Forgotten for a millennium, beneficial Gobi herb is making a comeback

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Forgotten for a millennium, beneficial Gobi herb is making a comeback

Related tags People's republic of china China

In the harsh landscape of China’s northwest in the Gobi, where temperatures can fluctuate by 90 degrees over the course of a year, a bush with striking beneficial properties has been left to grow unnoticed for more than a thousand years.

You won’t find much about gaubau kender through Google. A member of the Apocynaceae ​family, it grows widely in the Xinjiang autonomous region of China. However, the plant has a fascinating backstory, and it is only recently that researchers have come to understand its many benefits.

It was first recorded in the Chinese medical lexicon in the Tang dynasty [618-907]. But then one great Chinese medical doctor accidentally published some incorrect details about the plant in a book and it was forgotten​,” said Zoe Lau, director of Gaubau, the Hong Kong company that harvests and manufactures the herb for the Chinese market.

Those who take gaubau kender—also known as luobuma​—tend to sleep better, research has found. And its leaves can be used in herbal tea for the treatment of hypertension, anxiety and depression. Animal studies have also shown that Apocynum venetum​ leaf extract can also exert anti-depressant and anti-anxiety activities.

It contains a number of active ingredients with flavonoids like rutin, with levels three times higher than those required by the Chinese government’s standards. It also has anti-ageing properties, Lau says, with 18 different kinds of amino acids and eight essentials—data backed up by academic studies. It can also be added to food for its distinctive flavour, and it is used a meat softener, especially for beef and pork.

The Chinese had used this plant for centuries as a medicine. Before gaubau kender lost its status, tea was very expensive so they used the plant as a herbal tea infusion for the poor, though at the time they didn’t know about its functional properties​.”

It wasn’t until the ‘Fifties when a team of Chinese scientists who were investigating the area of the Gobi from which gaubau kender is sourced rediscovered it. They conducted research on the plant and find a whole range of medical benefits contained in its leaves.

Lau’s company focuses solely on the herb, and hopes to expand its distribution of “Good Night” branded gaubau kender extracts and leaves to Hong Kong later this year, and then further afield across Asia over the next 12 months. Japan, in particular, holds great potential.

Traditional Chinese medicine has been in Japan for hundreds of years, but over recent times, the Japanese have placed a more scientific emphasis on the tradition—more in the western style with tablets and capsules​,” she said.

For the health industry, the Japanese market is now very mature and competitive, so I think Japanese companies are keen to find new ingredients like ours as the market is highly competitive. They need to do this sort of thing to survive​.”

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