My first distillation of Magnolia was pretty incredible! It’s as if I had bonded with my Magnolia Tree. I had not read about distilling a magnolia tree nor did I learn specifics about which part of the tree I should distill. So I distilled all parts of the tree and compared the differences.
I distilled the leaves of the tree and the aroma was not sweet. My vocabulary for aromas was gained by my teacher Jeanne Rose so that I might express in words what my nose tells me. The leaves had a distinctly green aroma there was no floral or fruity fragrance notes. It was not pleasing to the nose nor skin. Next, I distilled the flower petals, no aroma very close to the look and feel of the leaves with far less green smell, Hmmm, curious I thought although my teacher had already taught me that these tough petaled flowers including gardenia, carnation, jasmine and other types of flowers would not release their essential oil cells to the process of distillation. I could not find any research on the medicinal quality of the leaves and blossoms, but I found a plethora of information on the fruit on the inside of the bloom and the bark. Magnolias were in existence over 100 million years ago.
Well it seems that the bark has been used in Chinese medicine for decades. In fact, the magnolia has indigenous of China where 80 species of Magnolia exist. Our southern Magnolia which is the species we grow here in California.
M. grandiflora contains phenolic constituents shown to possess significant antimicrobial activity. Magnolol, honokiol, and 3,5′-diallyl-2′-hydroxy-4-methoxybiphenyl exhibited significant activity against Gram-positive and acid-fast bacteria and fungi. The leaves contain coumarins and sesquiterpene lactones. The sesquiterpenes are known to be costunolide, parthenolide, costunolide diepoxide, santamarine, and reynosin.
Coumarin has clinical medical value by itself, as an edema modifier. Coumarin and other benzopyrones, such as 5,6-benzopyrone, 1,2-benzopyrone, diosmin, and others, are known to stimulate macrophages to degrade extracellular albumin, allowing faster resorption of edematous fluids. Other biological activities that may lead to other medical uses have been suggested, with varying degrees of evidence.
Artemisinin, a new, highly-effective anti-malarial compound, is a sesquiterpene lactone found in Chinese wormwood. Lactucin, desoxylactucin, lactucopicrin, lactucin-15-oxalate, lactucopicrin-15-oxalateare some of the most prominent found in lettuce and spinach, giving most of the bitter taste to these crops.
The earliest western record of magnolias in cultivation is found in Aztec history at the time of Montezuma where there are illustrations of what we now know to be the very rare Magnolia dealbata. This plant survives only in a few places in the wild and, although climate change is largely to blame, the natives cut the flowers for festivals and this prevents the plants seeding. It was found by a Spanish explorer called Hernandez who was commissioned by Philip II of Spain and whose work was published in 1651.
Some of the earliest references to magnolias in literature refer to their purported medicinal properties. Anyone who has smelt the peculiar smell of magnolia sap – and what an alluring smell it is - will see how likely this was to appeal to those involved in medicine. The flower buds of Magnolia salicifolia are used in Asia to treat headaches and allergies. A 1985 study reports on the potential use of this drug in the treatment of cancer. Another recent study found that tonics from the bark of Magnolia officinalis lessen tremor in patients with Parkinsons disease. Who knows what may yet be discovered.
Magnolias are pollinated in the wild by primitive wingless beetles. Beetle pollinated flowers are characterised by their large size, white or pink colour, lack of nectar and abundance of pollen. Beetles feed on pollen and most magnolias do not have nectar although they do have scent.