method is to grow your garland chrysanthemum as a cut-and-come-again green. Instead of cutting the plant to the ground when you harvest the leaves and thus kill it, cut leaving a stub about 2 inches (5 cm) high, so the base of the plant remains intact. This will allow it to regenerate from dormant buds. Thus, it will soon start producing a new batch of leaves again. When these are ready to harvest in their turn, cut again in the same way for a third harvest. Depending on growing conditions, it may even have strength and time for a fourth cut-and-come-again harvest, thus giving you leafy greens for nearly the full summer.
The cut-and-come-again method works especially well in areas where summers are relatively cool. Heat-stressed plants aren’t as likely to regrow well after a harsh pruning.
💡 Helpful Hint
You can also grow garland chrysanthemums indoors as sprouts or microgreens, so you can add something fresh and green to your meals all year. Read more about this in the article: Sprouts: Fresh Home-Grown Greens All Year Long.
In areas with hot summers, where daily temperatures over 77° F (25° C) are the norm, garland chrysanthemum is not nearly so malleable. It quickly bolts and goes to seed if it’s not harvested fairly young, say about 4 inches (10 cm) high, and once it approaches bloom, it will no longer be recuperable and will soon dry out and die. Under such conditions, it’s best to limit yourself to one or two spring crops, with perhaps another try in early fall in areas with a long growing season.
Finally, garland chrysanthemum, although certainly not a heat-loving plant, can often be grown in the tropics when the right conditions are available. Usually that means growing at high altitudes where the temperatures remain relatively cool or sowing in the fall for a winter harvest in those areas where winter temperatures are more moderate.
💡 Helpful Hint
To obtain garland chrysanthemum seeds for the next season, always let at least one plant go to seed and harvest said seeds when the flowers turn brown. Or let the seeds fall to the ground so they can self-sow, which this species will usually do only modestly. At least, it will self-sow as long as there is a bare spot in the soil nearby the sun can reach.
The Flowery Choice
So, you instead opted for a profusion of beautiful flowers rather than leaves? Great! Here’s how to handle that:
The garland chrysanthemum blooms profusely in the garden with minimal care. Photo: pikist.com
To obtain an abundance of flowers, whether for human consumption or for their decorative effect in the garden—or indeed colorful bouquets to bring indoors—, start in the same way as for the production of edible leaves, as per The Leafy Choice above, but this time, when thinning, leave 1 to 1 ½ feet (30 to 45 cm) between the plants so they can spread out to their full extent and branch abundantly. Flowering usually begins in about 10 weeks.
For a strictly ornamental effect, you can simply let the flowers bloom as they please. You don’t even have to deadhead: where conditions are good, the plant will bloom on and on.
If you want edible flowers, though, harvest them when they are relatively young, as the central disc becomes tougher as it matures.
When the flowers turn brown, harvest and dry them for future use as a healthy herbal tea. Photo: healthbenefitstimes.com
When the blooms do fade and turn brown, they can still be useful, and not only as a source of seed. You can harvest them for medicinal purposes.
To do so, cut the flower heads off and allow them to dry thoroughly in a dry, well-aerated spot, then store until needed. In Asia, where garland chrysanthemum is a popular remedy, they’re often used as an infusion called chrysanthemum tea, with calming and antiseptic properties, useful in particular in combating symptoms related to high blood pressure. It can also be daubed on the eye to calm irritation.
Finally, the bright flowers help attract pollinators (bees, hoverflies, butterflies, etc.) to other plants in the vegetable garden.
Pests and Diseases
Most annoying are slugs early in the season when the plants are young and you may need to try and control them. Flea beetles can be very damaging. Sometimes you may need to exclude them with a floating row cover barrier.
This plant rarely suffers major disease problems.
Where to Find Garland Chrysanthemums
Sometimes you find starts of garland chrysanthemums in garden centers in the spring, especially when there is an Asian population in the neighborhood, but it’s still enormously more profitable to start them yourself from seeds. Seed packs are readily available from mail-order seed specialists and some garden centers also carry them.
The garland chrysanthemum: a beautiful and useful plant that awaits your discovery.