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Akebia

Akebia quinata

Herbs gallery - Akebia

Common names

  • Akebia
  • Chocolate Vine
  • Clematis Stem
  • Mu Tong

Akebia, the Latin name of the Japanese species called Akebia quinata, is a member of the family Lardizabalaceae and is also referred to as chocolate vine. This is a woody plant that grows perennially either in the form of a groundcover or a twisted vine. A deciduous climber, Akebia quinata grows up to 12 meters or a little over 39 feet. The growth of this species is very rapid.

This herb produces monoecious flowers, which denotes that each flower either has only male or only female reproductive parts. However, there are exceptions too and some plants bear flowers containing both the reproductive parts. Akebia quinata plants are not capable of self-fertilization.

The stems of Akebia quinata are thin and green when the plants are young, but turn brown and somewhat woody as the plants mature. The leaves of this species have a pale bluish-green hue and appear alternately on the stem. Each leaf of akebia is further divided into five leaflets that are stalked and are fused at a central juncture. This is one reason why the herb is also known as the five-leaf akebia.

Each leaflet of akebia grows up to 1.5 inches to 3 inches in length and is somewhat serrated at its tip. The color of the flowers varies from reddish to purplish-brown. They are about one inch in diameter and have a sweet aroma, similar to that of chocolate. The plants are in bloom during the spring - during March and April. If the plants bear fruits, they are quite large, squashy, succulent and edible pods having the shape of a sausage. The fruits measure about 2.5 inches to 4 inches in length. The fruits ripen during the period between September end and beginning of October.

The stems of akebia are slender and rounded. Initially, the stems are green and become brownish when they mature. The leaves of this herb are palmate and appear alternately along the stem. The flowers have a chocolaty-purple hue.

During the spring, akebia quinata bears several purple hued flowers, which dangle from the slender stems. Each flower has three petals. Occasionally, the plants bear fruits during the later part of summer, which are akin to those of an eggplant. Although many people consume the fruits of this vine, they are not very delectable. In case you decide to harvest the akebia fruits, you should know that this herb is closely related to the kiwi and its fruits enclose several minute black seeds that are embedded inside the pulp, as in the case of the kiwi fruits.

Parts used

Stem, fruits, roots.

Uses

Various parts of the Akebia quinata, including its stem, roots, and fruits are used for medicinal purposes.

The stems of akebia possess therapeutic properties and are employed for treating various health conditions. In Japan as well as China, people dry the stems of this herb keeping them in the open air and use them in the form of a crude medicine. The dried stems are used in the form of an analgesic, antiphlogistic and diuretic. In China, practitioners of herbal medicine also recommend this drug in the form of a diuretic as well as an antiphlogistic for treating conditions like amenorrhea, problems related to the breast, diabetes, dropsy, cold, headaches, general weakness, hernia, lumbago, and rheumatism, in addition to inflamed kidneys and stomach. In China, people sometimes also use a different species called Akebia trifoliata for similar purposes.

Apart from the therapeutic properties of akebia mentioned above, this species is also employed in the form of an antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, and galactogogue agent. When the stem of this herb is used internally, it helps to cure fungal as well as bacterial infections, in addition to infections of the urinary tract. This herb is also effective for inducing lactation and menstruation. The root of Akebia quinata is employed in the form of an anti-pyretic substance.

The stem of Akebia quinata possesses anti-fungal, anodyne, bitter, diuretic, diaphoretic, febrifuge, laxative, stomachic, stimulant, resolvent and vulnerary properties. Generally, akebia stems are collected during the autumn and air dried for use when needed. Even the fruits of this herb are used for medicinal purpose. Akebia fruits are known to possess diuretic, depurative, stomachic, febrifuge, anti-rheumatic and tonic properties. In fact, the fruits are a well-accepted herbal remedy for treating various cancer forms.

Even the roots of akebia are febrifuge, a medication that helps to cure fever by cooling the body. In fact, in China, akebia was graded 13th following a survey of as many as 250 potential anti-fertility herbs.

The stems of this herb become very flexible after they are peeled and can also be employed to make baskets. Occasionally, akebia has also been employed in the form of a groundcover.

Culinary uses

Apart from its therapeutic and other uses, Akebia quinata is also used for culinary purpose. The fruits of this woody vine are consumed raw. They are sweet, but bland. The fruits of this herb have a very subtle flavour, while their texture is soft and succulent. Often people add lemon juice to improve the fruit's flavour. The skin of this fruit has a bitter flavour and it is often consumed after frying.

The fruit of Akebia quinata measures anything between 5 cm and 10 cm in length, while it is about 4 cm in width. Even the tender shoots of this herb are edible. They are added in salads, in addition to using them to making pickles. The leaves of akebia are also used as an alternative for tea.

Habitat and cultivation

Akebia quinata is indigenous to a vast region covering Japan, Central China and Korea in Asia. Currently, this herb is also found growing in Europe and the United States.

This woody vine, also known as chocolate vine, is found growing naturally in forest lands, thickets in mountainous regions and hedges. It is also found in other environments like scrub on the slopes of mountains at heights of about 300 meters to 1500 meters, especially in China, and beside the streams.

Akebia quinata grows excellently in sandy (light), loamy (medium) and clay (heavy) soils. This species has a preference for soils having good drainage. The ideal pH for growing this herb includes acidic, alkaline or basic and neutral soils. Akebia possesses the aptitude to thrive in shade (such as deep forest areas), partial shade (like light woodland) and even in sunlight. This herb has a preference for moist soils.

Landscape uses: For optimum growth, akebia needs a properly drained soil that can retain moisture. This species has a preference for fertile loamy (medium) soil and possesses the aptitude to thrive in acidic as well as alkaline soils. Akebia plants grow best when they are grown along a north facing wall. These plants grow very rapidly and can even turn out to be invasive soon. When the plants are dormant they can endure very low temperatures, up to -20°C, but when young, the plants are slightly tender. The young growths, even on mature vines, which appear during the spring are susceptible to frosts and it is best to grow them in a sheltered position away from the sun, especially during the early morning.

Akebia plants remain evergreen when the winter is mild. The plants loathe root disturbance. Hence, it is best to grow them in containers or plant them in their permanent positions outdoors while they are still young. Usually, akebia plants are not pruned back. Even if their growth is too rapid and they become very large, you can cut them back by trimming using shears at the onset of spring.

The flowers of akebia possess a pungent aroma that reminds one of vanilla. Akebia plants seldom bear fruits. If you wish to obtain the fruits of akebia, it is advisable that you provide the plants with some kind of protection during the flowering season and also use hand pollination, as they are incapable of self-fertilization. It has been found that akebia plants are self-sterile and, hence, preferably you should grow no less than two plants from diverse sources in close vicinity to help the plants to pollinate and bear fruits. In other words, akebia plants produce monoecious flowers and, hence, it is necessary to grow akebia plants with male and female reproductive parts close to each other. All plants belonging to this species are especially free from onslaughts of honey fungus.

Akebia quinata plants are generally propagated by their seed, which should ideally be sown in a cold frame immediately when they are mature. The seeds should be sown very shallowly and in a light position. Generally, the seeds begin to germinate within one to three months after sowing, provided the temperature is maintained at around 15°C. If you are using stored seeds for propagation, you should first keep them in cold stratification for about a month prior to sowing them. In fact, it is quite difficult to propagate the plants with stored seeds, as they do not germinate readily.

After the seedlings have grown sufficiently large and can be handled without the risk of damaging them, prick them out carefully and plant them in separate pots. Continue growing the young plants in a greenhouse in light shade during their first winter. You may plant them out outdoors into their permanent positions either during the end of spring or beginning of the summer after the last anticipated frost in your area has passed.

Alternately, akebia can also be propagated from semi-ripe wood cuttings during July-August and sow the cuttings in a frame. Generally, the propagation through cuttings may be a very slow process, as the cuttings take quite some time to root. You may also taken cuttings from the soft wood of the plants during spring.

Akebia can also be propagated from root cuttings, which need to be sown in a frame inside a warm greenhouse during December. Layering at the onset of spring. This process is quite simple, as generally the plants themselves self-layer. Therefore, the only thing that you need to do is simply unearth the new plants and transplant them into their permanent positions outdoors directly.

Akebia is known to be an atypical climber and it is best to grow them in warmer gardens, because the flowers of this herb are susceptible to harm due to late frosts.

The akebia plants produce maroon-chocolate hued blooms that seem to be artificial. Each flower comprises three broad waxy 'petals' that form an upturned cup profile. In fact, the 'petals' of akebia are bunched together with the stems and possess an exotic pungent aroma, which reminds one of vanilla/chocolate. The flowers are striking, as they draw attention standing out against an environment of pale purple leaf having three lobes, and especially appear vivid in bright sunlight.

When the conditions are mild, the akebia plants remain evergreen throughout the winter. However, when the conditions are cold, the plants shed their leaves. Following a really warm summer, the plants produce large fruits akin to the shape of a sausage. These fruits hang alluringly from the rounded stems.

Constituents

Akebia contains:

  • triterpenes
  • saponins
  • mesembryanthemoidgenic acid
  • oleanolic acid

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