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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Magnolia Is Xinyi

Magnolia, also known as Xinyi, is the flower bud of Magnolia biodii L., M. denudata Desr. and other Magnolia spp. (Family Magnioliaceae). Properties of the magnolia bud include clears nasal cavity, antiinflammatory, antiallergenic, antihistaminic, antimicrobial (fungi, bacteria, viruses), muscle stimulant and relaxant, and local anesthetic. The most common traditional internal uses are for nasal congestion, common cold and associated headache, and runny nose. The most common traditional external uses are nasal decongestion, toothaches, and facial dark spots. Some more modern and recent uses are allergic rhinitus, chronic rhinitis, and paranasal sinusitis.

The magnolia flower bud looks like a pussywillow bud but when crushed it smells strongly of eucalyptus. It is readily available from any China Town herb shop. It is one of the most effective nasal decongestants I have ever come across.

I used to have a very bad case of hay fever, both in the spring and fall, all of which started during my third year as a graduate student in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I tried all kinds of over-the-counter and prescription drugs for hay fever. Some worked while others didn't. Those that worked caused drowsiness and made life equally miserable. Later, as my interest in Chinese herbal medicine was rekindled, I discovered magnolia flower and started using it. My hay fever was so bad that my nose was completely plugged at night, and I had to breathe totally through my mouth. When it got that bad, none of the modern nasal decongestants worked.

To make the tea, a handful of the buds (8 to 10) are crushed and steeped in boiling water and covered for about 5 minutes. After straining off the hairs, the tea is drunk. Incidentally, it tastes rather bad; only a koala would like it! A cup before bedtime got me through the night. To my amazement, after two seasons of use (once at night and once in the morning whenever I remembered), my hay fever was greatly relieved, to the point that I didn't need any more modern medications. That was a number of years ago. Now I only occasionally need magnolia. Skeptics may say I just happened to be outgrowing my hay fever the same time I started using magnolia flower. Maybe and maybe not. I was also skeptical at first after reading reports from China describing its use in treating rhinitis with amazing results. But the more I read about its history of use and modern studies on its various effects, the more I am convinced that magnolia flower indeed works.

The written record of magnolia flower being used to "clear the nasal cavity" dates back three thousand years. Although modern laboratory studies have discovered various active components (neolignans, lignans, alkaloids, volatile oil, flavonoids, etc.) in magnolia flower, scientists still cannot determine what accounts for its nasal decongestant effects. But as a former hay fever sufferer - and still one occasionally - I can only say "Who cares?" I am just glad that I can count on magnolia flower when I need it, even though it makes a horrible tea. To my colleagues and fellow scientists who happen to read this: It is not just the volatile oil that works.

Because of its antiinflammatory effects, extracts of magnolia flower are now used in certain cosmetics to relieve irritation or inflammation caused by certain cosmetic ingredients.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including magnolia flower on pages 63-64. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

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