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Peony: An Ancient Flower That Still Commands Respect Today

pink peony

Story at-a-glance -

  • Peony contains a mixture of various compounds, mainly flavonoids, tannins, polysaccharides and a unique glycoside called paeoniflorin. All of these work together to provide various potential benefits
  • Planting peonies into the ground is often done using tuberous roots, which ideally should have three eyes to be sure that they grow strong

Flowers are one of the most common plants you can find in a garden. There are countless variants, and all are known for their beautiful aesthetics and scents. One flower that is common, but not many know about, is the peony.

The history of peony dates back to ancient China as far as 1,000 B.C. It became a popular fixture in imperial gardens, and even became a protected plant under a royal decree during the Tang Dynasty.1 From there, peony spread to nearby countries such as Japan and was introduced to the Western world in 1789, when it arrived in Europe.2

What is it about the peony that makes it stand the test of time? Aside from ornamental uses, history has shown that it may have therapeutic benefits that may help with various ailments, which strongly contributes to its longevity.

Potential Therapeutic Benefits of Peony

Peony contains a mixture of various compounds, mainly flavonoids, tannins, polysaccharides and a unique glycoside called paeoniflorin. All of these work together to provide various potential benefits.3 Research has shown that it may help with the following conditions:4

Hepatitis: Red peony root may help people affected with viral hepatitis by reducing liver enzyme levels associated with the disease.

Atherosclerosis: Peony has been shown to help prevent platelet aggregation that may lead to heart disease.

Dysmenorrhea: Toki-shakuyaku-san, a concoction of peony root along with other herbs, may help reduce cramping and pain associated with dysmenorrhea.

Polycystic ovary syndrome: Peony has shown to possess some small estrogen-like effects that may help improve fertility in women affected with polycystic ovary syndrome.

Other Uses of Peony Aside From Promoting Health

Aside from therapeutic applications, one of the most principal ways of using peonies is landscaping or gardening. They’re well-known for their beautiful appearance, which can immensely increase the aesthetic value of your home. Here are just some of the ways you can apply peonies:5

Bookends: You can place two peony plants on both sides of a walkway to signify the end or beginning of a path.

Groupings: Combine several peony plants together to create an attention-grabbing set piece on your garden.

Borders: Plant peonies along the edges of garden beds or pathways to create a sense of separation.

Furthermore, peony variants can be mixed and matched together to create different unique styles to suit your home. For example, it can be used to help evoke a modern, classical or formal feel, depending on what flowers and other gardening elements you use.6 Here are the variants of peonies and their general descriptions:7

Anemone: This is an early-blooming peony that’s also low-growing, making it a useful garden plant. It stands only 2 inches tall.

Rose: Rose peonies are named as such due to their scent’s resemblance to a true rose.

Single: Well-known for its prolific blooming, a single peony looks like a daisy.

Golden Circle: This type has big, full blooms. 

Lotus: This flower has three layers of petals and does not need to be staked.

Crown: This has an appearance similar to an ice cream scoop due to its tight, curly center petals.

Chrysanthemum: This particular variant contains five to 10 layers of petals that get smaller as they reach the center.

Hundred Proliferate: The odd name of this peony flower comes from the fact that it has at least 100 petals in each bud.

Growing Peonies in Your Own Home

Peonies can be a huge boon to your garden because they’re pleasing to the eye. In other words, you basically have an attractive perennial that will last you a very long time. In fact, The Old Farmer’s Almanac mentions that certain peony flowers have lasted more than 100 years.8 Furthermore, growing them requires very little maintenance due to their sturdiness. All you need to do is make sure that they’re planted and established properly.9

To start, your soil must be well-draining with a slightly acidic pH level of 6.5 to 7.0. The actual component of your soil doesn’t really matter, as the plants can adapt to their environment. But if you have heavy clay soil, it is best to compost it first to make the peonies grow better.10

Next, you must plant it where it can get full sun exposure, or at least six hours of sunlight each day. Peonies need plenty of sunlight to grow because if insufficient, they will produce smaller flowers and fewer blooming seasons. Furthermore, their health is compromised and can be prone to fungal diseases like gray mold.11

Planting peonies into the ground is often done using tuberous roots, which ideally should have three eyes to be sure that they grow strong.12 Create a hole 2 feet deep and 2 feet across, then place a single root, then tamp firmly. Set the root in a way that allows the eyes upward, but just 2 inches below the surface.

Finally, fill back the hole with soil but don’t bury the root deeper than 2 inches, then water thoroughly. Repeat this process for the other roots.13 Lastly, be patient while growing your flowers. It can take up to three years to produce a high-quality harvest.14

How to Harvest and Store Peony Properly

The best time for harvesting peonies is during a cool morning before the sunlight raises the temperature. Cut the blossoms carefully, leaving 14- to 16-inch stems. Preserve the cut flowers by placing them in vases (if used as decoration) or in the refrigerator (for therapeutic purposes).15

Make sure that the storage temperature is very cold, but not too cold that it will freeze your harvest. Keep the flower buds wrapped in old newspaper to keep them from becoming moist, which may encourage disease.16

Peony Essential Oil Does Not Contain Beneficial Properties

While peony may potentially benefit your health, its essential oil counterpart may not. That’s because the flower cannot be made into an essential oil as the benefits are lost once the compounds are extracted from the plant.

However, you may still enjoy its fragrance in various ways. For example, you can pour peony essential oil into your candle to spread the aroma throughout your home. You may also mix it with a skin lotion to improve the product’s scent.17 Keep this information in mind so that you may not be duped by sellers claiming that their peony oil has “healing” effects.

It’s Time to Add Peony to Your Garden

Peony is certainly a plant that hits two birds with one stone — on one hand, it may help with various ailments, and on the other, it can spice up your garden. It’s certainly a flower that you will most certainly enjoy having in your home, no matter what type you choose to grow.