Beijing: When Wang Xingjian arrived in Qichun, Hubei province, 12 years ago to buy mugwort from local farmers, he was surprised to find there was none available in the county, traditionally famous for producing the herb.
“Farmers only grew a few mugwort plants around their houses for their own use, and never thought of growing more for sale,” Wang, a businessman from Qingdao, Shandong province, said.
“For two years I could not get any mugwort, despite visiting the whole county.”
Wild mugwort used to grow all over the mountains in Qichun, but the use of pesticides and weed killers by farmers to improve grain yields had killed off a lot of the mugwort, he said.
Unable to find enough mugwort, Wang started to propagate mugwort seeds three years later and employ farmers to grow the plant.
He now has a 20ha mugwort plantation and his company uses the herb in various moxibustion products, including a cigar-like stick. Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine practice, believed to increase blood circulation, in which dried mugwort leaves are burned to heat pressure points.
The smoke from the burning mugwort also has medicinal effects.
“Planting of mugwort in Qichun has increased rapidly since 2014, the year when the county government started to call on farmers to grow the herb,” Wang said.
“Now my mugwort and its products are sold across China, and even to other countries such as Russia and the United States. A TCM researcher from Germany also bought mugwort seeds from me for growing.”
Xia Chenjie, a Qichun native, said that like many other people in the county, he has used mugwort since he was a child.
“When I was a child my mother would always prepare bath water with mugwort during the Dragon Boat Festival, as it is said to be able to ward off evil,” he said.
“And I would also drink mugwort leaf water or chew the leaves when I got conditions such as fever or diarrhoea, and they proved effective.”
Although Western medicine is widely available, many people in rural parts of the county still hang mugwort on their doors to drive away evil spirits, he said.
Tian Qun, president of Qiai Industry Association, a local organisation made up of mugwort enterprises, farmers and researchers, said mugwort is part of everyday life in Qichun.
“Everyone uses mugwort, and many people’s livelihoods are related to it,” he said.
Tian said it was not until 2013 that the herb was grown commercially on a large scale, gradually developing into an industry.
The revival of mugwort in Qichun, pushed by the local government, is expected to be a driving force in the county’s economic development and help to lift residents out of poverty.
In May, the local government held a ceremony in Qichun to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Li Shizhen, one of the most famous pharmacists in ancient China, who was born in the county, to underline its determination to develop the TCM industry.
Although Qichun was an ideal place for growing mugwort, locals had not paid enough attention to the herb for many years, said Yu Lipeng, deputy chief of the county’s publicity department.
In recent years the local government has been emphasising mugwort’s role in developing the county’s TCM industry, a government priority, he said.
Following a visit by county government officials to South Korea in 2010, where they were impressed by traditional medicine research and development, the local government decided to take measures to develop the mugwort industry, Yu said.
The government has integrated planting of mugwort with poverty reduction since 2014, hoping the herb can help lift farmers in the county out of poverty.
Regarded by the central government as an impoverished county, Qichun’s per capita GDP last year was 29,472 yuan (RM18,306), according to the county government, far below the national average of 59,660 yuan (RM37,058).
An annual subsidy of 6,000 yuan (RM3,726) has been offered since 2014 for every hectare of land sown with mugwort by a household registered as living in poverty, the county government said. — China Daily/Asia News Network
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