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New variety of TCM herb aims to boost economy, incomes in Tibet

By Zhang Yangfei in Nyingchi, Tibet | | Updated: 2021-07-26 16:24
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Chou Quanlei, from Southwest Forestry University in Yunnan province. [Photo by Zhang Yangfei/China Daily]

Research on a new variety of a Chinese herbal medicine grown in Nyingchi, Tibet autonomous region, aims to help boost local economic development and increase local farmers' incomes.

The herb is called gastrodia elata, a saprophytic perennial herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine for treating symptoms including headaches, anxiety, insomnia and vertigo. The herb is widely cultivated across the country, but Chou Quanlei, from Southwest Forestry University in Yunnan province, has developed a new variety of the herb by taking advantage of the unique natural conditions on the plateau.

The new variety, dubbed Tibetan gastrodia elata, was developed from the wild herb found deep in the mountains. Its medicinal effect mainly comes from the metabolites produced while resisting its surrounding climate. The plateau's particularly harsh environment — lack of oxygen, low temperatures and a thick permafrost layer —  significantly boosts the amount of metabolites in wild gastrodia elata, making its medical efficacy relatively higher than ones grown in other areas, Chou said.

With its vast forestland, Nyingchi has an abundance of wild gastrodia elata. Chou's research team finds, digs and takes back the wild herbs with seedlings and pollinates them by hand. When the fruit is ripe, the husks will crack open and produce the seeds.

Chou said gastrodia elata grow in symbiosis with the honey fungus, invading the fungus' root system so that the plant can absorb nutrients from it.

Chou has been studying the processing technology of the honey fungus since 2008 and has discovered the best sub-species of the fungus that can ensure the largest production of Tibetan gastrodia elata.

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