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 prop-
erties. 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
• Agastache: for treatment of stomach flu and gastrointestinal
• Apricot seed and linum: for treatment of chronic constipation
• Bupleurum, inula and cyperus: for treatment of stressrelated
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
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