Some years ago, I recall reading about a plant cultivated in southern China. Lo Han Kuo, or Luo Han Guo (luohanguo), refers to the fruit of Siraitia grosvenori. It is a very sweet fruit and is found almost exclusively in the Guangxi Province. The climatic conditions for successful cultivation of the plant are very particular.
There are records of Chinese monks using Lo Han Kuo medicinally as far back as the Song Dynasty nearly 800 years ago. The plant’s fruit is often grounded into a fine powder and used to make a restorative tea. The Chinese believe that the plant helps to fortify the body’s respiratory system and acts as a longevity aid.
In fact, it is said that people in the Guanxi Province experience great longevity and less chronic ailments. People in this region are often inclined to attribute this success to the use of Lo Han Kuo.
In fact, even now, women in this province often prepare a Lo Han Kuo soup or tea at the earliest sign of a cough. Interestingly, studies have recently substantiated at least one thing- Lo Han Kuo is rich in antioxidants.
Because of its natural sweetness, roughly 200 times greater than sugar, Lo Han Kuo is increasingly being used as a natural sweetener, a process patented by Procter & Gamble in 1995.
The commercialization of the plant is becoming more apparent. In addition to its propagation as a sweetener, it is also sold in bulk herb form as well as powdered extract. While bulk forms of the plant are not as readily available in mainstream distribution channels, the plant can be found through many herbal suppliers and Chinese medicine practitioners.