Traditional Uses of Chou Wu Tong – Clerodendrum trichotomum

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Chou Wu Tong Quick Facts
Name: Chou Wu Tong
Scientific Name: Clerodendrum trichotomum
Origin China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, India and the Philippines
Colors Initially white, but become bright blue and then dark blue as they mature
Shapes Pea sized berry like fruit surrounded by the persistent star shaped crimson calyx
Taste Acrid, bitter, sweet, astringent
Health benefits Good for dermatitis, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, numbness, paralysis and eczema
Clerodendrum trichotomum [kler-oh-DEN-drum, try-KOH-toh-mum] more commonly known as Chou Wu Tong is a flowering plant species, which is sometimes placed in the family Lamiaceae (the mint family) and sometimes classified as the member of the Verbenaceae family of plants. The plant is native to China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, India and the Philippines. Chou Wu Tong, Harlequin glorybower, Ferruginous clerodendrum, Harlequin Glory Bower, chance tree, Hardy Clerodendrum, Tree-of-Bad-Fortune, Tree-of-Good-Fortune, Japanese clerodendrum and Peanut butter shrub are some of the most common names of the plant. Scent of leaves, when crushed, is similar to the peanut butter smell. So Chou Wu Tong is also called as ‘Peanut butter tree‘.

The name Clerodendrum is derives from the Greek word for chance (klero) and tree (dendrum).  This refers back to the trees original species name fortunata. The species name, trichotomum, refers to the three-lobed juvenile-leaves this species sometimes produces. It is cultivated for its fragrant flowers, autumn color, and ornamental berries. It is hardy but requires a sheltered position. Clerodendrum trichotomum was introduced into European cultivation around 1800.  It was described as early as 1916 in an early Danish book on trees and bushes, and it was sold by the Danish nurseryman Aksel Olsen as early as 1928.   It was tried in Hørsholm already in 1937. Our oldest living plants however date from 1977. In some parts of the world, the roots and leaves are also used for medicinal purposes.

Chou Wu Tong Facts

Name Chou Wu Tong
Scientific Name Clerodendrum trichotomum
Native China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, India, and the Philippines
Common Names Chou Wu Tong, Harlequin glorybower, Ferruginous clerodendrum, Harlequin Glory Bower, chance tree, Hardy Clerodendrum, Tree-of-Bad-Fortune, Tree-of-Good-Fortune, Japanese clerodendrum, Peanut butter shrub 
Name in Other Languages Chinese: Hai zhou chang shan (海州常山), Shān zhū jiā (山豬枷), Chou Wu Tong
Danish: Almindelig Skæbnetræ
English: Glorytree, Harlequin glorybower , Ferruginous clerodendrum, ferruginous clerodendrum, glory bower
Finnish: Isokohtalonköynnös, Isokohtalonpensas
French: Arbre du clergé, arbre de la chance
German: Japanischer Losbaum, chinesischer Losbaum, kurzborstiger Losbaum
Japanese: Kusagi  (クサギ)
Korean: Nu li jang na mu (누리장나무)
Manipuri: Bp-mana
Portuguese: Clerodendro-do-Japão       
Russian: klerodendrum trizhdy vetvyashchiysya  (клеродендрум триждыветвящийся), klerodendrum trokhvil’chatyy (клеродендрум трёхвильчатый), klerodendrum trokhrazdel’nyy  (клеродендрум трёхраздельный)
Swedish: Frilandsklerodendrum Turkish: Kısmet ağacı
Plant Growth Habit Large, deciduous or evergreen shrubs or small trees
Growing Climates Thickets on mountain slopes, throughout most of China
Soil Thickets on mountain slopes, throughout most of China
Plant Size 3–6 meters (10–20 ft.) tall  and may reach 7 m in height in nature
Bark Grey and smooth with many lenticels
Leaf Leaves are variable in size, and considerably larger on young plants than on adult ones. They are ovate or oval, 10-23 cm long and 5-10 cm wide
Flowering season August to October
Flower Fragrant flowers are borne on branching peduncles. They have white petals, held within a green calyx which turns red as the fruits ripen
Fruit Shape & Size pea sized berry like fruit surrounded by the persistent star shaped crimson calyx
Fruit Color Initially white, but become bright blue and then dark blue as they mature
Propagation By root cuttings or semi-hardwood cuttings
Flavor/Aroma Off-flavor in smell
Taste Acrid, bitter, sweet, astringent
Plant Parts Used Leaves
Culinary Uses
  • Young sprouts and leaves are consumed after being cooked.

Plant Description

Chou Wu Tong is a large, deciduous or evergreen shrubs or small trees that normally grows about 3–6 meters (10–20 ft.) tall and may reach 7 m in height in nature. The plant is found growing in thickets on mountain slopes, throughout most of China. The plant prefers a fertile humus-rich well-drained loam. The soil must not be allowed to dry out in the growing season. It is most often seen as a suckering shrub. It must be trained to grow as a tree and is rarely seen growing in that form. As an ornamental, this shrub is perhaps best noted for its late summer flowers, showy fruit and foul-smelling foliage. Bark of the plant is grey and smooth with many lenticels.

Leaves

The leaves are situated opposite on the shoots. Leaves are variable in size, and considerably larger on young plants than on adult ones. They are ovate or oval, 10-23 cm long and 5-10 cm wide, occasionally toothed, soft, with scattered down beneath, and flaccid. Stalks are downy, 1 to 4 in. long. The lower leaves are sometimes deeply two or three lobed towards the apex. The upper surface of the leaf is deep green with some bristly hairs and the lower surface is lighter green with hairs especially on the veins. When bruised, the leaves do produce a unique aroma reminiscent of peanut butter as memorialized by the sometimes used common name of peanut butter tree for this plant.

Leaf arrangement Opposite/sub opposite
Leaf type Simple
Leaf margin Entire
Leaf shape Elliptic (oval), ovate
Leaf venation Pinnate
Leaf type and persistence Deciduous
Leaf blade length 4 to 8 inches, 8 to 12 inches
Leaf color Green
Fall color No color change
Fall characteristic Not showy

Flower

Flowers are fragrant, produced from July to September in long-stalked cymes from the axils of the uppermost leaves, the whole forming an erect inflorescence 6 to 9 in. across. The corolla is white, 1 to 11⁄2 in. across, deeply 5 lobed with a rather long corolla tube, and long stamens and styles that project out of the flower some distance.  Calyx is reddish, 1⁄2 in. long, inflated, five-angled, and five-lobed. The flowers are strongly fragrant and are reported to attract butterflies and moths.  Flowering occurs over an extended period from and can occur simultaneously with ripening fruit.

Flower color Red
Flower characteristics Showy

Fruits

Fertile flowers are followed by pea sized berry like fruit surrounded by the persistent star shaped crimson calyx whose lobes have become fleshy and spreading. They are initially white, but become bright blue and then dark blue as they mature. The color is due to the presence of a unique blue pigment, named trichtomine after the plant

Fruit shape Round
Fruit length Less than .5 inch
Fruit covering Fleshy
Fruit color Blue
Fruit characteristics Does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

 

Traditional uses and benefits of Chou Wu Tong

  • Leaves are mildly analgesic, antipruritic, hypotensive and sedative.
  • They are used externally in the treatment of dermatitis and internally for the treatment of hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, numbness and paralysis.
  • The plant is normally used in conjunction with Bidens bipinnata.
  • When used with the herb Siegesbeckia pubescens it is anti-inflammatory.
  • Roots and leaves are anti-rheumatic and hypotensive.
  • Decoction is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and hypertension.
  • The pounded seed is used to kill lice.
  • In Chinese herbal medicine, chou wu tong is recommended for joint pain, numbness, and paralysis, and occasionally for eczema.
  • Traditionally regarded as a plant that “dispels wind dampness,” it is now also being used to help lower blood pressure.
  • The plant is mildly analgesic and, when used with the herb Siegesbeckia pubescens, is anti-inflammatory.
  • This species also known as a medicine-plant which has a proven ability to lower blood pressure.

Other facts

  • The leaves have a heavy unpleasant odor when crushed.
  • The wood has been used to make clogs and the berries to make dyes.
  • It’s beautiful and fragrant white flowers are highly attractive to butterflies, honeybees, hummingbirds, and many other pollinators.

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=501588#null

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Clerodendrum+trichotomum

https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=287499&isprofile=0&

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=CLTR

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clerodendrum_trichotomum

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/st171

http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-43122

https://treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/clerodendrum/clerodendrum-trichotomum/

http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Clerodendrum+trichotomum

https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxonomydetail.aspx?194

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/CLZTR

https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/772/#b

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