Many species of magnolia are used in both Eastern and Western herbalism. The Chinese have used the bark of Magnolia officinalis, called in Chinese hou po since the first century A.D. M. officinalis is a deciduous tree that grows to a height of 75 ft (22 m). It has large leaves surrounding a creamy white fragrant flower. The pungent aromatic bark is used in healing. Originally native to China where it grows wild in the mountains, M. officinalis is now grown as an ornamental for use in landscaping around the world.
Chinese herbalists also use the bud of Magnolia liliflora in healing. The Chinese name for magnolia flower is xin yi hua. Note that in Chinese herbalism, magnolia
bark and magnolia flower are considered different herbs with different properties and uses.
Other species of magnolia are used by Western herbalists. These include Magnolia virginiana, M. glauca, M. acuminate and M. tripetata. Other names for magnolia include white bay, beaver tree, swamp sassafras (not to be confused with other forms of sassafras used in the West), and Indian bark. The New World species of magnolia are smaller than their Asian counterparts, ranging in height from 6-30 ft (2-10 m). Both the bark and the root are used in Western herbalism.
In Chinese herbalism, magnolia bark, hou po, is associated with the stomach, lungs, spleen, and large intestine. It is used to treat menstrual cramps, abdominal pain, abdominal bloating and gas, nausea, diarrhea, and indigestion. Injections of magnolia bark extract are said to cause muscle relaxation. It is also used in formulas to treat coughing and asthma. The bark is said to make the qi descend and is used for symptoms of disorders thought to move upward in the body.
Research suggests that compounds found in magnolia bark may have mild antibacterial and antifungal properties. These studies are in their preliminary stages, however, and have been limited to test tube research.
Magnolia flower, xin yi hua, is associated with the lungs. It is used to treat chronic respiratory infections, sinus infections, and lung congestion. Its main function is to open the airway. Little scientific research has been done on the magnolia flower.
Magnolia bark and root are also used occasionally in Western herbalism, although they are not major healing herbs. At one time, magnolia root was used to treat rheumatism, and was thought to be superior to quinine in treating chills and fever. It is not used much today. Russian herbalists use an oil extracted from the flowers and young leaves to treat hair loss and as an antiseptic on skin wounds. In homeopathic medicine a tincture of magnolia flower is a minor remedy for asthma and fainting.
Little recent scientific research has been done on magnolia in the West; however, Asian researchers have isolated a compound from M. officinalis known as honokiol. As of 2002, honokiol has attracted interest for its antiplatelet effects. In addition, it is being studied for its ability to induce apoptosis, or cell self-destruction, in lung cancer cells. In Japan, honokiol is considered a
Magnolia bark is most commonly used in the following formulas:
- Agastache: for treatment of stomach flu and gastrointestinal upset.
- Apricot seed and linum: for treatment of chronic constipation and hemorrhoids.
- Bupleurum, inula and cyperus: for treatment of stress-related gastrointestinal disturbances.
All these formulas can be made into teas or are commercially available as pills or capsules.
Magnolia flower is most commonly used in xanthium and magnolia formula. It is used to relieve sinus congestion associated with a yellow discharge and to treat allergy symptoms such as runny nose. This formula can be made into a tea or is available in commercially produced capsules.
American herbalists dry magnolia bark and root and pound it into a powder or make a tincture that is taken several times daily. Russian herbalists soak the bark in vodka.
Chinese herbalists recommend that magnolia bark not be used by pregnant women and that magnolia flower be used with caution if the patient is dehydrated.
There are no unwanted side effects reported with normal doses of any of the different uses of magnolia. Large quantities of magnolia preparations, however, have been reported to cause dizziness. In addition, allergic reactions to the pollen from magnolia trees are not unusual.
In Chinese herbalism, both magnolia bark and flowers are often used in conjunction with other herbs with no reported interactions. There are no formal studies of its interactions with Western pharmaceuticals; however, there are anecdotal reports of harmful interactions between magnolia bark and prescription weight-loss medications. In addition, magnolia should not be taken together with any medications given to lower blood pressure, as it increases their effects.
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Reid, Daniel. Chinese Herbal Medicine. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1996.
Pyo, M. K., Y. Lee, and H. S. Yun-Choi. "Anti-Platelet Effect of the Constituents Isolated from the Barks and Fruits of Magnolia obovata." Archives of Pharmacal Research 25 (June 2002): 325-328.
Yang, S. E., M. T. Hsieh, T. H. Tsai, and S. L. Hsu. "Down-Modulation of Bcl-XL, Release of Cytochrome C and Sequential Activation of Caspases During Honokiol-Induced Apoptosis in Human Squamous Lung Cancer CH27 Cells." Biochemical Pharmacology 63 (May 1, 2002): 1641-1651.
American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM). 433 Front Street, Catasauqua, PA 18032. (610) 266-2433.
Herb Research Foundation. 1007 Pearl Street, Suite 200, Boulder, CO 80302. (303) 449-2265. <www.herbs.org>.
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD