Friday, May 21, 2010

The Cultivation and Uses of Hydrangea

Hydrangeas are popular ornamental plants, grown for their large flowerheads, with Hydrangea macrophylla being by far the most widely grown with over 600 named cultivars, many selected to have only large sterile flowers in the flowerheads. Some are best pruned on an annual basis when the new leaf buds begin to appear. If not pruned regularly, the bush will become very 'leggy', growing upwards until the weight of the stems is greater than their strength, at which point the stems will sag down to the ground and possibly break. Other species only flower on 'old wood'. Thus new wood resulting from pruning will not produce flowers until the following season.

Hydrangeas are moderately toxic if eaten, with all parts of the plant containing cyanogenic glycosides. Hydrangea paniculata is reportedly sometimes smoked as an intoxicant, despite the danger of illness and/or death due to the cyanide.

In Japan, ama-cha, meaning sweet tea, is another herbal tea made from Hydrangea serrata, whose leaves contain a substance that develops a sweet taste (phyllodulcin). For the fullest taste, fresh leaves are crumpled, steamed, and dried, yielding dark brown tea leaves. Ama-cha is mainly used for kan-butsu-e (the Buddha bathing ceremony) on April 8 every year—the day thought to be Buddha's birthday in Japan. Ama-cha is poured over a statue of Buddha in the ceremony and served to people in attendance. A legend has it that on the day Buddha was born, nine dragons poured Amrita over him; ama-cha is substituted for Amrita in Japan.

In Korean tea, Hydrangea serrata (hangul:산수국 hanja:山水菊) is used for a herbal tea called sugukcha (수국차) or ilsulcha (이슬차).

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