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Medicinal Trees: Magnolia and Osage Orange

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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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Magnoliaceae, Magnolia

Eleven varieties of Magnolia have been found useful in herbal medicine: Magnolia acuminata - Cucumber Tree, Magnolia campbellii, Magnolia denudata - Lily Tree, Magnolia grandiflora, Magnolia hypoleuca, Magnolia Kobus, Magnolia liliiflora - Mu-Lan, Magnolia macrophylla - Bigleaf Magnolia, Magnolia officinalis - Hou Po, Magnolia stellata - Star Magnolia, Magnolia virginiana - Laurel Magnolia

Six varieties of Magnolia are native to my region: Magnolia acuminata (Cucumber-Tree), Magnolia fraseri (Fraser Magnolia), Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia, Bull-bay), Magnolia macrophylla (Bigleaf Magnolia), Magnolia tripetala (Umbrella-Tree, Umbrella Magnolia), Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay)

No tree is as emblematic of the American South as Magnolia grandiflora, and certainly no tree is as beautiful or fragrant. The large, strongly lemon scented and edible blossoms mix with the aroma of gardenia on those warm, sultry southern nights for which our region is known. This is an inseparable part of the magical charm of the South. But, in the mountains where I was born, the Cucumber Tree is far more common. And, in my childhood spent off the mountain, I well remember the Sweetbay in the eastern piedmont and coastal swamps.

Mrs Grieve wrote of Magnolia:

The genus is named in commemoration of Pierre Magnol, a famous professor of medicine and botany of Montpellier in the early eighteenth century. All its members are handsome, with luxuriant foliage and rich flowers. The leaves of Magnolia acuminata are oval, about 6 inches long by 3 broad, and slightly hairy below, with a diameter of 6 inches, and the fruit or cone, about 3 inches long, resembles a small cucumber.

It is a large tree, reaching a height of 80 or more feet and a diameter of 3 to 5 feet, but only grows to about 16 feet in England. The wood is finely grained, taking a brilliant polish, and in its colour resembles that of the tulip or poplar, but it is less durable. It is sometimes used for large canoes and house interiors.

The bark of the young wood is curved or quilled, fissured outside, with occasional warts, and orange-brown in colour, being whitish and smooth within and the fracture short except for inner fibres. The older bark without the corky layer is brownish or whitish and fibrous. Drying and age cause the loss of its volatile, aromatic property.

The bark has no astringency. The tonic properties are found in varying degree in several species.

Medicinal Action and Uses---A mild diaphoretic, tonic, and aromatic stimulant. It is used in rheumatism and malaria and is contra-indicated in inflammatory symptoms. In the Alleghany districts the cones are steeped in spirits to make a tonic tincture.

A warm infusion is laxative and sudorific, a cold one being antiperiodic and mildly tonic.

Dosage---Fluid Extract. Frequent doses of 1/2 to 1 drachm, or the infusion in wineglassful doses.

Other Species---

Both M. virginiana and M. tripetala were recognized as official with M. acuminata.

M. virginiana, or M. glauca, White Laurel, Beaver Tree, Swamp Sassafras, White Bay, Sweet Bay, Small or Laurel Magnolia, or Sweet Magnolia, is much used by beavers, who favour it both as food and building material. The light wood has no commercial use.

The bark and seed cones are bitter and aromatic, used as tonics, and in similar ways to M. acuminata. The leaves yield a green, volatile oil with a more pleasant odour than fennel or anise. There is probably also a bitter glucosidal principle.

M. tripetala, Umbrella Tree or Umbrella Magnolia. The fruit yields a neutral crystalline principle, Magnolin.

The bark, if chewed as a substitute for tobacco, is said to cure the habit.

Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests states:

MAGNOLIACEAE. {The Magnolia Tribe.)

This order is characterized by the possession of a bitter tonic taste, and fragrant flowers; the latter generally producing a decided action upon the nerves.

BAY; BEAYER TREE; SWAMP-LAUREL, (Magnoliaglauca, L.) - It is a stimulant, aromatic tonic, with considerable diaphoretic powers. The leaves, steeped in brandy, or a decoction of them, are valuable in pectoral affections, recent cold, etc. The tincture, made by macerating the fresh cones and seeds, or bark of root, in brandy, which best extracts its virtues, is much used as a popular remedy in rheumatism, and in intermittent fevers ; and, according to Barton, in inflammatory gout. Lindley refers to it as a valuable tonic, but it is said to be destitute of tannin or gallic acid. The bark of the root, according to Griffith, was employed by the Indians to fulfil a variety of indications; the warm decoction acts as a gentle laxative, and subsequently as a sudorific, whilst the cold decoction, powder of, or tincture, is tonic. These have proved very beneficial in the hands of regular practitioners in the treatment of remittents of a typhoid character. It is supposed by many residing in the lower portions of South Carolina that this tree prevents the water of bogs and galls from generating malaria. It certainly seems that the water is much clearer in which the bay tree grows.

MAGNOLIA, (Magnolia grandijlora, L.) - This magnificent tree grows beautifully along the seacoast, and in the streets of Charleston. Found sparingly in St. John's Berkley, forty-five miles from the ocean; grows in Georgia, also, in North Carolina. . The medicinal and chemical properties of these plants are supposed to be identical. See M. glauca. Mr. Proctor, in his analysis, Am. Journal Pharm. xiv. 95, and viii, 85, found iii this species volatile oil, resin, and a crystallizable principle analogous to the liriodendrine of Prof. Emmett, obtained from the L.tulipifer growing in the Southern States (vide L. tulip.) Merat says that in Mexico the seeds are employed with success in paralysis.

CUCUMBER TREE, {Magnolia acuminata, Linn. Mich.) - Mountainous districts; grows in Georgia, also, in North Carolina. Fl. Lindley speaks particularly of the cones of this species being employed in the form of a spirituous tincture in rheumatic affections. Mer. and de L. Diet, de M. Med. iv, 193 ; Griffith, Med. Bot. 98. Used as a prophylactic in autumnal fevers. The flowers of most magnolias exhale a strong aromatic fragrance; the bark of all possesses a combination of bitter and hotly aromatic properties, without astringency, and that of many acts as a powerful medicine, in a similar way to Peruvian bark and Winter's bark.

King's American Dispensatory, 1898 tells us:

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Magnolia bark is an aromatic tonic bitter, of reputed efficacy, and appears likewise to possess antiperiodic properties. Intermittent fevers have been cured by it after cinchona had failed. It is not so apt to disagree with the stomach and bowels, nor to induce fullness of the head as cinchona and can be continued a longer time with more safety in all respects. Its curative agency is said to be favored by the diaphoretic action which generally follows its administration. In dyspepsia, with loss of tone in the stomach, it is very useful as a tonic, and has also proved of much service in the treatment of remittents with typhoid symptoms. A warm infusion acts as a gentle laxative and sudorific; a cold one as a tonic and antiperiodic, as does also the tincture and powder. The powder is considered the preferable form of administration. The bark of the M. Umbrella, chewed as a substitute for tobacco, has cured an inveterate tobacco chewer of the filthy habit, and deserves a further trial among those who wish to break up the pernicious practice. The bark in powder may be administered in ½- drachm or drachm doses, to be repeated 5 or 6 times a day; the infusion may be taken in wineglassful doses, repeated 5 or 6 times a day. It is used in the above forms of disease, as well as in chronic rheumatism. The tincture, made by adding an ounce of the powder to a pint of brandy, and allowing it to macerate for 10 or 12 days, may be given in tablespoon doses 3 times a day, for the same purposes. A tincture made by adding 2 ounces of the cones to a pint of brandy, has long been used as a domestic remedy for dyspepsia and chronic rheumatism; it is given 3 or 4 times a day in doses of from 1 to 4 fluid drachms. Magnolia is contraindicated whenever inflammatory symptoms are present. Though possessing undoubted tonic properties, magnolia is now seldom employed.

Plants for A Future states::

(grandiflora) The bark is diaphoretic, stimulant, tonic. It is used in the treatment of malaria and rheumatism. A decoction has been used as a wash and a bath for prickly heat itching. The decoction has also been used as a wash for sores and as a steam bath for treating dropsy. An alcoholic extract of the plant reduces the blood pressure, produces a slight acceleration in respiration but has no action on the heart.

(acuminata, Cucumber Tree) A tea made from the bark is antiperiodic, aromatic, mildly diaphoretic, laxative, stimulant, tonic. It has historically been used as a substitute for quinine in the treatment of malaria. An infusion has been used in the treatment of stomach ache and cramps. The bark has been chewed by people trying to break the tobacco habit. A hot infusion of the bark has been snuffed to treat sinus problems and has also been held in the mouth to treat toothaches. The bark is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. It does not store well so stocks should be renewed annually. A tea made from the fruit is a tonic, used in the treatment of general debility and was formerly esteemed in the treatment of stomach ailments.

(macrophylla) An infusion of the bark has been used in the treatment of stomach aches or cramps. A hot infusion of the bark has been snuffed for treating sinus problems and has been held in the mouth for treating toothache.

(virginiana) A tea made from the bark is antiperiodic, aromatic, diaphoretic, laxative, stimulant and tonic. It has historically been used as a substitute for quinine in the treatment of malaria and is also taken internally in the treatment of colds, bronchial diseases, upper respiratory tract infections, rheumatism and gout. The bark has been chewed by people trying to break the tobacco habit. The bark is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. It does not store well so stocks should be renewed annually. A tea made from the fruit is a tonic, used in the treatment of general debility and was formerly esteemed in the treatment of stomach ailments. The leaves or bark have been placed in cupped hands over the nose and inhaled as a mild hallucinogen.

Peterson Field Guides Eastern and Central Medicinal Plants tells us:

Cucumber Magnolia: bark tea historically used in place of chinchona the source of quinine, for malarial and typhoid fevers; Also, for indigestion: rheumatism: worms: toothaches. Bark chewed to break tobacco habit. Fruit tea a tonic for general debility; formerly esteemed for stomach ailments.

Sweetbay: Magnolia virginiana. American Indians use leaf tea to “warm blood”, cure colds. Traditionally bark used like that of M acuminata. Bark also used for rheumatism, malaria, epilepsy.

Botany In a Day states:

Magnolia: the bark of Magnolia is known for its aromatic and astringent properties. A tea of the bark is used as a diaphoretic, and for indigestion or diarrhea. Reportedly, drinking the tea can help break the tobacco habit.

Maclura pomifera, Osage Orange

Osage Orange is not native to my region but has been naturalized. It was once widely used for hedges and the wood as fence posts.

Plants for A Future states:

Medicinal use of Osage Orange: A tea made from the roots has been used as a wash for sore eyes. The inedible fruits contain antioxidant and fungicidal compounds. A 10% aqueous infusion and an extract diluted 1:1 have cardiovascular potentialities.

Peterson Field Guides Eastern and Central Medicinal Plants tells us:

American Indians use root tea as a wash for sore eyes. Fruit sections used in Maryland and Pennsylvania as a cockroach repellent. Inedible fruits contain antioxidant and fungal compounds. Warning: milk (latex or sap( may cause dermatitis.

This article is an excerpt from The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: by Judson Carroll

His New book is:

The Omnivore’s Guide to Home Cooking for Preppers, Homesteaders, Permaculture People and Everyone Else"


Available for purchase on Amazon:


His other works include:

Medicinal Shrubs and Woody Vines of The American Southeast An Herbalist's Guide
Read about Medicinal Shrubs and Woody Vines of The American Southeast An Herbalist's Guide: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2022/06/medicinal-shrubs-and-woody-vines-of.html

Available for purchase on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B2T4Y5L6

Growing Your Survival Herb Garden for Preppers, Homesteaders and Everyone Else

Read About Growing Your Survival Herb Garden for Preppers, Homesteaders and Everyone Else: http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2022/04/growing-your-survival-herb-garden-for.html

Available for purchase on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09X4LYV9R

The Encyclopedia of Bitter Medicinal Herbs:


Available for purchase on Amazon:


Christian Medicine, History and Practice:


Available for purchase on Amazon: www.amazon.com/dp/B09P7RNCTB

Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People


Also available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HMWXL25

Look Up: The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide


The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle:


Author: Judson Carroll. Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

His weekly articles may be read at judsoncarroll.com

His weekly podcast may be heard at: www.spreaker.com/show/southern-appalachian-herbs

He offers free, weekly herb classes: https://rumble.com/c/c-618325


The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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