Magnolia medicine

Magnolia, in its many forms from the low-growing stars of Magnolia stellata to the delicate goblets of Magnolia liliflora, is gracing our gardens right now. It’s been around for over 100 million years, long before humans came on the scene, and yet it is packed with health-enhancing qualities. Chinese medicine has been making use of it for centuries, but it’s been overlooked by Western herbal medicine, whose roots lie in Europe and America, even though we’ve had it in our gardens for many generations.

So what can it offer us, besides delighting our eyes in springtime? Using its traditional Chinese indications as a starting point, research has shown that a constituent of the bark can prevent the spread of prostate cancer, and shows promise in the treatment of colon cancer and leukaemia. The same constituent, among others, improves brain function and may help to alleviate or prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. And it helps to stabilise blood sugar and reduce appetite, making it a valuable tool in the management and prevention of diabetes. That’s almost an all-in-one remedy for the ailments of the developed world.

Traditionally, various parts of the plant are also used to reduce anxiety and depression, relieve menstrual cramps, soothe coughs and asthmatic attacks, and help maintain the health of your liver. It’s not a herb you should use for too long, or in too high a dose, or during pregnancy; these are powerful actions which are not appropriate for everyone. But it is another example of an ancient answer to some very modern questions. How many more answers may be closer to home than we think?

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