Magnolia Bark: A Natural Alternative to Antidepressants?

Western medicine may consider them alternative treatment options, but in China, traditional remedies reign supreme. For more than 2000 years, the people of that land have depended on a broad range of medicine practices to promote health and treat disease. Known collectively as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it includes various forms of herbal medicine, exercise, acupuncture, and dietary therapy. The most important of the aforementioned is herbal therapy, since it is involved in the majority of treatments in TCM.

Chinese herbology

One of the world’s most complex medical systems, there are over 13,000 herbal remedies used in China and roughly 100,000 recipes for them in the literature. The ingredients to mix these remedies are so popular that the people of China consume about one million pounds of herbs each year! In fact, a well-stocked pharmacy in China would rival one in the United States, with around 450 different individual herbs for sale.

This information might surprise the Western mind, since herbal medicines are little more than dietary supplements to us. Only a few famous names such as ginseng, licorice root, Ginkgo biloba, and ginger are widely sold in the States. The hundreds of other herbs that are used in traditional Chinese medicine are generally much harder to find. One of these names is magnolia bark.

What is magnolia bark?

Every once in awhile, Americans “discover” a “new” Chinese herb that is purported to have medicinal properties. But since we know so little about Chinese herbology, these formerly humble plants are often endued with near supernatural powers by the people peddling them. Such is the case with magnolia bark, a traditional Chinese medicine that has been around for nearly a millennium now. Stripped from the Magnolia officinalis tree that is native to the mountains and valleys of China, this highly aromatic bark was traditionally used to eliminate phlegm and relieve distension. But as its popularity has grown in recent years, magnolia bark is now used to treat a plethora of ailments, from obesity to asthma and anxiety. The good news is that ancient herbal supplement may actually deliver on some of those promises.


According to numerous online sources, magnolia bark can be used to treat the following conditions:

· Constipation

· Inflammation

· Obesity

· Depression

· Asthma

· Anxiety

· Menopause

· Insomnia

For anxiety and depression

Like most herbal medications, researchers have had a hard time testing magnolia bark for many of its alleged benefits. They have, however, completed several studies on its supposed anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) qualities. The consensus is that magnolia bark is effective at reducing anxiety because of honokiol, a powerful bioactive compound found in the bark of the Magnolia officinalis. In numerous studies, honokiol compared favorably with diazepam (valium) in its ability to quell anxiety without a change in motor activity or muscle tone.

Another even more compelling study tested both honokiol and magnolol, another bioactive compound found in the bark of the magnolia tree. Because these constituents have been used to treat mental illness in China for hundreds of years, researchers tested the pair in models of depression in rodents. The research team reported antidepressant-like effects when a mixture of honokiol and magnolol was administered orally to the rodents – in this case lab rats and mice. Without getting too technical, the scientists concluded that the combination of natural compounds reduced elevated corticosterone (a major stress hormone) levels in the anxious rodents.

Although evidence is indeed growing to support the traditional use of magnolia bark for depression and anxiety as well as improved sleep, further research is needed. What we can say with a fairly high degree of certainty, though, is that the natural bioactive compounds in the herbal supplement appear to be the real deal. They have proven efficacy and safety in separate tests for treating those specific disorders. However, that does not mean that this traditional Chinese medicine is a panacea, or even that it is effective at treating the other ailments on our list.

For everything else

Because it has relaxing qualities, it appears that magnolia bark can alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and loss of libido. At least two published studies on magnolia bark use in menopausal women corroborate that long-held belief. There is, however, scant evidence that the Chinese herb can treat any of the other afflictions we enumerated earlier.

Side effects

Although it is a completely natural remedy, some users do experience unwanted side effects when taking magnolia bark. Because it has sedative properties, the most common reaction is drowsiness, especially when combined with alcohol. Other reported problems include heartburn, shaking, headache, and vertigo. Although these side effects only occur in a small percentage of users, they can cause serious medical issues if ignored. With that said, there is almost no evidence that magnolia bark is solely responsible for the aforementioned complications. After all, the traditional Chinese medicine has been safely used by millions for nearly a millennium now.


Although it has attracted a loyal following of late, magnolia bark is not ginseng or Ginkgo biloba. It is not a supplement that you can simply pick up at your local drug store or supermarket. As a result, it is manufactured by a number of foreign companies and is sold in a numerous forms, including pill, powder, and tincture. Moreover, the dosing instructions for these supplements are often written in Chinese. It is not surprising then that some users have had adverse effects to magnolia bark, since many of them have no idea how much of it they should be taking.

Because it is sold in different forms, we obviously cannot tell you how much of the supplement you should ingest on a daily basis. The best advice we can offer you is to look for dosing instructions online. There are several easy to find resources that provide instructions for both pill and powdered forms of the potent plant extract.


For the tens of millions of Americans who struggle with anxiety and depression on a daily basis, magnolia bark is an attractive alternative to prescription antidepressants. One of the few herbal supplements that has been subjected to extensive testing, all of the research that has been completed to date confirms that the traditional Chinese medicine has powerful stress-busting properties. Safe and inexpensive, magnolia bark can be purchased from reputable vendors on the internet.