Chrysanthemum and Her Cousins
Dried Chrysanthemum is the dried flower I use most for my tea concoctions. If I have to single out one reason for why I do so, it has to be the informality of the flower. I grew up in a traditional Chinese family, chrysanthemum tea and barley tea were the two most common teas we took on those scorching hot days (though in my memories, the temperature in those days was nothing compared to the temperature in this millennium). My siblings and I could be assured of the musky and moderately sweet warm tea ready in the pot, for our consumption. That was rewarding after a long school day, much like bubble tea to the students now.
While dried Chrysanthemum is commonly available in the supermarket and Chinese medical hall, finding it in its living form in Singapore is far from common. The flowers that we use to make the tea are from the species Chrysanthemum morifolium or Chrysanthemum indicum. These are plants native to the temperate zone, thus growing them well in our climate requires a lot of skill. Chrysanthemum belongs to Asteraceae or Compositae family of flowering plants. While it is not clear if the Asteraceae is the largest plant family in the world, it is certain that the number of its species is huge, exceeding thirty thousand according to Wikipedia.
I work with plants every day. There is almost no chance that I will not brush past an Asteraceae plant on any given day. Some of them grow in the wild and I like to address them as wild Chrysanthemum in Mandarin. To me, they are far too common, so much so that the thought of writing a poem to describe their beauty is seemingly as natural:
To know that you are the first few to make it here,
my garden you call home for so many years.
Bright yellow daisy, don the roadside,
not aware that you once cured snake bites.
Best known as Singapore Daisy but why?
Though brutally cut but you swear to return,
Life to you is none other than a monthly reincarnation.
The sun shines bright, you stare back brighter.
Remain upright as if you are always ready to fight.
Coat Buttons, a mighty weed is what you are.
A salad fit for the king is what’s in the name.
Cuisine common in the past now hardly seen.
Fruity taste and fragrant scent of the leaves,
make an impression a deep, deep, deep.
Ulam Raja let me savour like a king.
Long heard of it but never got to meet,
a plant that serves the kidney and hair great.
I crush the leaves and rub it hard,
that will make my fingers very dark.
Grey hair to black, False Daisy please get it done!
In hot summer it thrills the best.
Always welcome with its smiley face.
Seeds are what we love to eat,
great to know it contains lots of vitamin E.
Sunflower, won’t you turn your face towards me?
I happened to visit a farm a few days ago and one of the farmer friends asked me, “How nice it would be if we could put all the flowers here together to brew a pot of tea?” She was pointing to some marigold flowers when she said that. I thought to myself, “Yeah! Why not? Let’s start with the wild Chrysanthemums”.