Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Amazing Plants (pt 3) Incarvillea sinensis

It took me six attempts to germinate this particular plant. It is a little bit tricky to start, but as you will see it is more than worthwhile. In fact I consider it essential.

Incarvillea Sinensis

Aka: Fern-leaved Trumpet Flower, Cheron, Jiao Hao

Incarvillea sinensis has been used in Chinese medicine to treat conditions such as arthritis and for pain management in general.

It can be used topically as a poultice for wounds or bites, or taken internally when made as an infusion (tea) or decoction of the fresh leaves.

The main alkaloid incarvillateine shows an analgesic and anti-inflammatory action similar to conventional analgesics such as morphine, as well as a second stage action similar to aspirin.

It is not just comparable to the effectiveness of morphine, it's actually better.

The analgesic index of incarvillateine is is between 6 to 33% higher. As well as this, it has a lesser ceiling effect than morphine.

Ceiling effect refers to a phenomenon best described as a system of diminishing returns. As you take more of the drug, it has less and less of an effect on pain and eventually no matter how much more you take, your pain level will not be reduced.

The value of this plant in a survival or basic living situation is obvious.


Young Foliage

Incarvillea is native to mountains in China, which presents challenges in warmer climates. Their natural environment is cool dry air. They prefer full sun if the temperatures are cold enough, but intense heat will kill them. That means nearly full shade in warm areas.

A good approximation of their natural environment may be to grow the plant near an equator-facing window indoors in a cool room. An air-conditioned room will help the air stay dry. This might be an ideal plant for a well-lit office.

It likes (but does not need) constant watering but should not be allowed to drown. Well drained soil is essential. If growing in a pot, use a sandy cactus mix with gravel or rocks at the bottom of the pot.

Propagation by Seed

This is where it gets tricky if you are in a warm climate, but there is always a way.

The plant needs a period of cold to break its dormancy. It does not need temperatures below freezing, but it won't hurt. To simulate this it is a simple matter of putting the seeds in the fridge for a few weeks to a couple of months.

We don't have a freezer at the nursery so the seeds went in the bar fridge. I'm guessing the temperature is around 2-5 degrees celsius.

I tried both sowing the seeds and placing the seed tray in the fridge, and keeping the seeds in their packet and then sowing. I found a better germination rate when the seeds were left in the packet. However, the tray of seeds was in the fridge for 2 weeks, and the packet of seeds was in there for a month.

A cool and sheltered place
Next I found a shady protected spot at the base of some tiger grass. The seeds get no direct sunlight at all, but still plenty of light. To further help keep the temperature down, I sprayed the tiger grass periodically throughout the day hoping to create evaporative cooling as the breeze whipped through.

This seems to work as I picked up the pot today at around noon and it was cool to the touch.

The sprouts are very delicate at birth. I killed the first batch of seedlings because I used a shower setting on the hose (we water using this setting almost exclusively, even on very young sprouts with no issue). The rain-sized droplets knocked the sprouts to the ground, and they never recovered.

After 2 days I was down from 17 sprouts to 2, and shortly after, none. They rotted as they laid along the ground.

Because of this I am very careful to water only with mist and I avoid the seedlings like the plague when I wet the tiger grass to make sure no heavy droplets fall off the foliage onto my delicate seedlings.


Apart from heat, incarvillea is also sensitive to root disturbance. If you need to transplant a seedling or small plant, it is important to get the entire root structure intact. It does not like its feet being torn.


A typical internal dose is around 2 to 15 grams of the fresh leaf daily. Make a decoction by steeping the fresh herb in water that is almost boiling. Be careful not to let the water boil, but rather keep it to a point of the gentlest simmer you can muster. Steep for around 10 to 20 minutes, let cool and consume.

The effects are said to be opioid but obviously at this stage I am yet to test it.


Although this plant is rather tricky at its early stage, it is well worth the effort to add this to your survival crop. Keeping the temperature low in a climate that does not experience the frost that is needed for germination is the most difficult part but improvising a refridgerator in a survival situation may very well be do-able.

I bought my seeds from Chilterns, based in the UK