Bletilla is a temperate, terrestrial genus of orchids containing 5 species. This genus is abbreviated Ble in trade journals.
Plants are distributed through China, Japan and Taiwan and Vietnam
The pseudobulbs resemble spreading corms which usually sit at ground level. Each pseudobulb generally bears several pleated leaves around 40cm long. The racemes of flowers emerge from the center of the years new growth before it is mature, during spring and early summer. The flowers vary in colour from white to purple, and all species have four pollinia. The tubers resemble a horn or claw. They are grayish-white or yellowish-white in appearance, with concentric rings and brown rootlets. They have a hard texture and do not break easily. Plants usually go dormant during winter.
Bletilla is used in Herbal Medicine (紫蘭 bai ji). When employed in herbal remedies, the tuber is peeled and dried in the sun, then cut into slices or ground into a powder.
Bletilla is associated with the Lung, Stomach and Liver meridians in traditional Chinese medicine, and has a bitter taste and cool properties. Its main functions are to reduce swelling and stop bleeding in the lungs and stomach. It is often used with gelatin, donkey glue and cuttlefish bone as part of a larger herbal formula.
Among the modern uses for bletilla are treatment of sores, ulcers and chapped skin. Because of its astringent properties, Bletilla is often used to stop bleeding caused by traumatic injuries, heal wounds, reduce swelling, and promote regeneration of tissue. When used with other herbs, bletilla can help treat coughs and phlegmy obstructions.
The typical dose of Bletilla depends on the condition being treated. Usually, practitioners recommend between 3 and 15 grams of bletilla, taken as a powder. Larger amounts can be applied to the skin, usually mixed with sesame oil.
Whole, dried Bletilla root is sold at many herbal shops, Asian markets and specialty stores. Bletilla powder is widely available, as are some decoctions that contain Bletilla.
Bletilla is incompatible with aconite root, and therefore should not be taken with aconite root or any formulas that contain it. As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with bletilla. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking bletilla or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement
Bletilla species are generally hardy, though some need protection from severe frost. It is better to keep them in pots of well drained media so that water does not sit around the roots during winter when the plants are not actively growing. They should also be watered sparingly at the start of the growing season as the new shoots emerge, as new roots often do not follow for around four weeks afterwards.
Appendix: I've had Bletilla striata in my garden for many years. They are in blocks of up to 1 m2. After that they began to spread, and was not looked after as carefully as the first, and then have proven, that they can easily survive 2 winters in a row, with down to -16 C> degrees (3 F) without taking damage, and without covering. The leaves are still up to 60-70 cm,and flower stalk approximately 80-90 cm. But a little less blooming after the cold winters.
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The name is actually a diminutive of Bletia because of the resemblance between the two genera even though Bletia is a New World genus.
- Jimensia Raf. 1836
- Polytoma Lour. ex B.A.Gomes(1868).
- Bletilla chartacea N. Myanmar
- Bletilla foliosa SC. China to N. Indo-China
- Bletilla formosana C. & S. China, Taiwan, Nansei-shoto
- Bletilla ochracea C. & S. China to Vietnam
- Bletilla striata Chinese ground orchid, hardy orchid China to Japan
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- Feng G, Kramann B, Zheng C, et al. Comparative study on the long-term effect of permanent embolization of hepatic artery with bletilla striata in patients with primary liver cancer. J Tongji Med Univ 1996;16:111-116.
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- Zheng C, Feng G, Liang H. Bletilla striata as a vascular embolizing agent in interventional treatment of primary hepatic carcinoma. Chin Med J 1998;111:1060-1063.
- Zheng C, Feng G, Zhou R. New use of bletilla striata as embolizing agent in the intervention treatment of hepatic carcinoma. Zhonghua Zhong Liu Za Zhi 1996