Kunlun Snow Chrysanthemum: an elixir from China’s wild wild west

Like everyone, I am trying to get into the groove of work after the holidays. This is my first post of the year, which I must admit, I had been pushing off for a month.

Around November of last year, I was watching a six-part Chinese documentary, “Tea: story of a leaf” on Youtube (unfortunately it has no English subtitles, so you’d need to understand some Mandarin). A flower called Kunlun snow chrysanthemum which I had never heard of, was featured in one of the episodes. Supposedly a rare, wild daisy-like flower with petals of yellow and central crimson that grows at an elevation of 10,000 feet in the Kunlun mountain range in Xinjiang province, China.

It’s not rare anymore as companies had figured a way to commercial-farm them in large scale at much lower altitude. In fact before it was farmed, Kunlun snow chrysanthemum was subjected to speculative manipulation in 2011 that pushed its price to 20,000 RMB (about £2300) per kilogram. Price has since crashed, and I got mine for £2.80 for a box of 100g online, excluding shipping. In the wild, it is only harvested once per year in August, but I couldn’t find any information on their productivity in controlled conditions.

Containing 18 kinds of amino acids and 15 trace elements, Snow Chrysanthemum is invariably billed as a miracle herb in China. The list of ailments that it allegedly is able to relieve is long, from high blood pressure to insomnia, but the medical studies are inconclusive. Personally, I’d think it wouldn’t hurt if it’s that rich in nutrients, as long as the cultivation process adheres to health standards without harmful pesticides and excessive fertilisers.

Tasting notes

snow chrysanthemum, herbal tea, kunlun mountain, china wild west

When I opened my newly arrived box of snow chrysanthemum, the aroma first reminded me of one of my childhood favourite drinks, Ribena (black currant syrup). I brewed it with boiling hot water, steeping it for about 5 minutes and got a golden liquor. On first sip, it has more depth than the garden variety chrysanthemum tea with distinct caramel notes. Some say it tastes a little like the fermented pu-erh tea and I agree, but with a floral edge. Some articles on the internet had indicated that the aromatic notes come from minerals rich soil of the mountain, but I pretty sure mine is not harvested from the wild.

I am going to continue tasting it as I have ample quantities of this flower, and it may just find its way into my new tea designs. Cheers!

Bernadine Tay is a tea designer and founder of Quinteassential. She tells stories and relives memories through her tea designs. She is the tea curator and brand ambassador for Wedgwood, and has designed bespoke blends for luxury brands and hotels. She had won 7 Great Taste awards out of her 12 blend designs for her own tea range and is now also a tea judge.