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Pinellia ternata - a suburban saga

This story begins 3 years ago when an interesting little plant popped up in one of my garden beds. This story is part public service announcement, part cry for help, and part herbal medicine informative.

This little plant interested me because it had sent up a flower stalk that looked like Jack-in-the Pulpit. But it wasn’t Jack-in-the-Pulpit. I don’t remember feeling concerned about it. I don’t remember trying to remove it. I do remember doing enough research to decide it was something called Green Dragon.

Fast forward to last year. There was a lot more of it all around my garden beds. It was the pandemic. I wanted a big garden. I started new beds, and I recall being careful to use dirt that did not have this plant it in because it seemed to be hard to get rid of. It was growing from little bulbs in the dirt and it seemed to thrive on being disturbed.

Here is it in my asparagus bed.

Fast forward to now. It is in every garden bed. It is also hundreds of feet away from the garden surrounding my compost piles. I am totally overwhelmed and want to cry when I see it.

Here it is flourishing near the compost - yikes!

And now I have done research.

This plant is Pinellia ternata. It is a Japanese plant and is considered invasive by most in the US. I have found hundreds of stories of people whose gardens have become over-run by this plant. Organic gardeners turning to Round-up as a last ditch effort. People describe how gardening has lost its joy. I can relate to the feelings and actions of these people.

Medicinal Activity

I also have looked at the medicinal activity of this plant. Pinellia is called Ban Xia in Traditional Chinese Medicine and it has activity related to the lungs, such as being used for mucus expulsion and labored breathing. Formulas containing Pinellia have been used and studied during our current COVID-19 pandemic, such as in this article. Interesting that this plant seems to spread as easily and exponentially as the COVID-19 virus does. But, to be clear, the plant is toxic in its raw form. There are different methods used to make toxic Pinellia into medicinal Ban Xia, and this is not my area of expertise.

Ecological Role?

I have been searching for what ecologically important job this “invasive” little plant might play. What job is it coming to do in my garden? Can I co-exist with it and garden with joy, rather than feel like my garden is toxic and I have to be careful not to spread the disease?

Some questions I have:

  • Is there anyone who wants these bulbs to turn them into medicine? Please tell me how to find you!

  • Do you have experience with this plant that would be helpful to me? Please reach out to me!

  • Do you know anything about what role this plant plays ecologically? I'd love to know!

Jillian is a clinical herbalist and licensed nutritionist who believes that there is a deep connection between the health of our planet and the health of people. Interested in a consultation? Click here.


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