Officinal Magnolia Bark
What is Officinal Magnolia Bark?
Officinal Magnolia Bark (hou po, 厚朴), refers to the bark of the Magnolia Tree, a native of East and Southeast Asia. Also known as Magnolia officinalis or Magnolia biondii, this tree belongs to the Magnoliaceae family, and can grow to a mature height that ranges from 16 feet to 80 feet. You can easily spot the Magnolia Tree by looking out for the large and fragrant flowers that often grow till 8 inches in diameter. Along with the bark, these flowers and leaves are also often used to make medicine.
The scientific name of Magnolia Bark is Magnolia officinalis. Its Chinese name, hou pu, refers to the thick bark that comes from the unadorned part of the tree. Its other nicknames include Magnolia Cortex, Cucumber Tree, Honoki and Swamp Sassafras.
For centuries, Magnolia Bark has been used as a natural calming remedy due to its sleep-promoting and stress-reducing properties. Today, it also has a powerful place in modern-day wellness practices.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners often harvest the bark in April and June. After peeling or cutting the bark from the tree, the bark will be boiled and dried till it turns into a purple-brown colour. This dried bark, known for its sharp smell and bitter taste, is then soaked in a Traditional Medicine tincture for oral use.
In TCM, Magnolia Bark falls under the category of ‘Aromatic Herbs that transform Dampness’. Such herbs help to resolve Cold-Damp stagnation, which translate into symptoms such as lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Warm in nature, Magnolia Bark tends to help people who have too much ‘Cold’ in their body, such as individuals who are experiencing Yin Excess or Yang Deficiency.
Bitter and pungent in taste, Magnolia Bark has a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. It can also promote the circulations of qi and body fluids. In particular, Magnolia Bark targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.
Functions and Benefits of Officinal Magnolia Bark
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Magnolia Bark have 3 main functions:
Firstly, Magnolia Bark helps to move and regulate qi to resolve Stagnation, especially in the Stomach and intestines. For example, this herb can help to relieve constipation, gastric and abdominal distending pain due to heat retention, chest fullness, bloating, loss of appetite, acid reflux and poor digestion.
Secondly, Magnolia Bark helps to relieve cough, wheezing and dyspnea due to the adverse rising of qi. By drying Dampness, resolving phlegm, driving qi downwards and relieving dyspnea, this herb can also help to tackle the interior obstruction of phlegm and Dampness.
Thirdly, Magnolia Bark can tackle symptoms that are the manifestation of Damp Obstruction of the middle energizer by drying Dampness. Not only can this herb dry Damp-turbidity, it can also move qi and relieve distention. For example, this herb can be used for gastric and abdominal distention, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting.
Other than the above Magnolia Bark benefits, modern studies have also discovered other potential health benefits. For example, it may protect against the effects of oxidative stress and inflammation, which are causes of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Also, this herb may have anti-cancer properties.
Magnolia Bark also seems to have the ability to relieve stress and anxiety due to its protective effects against many neurological conditions. The herb has also been found to help induce and improve sleep. Therefore, it can be used as a remedy for insomnia or simply to promote better sleep quality.
Some other benefits of the herb include improving symptoms of menopause, such as regulating one’s sleep and mood.
How to Use Officinal Magnolia Bark
Dried and rolled Magnolia Bark can be found at many herbal shops and specialty stores. It is also often incorporated into larger herbal formulas and supplements for oral consumption. For example, Magnolia Bark is often used in the following two traditional medicinal formulas: Ban xia hou po tang (半夏厚朴汤) and Saiboku-To.
Magnolia Bark extracts are available in various forms, such as capsule, tincture, tea, and even toothpaste, topical oils and cream. Today, Magnolia Bark is widely used in both food supplements and beauty products.
Cautions and Side Effects of Officinal Magnolia Bark
Officinal Magnolia Bark should not be used by pregnant women or by individuals who are experiencing Stomach or Spleen Deficiency.
Also, as Magnolia Bark has a sedative effect, large amounts of consumption of this herb may reduce blood pressure. Hence, if individuals have low blood pressure, it is best to consult their healthcare provider before using this herb.
Also, it is advised to not take this herb in combination with any other type of sedative, sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs, since the herb itself already has sleep-promoting properties. Doing so might cause drowsiness and make it unsafe for you during your day-to-day operations.
Individuals who constantly feel thirsty are not recommended to take this herb.
Here is a summary for Officinal Magnolia Bark:
- Herb name (Chinese): 厚朴
- Herb name (Pin Yin): hòu pò
- Herb name (English): Officinal Magnolia Bark
- Herb name (Botanical): Cortex Magnoliae Officinalis
- Origin of species: Magnolia officinalis Rehd. et. Wils; Magnolia officinalis Rehd. et. Wils. var. biloba Rehd. et. Wils
- Part(s) of herb used: Stem bark, root bark or branch bark
- Geo-specific habitat(s): Sichuan, Hubei
- Taste(s) & Properties: Bitter, pungent; Warm; Administrates the Spleen, Stomach, Lung and Large Intestine meridians
- Actions: Eases indigestion and abdominal bloatedness or discomfort; Relieves constipation and coughs.
Sakaue, Y., Domon, H., Oda, M., Takenaka, S., Kubo, M., Fukuyama, Y., … & Terao, Y. (2016). Anti‐biofilm and bactericidal effects of magnolia bark‐derived magnolol and honokiol on Streptococcus mutans. Microbiology and immunology, 60(1), 10-16. [Accessed on 18 September 2022]
Talbott, S. M., Talbott, J. A., & Pugh, M. (2013). Effect of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (Relora®) on cortisol and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 37.[Accessed on 18 September 2022]
Yi, L. T., Xu, Q., Li, Y. C., Yang, L., & Kong, L. D. (2009). Antidepressant-like synergism of extracts from magnolia bark and ginger rhizome alone and in combination in mice. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 33(4), 616-624.[Accessed on 18 September 2022]
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