Bletilla is a type of orchid that is often prized for its beauty. Sometimes referred to as a Chinese orchid, several parts of the plant are also used in several types of alternative medicine, including Chinese medicine. Many of the uses for the plant have to do with healing issues related to the digestive tract, but there are also topical uses involving burns and other damage to the skin.
One of the most common uses for bletilla has to do with the health of the liver, stomach, and lungs. This is particularly true in Chinese medicine, where these meridians are considered interconnected, meaning an ailment in one may affect the function of the other two. By preparing a powder that is then diluted with water, bletilla can be used to produce a somewhat bitter tea that is understood to help prevent and cure stomach ulcers, as well as stop bleeding and swelling in the lungs and surrounding tissue. The mixture can also be concentrated if necessary. For the liver, a tincture made from the tuber of the orchid is also thought to help restore normal balance and function in that organ.
For a sore throat or cough, gargling with bletilla mixed in a little water may provide a great deal or relief in a short period of time. The properties of the herb are said to draw out the infection from the throat, making it easier for the body’s immune system to fight off any lingering bacteria. In some types of alternative medicine, the orchid is combined with other herbs such as peppermint to produce a tonic that is soothing to the throat and helps reduce coughing.
In several cultures, bletilla is also used to treat various types of skin conditions. When dried and made into a paste, the plant can be applied directly to a burned area, effectively drawing the heat from the burn and allowing the skin to begin healing. Some recommend the use of the paste to treat open wounds. The properties of the plant are said to promote blood clotting, which in turn may help to slow the bleeding from the wound. Even for insect bites, a little bletilla applied to the area is supposed to bring relief from pain in a short period of time.
There are other uses of bletilla found around the world. In parts of Vietnam, portions of the plant are sometimes employed to aid in treating various types of pulmonary disease, and even tuberculosis. Today, bletilla powder is found in many herbal shops, while the whole tuber can often be purchased at Asian food shops. While the plant is utilized in many alternative healing traditions, there has been relatively little research into the healing properties of the orchid by practitioners of Western medicine.