How does it feel?
Albizia’s mildness as a herb is reflected in its gentle, earthy taste and aroma. Its effects go straight to the heart with a spreading lightness through the chest that ripples outwards and upwards, easing the mind.
What can I use it for?
Albizia bark is a mild herb, typically dispensed in formulas but may also be used on its own. In TCM clinics, the focus tends to be on its sedative action and it is primarily used to alleviate depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, palpitations and insomnia where these are accompanied by signs of qi stagnation, in particular, chest distension. In these instances, qi flow in the body has been hindered by unexpressed emotions, notably, anger, resentment and frustration. The Albizia flower shares these functions but is indicated more in cases of qi stagnation, not Blood, and where epigastric pain is present. Both herbs may also benefit memory.
In their primary function of treating psycho-emotional disharmonies, he huan pi (Albizia Julibrissin bark) is believed to ‘anchor’ the shen (mind/ spirit), where he huan hua (Albizia Julibrissin flowers) is uplifting.
Albizia bark is also used for its analgesic properties in cases of pain and swelling from trauma due to its ability to promote blood circulation. To this end, it may also be used in more serious injuries, such as fractures.
The ability to reduce pain and swelling also lends it to use in cases of abscesses and boils. In particular, it is indicated for lung abscesses and may also be used topically for suppurative sores.
Into the heart of Albizia
In traditional Chinese medicine, Albizia is named he huan pi, which translates as “collective happiness bark”, reminding us of its importance as a medicine to support emotional disharmonies. Its combination of sweet and neutral properties is believed to nourish the heart and calm the shen. Its neutral temperature also makes it hugely versatile as it can be used in constitutions and conditions that are both hot and cold in nature, without ill effect. Its mildness also means it may be used in the young and old and for longer periods of time.
Herbs in the Nourish the Heart and Calm the Spirit category are primarily used for insomnia and palpitations with anxiety stemming from heart blood or liver yin deficiency. What sets Albizia apart and makes it so invaluable as a herbal sedative in modern times is that its strength lies more in relieving symptoms of shen disturbance derived from qi stagnation than those from a deficiency of yin or blood.
Albizia is documented as a herb for treating disorders of the shen in the first known Chinese text to describe individual herbs – Shen nong ben cao jing (The Divine Farmer’s Classic of the Materia Medica). Written in the Han Dynasty (25-220AD), it was held to be authored by the mythical Chinese emperor, shen nong, the ‘divine farmer’ and father of Chinese agricultural and medicine.
In China, Albizia is commonly recommended for those suffering from grief as a way of supporting them to express and move though the emotion.
Western Herbal Medicine actions:
Traditional Chinese Medicine actions:
- an shen Calms the spirit (bark, flower)
- shu gan Relieves constrained qi (bark, flower)
- huo xue Invigorates blood (bark)
- zhi tong Alleviates pain (bark)
- tui zhong Dissipates swellings (bark)
- xiao yong Eliminates abscesses (lung) and, topically, for chronic suppurative sores (bark)
What practitioners say
While mild in nature, Albizia bark is an important herb within the TCM material medica for nourishing the Heart and spirit and freeing stagnant Liver qi.
Nervous system: In TCM, we often use Albizia bark and flowers for depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, moodiness, insomnia and poor memory.
When liver qi stagnates from emotional turmoil, it obstructs the free flow of qi in the chest and we suffer from chest distension and palpitations. These are key indicators for the use of Albizia.
Qi constraint in the chest also leads to insomnia because the spirit, housed in the Heart, becomes agitated and is not adequately nourished by qi and Blood. This type of insomnia will be worse for stress or anger, accompanied by palpitations and anxiety and will manifest as waking between the hours of 2-4am (the time that relates to the Liver in TCM).
When the heart and spirit lack nourishment, we can suffer from anxiety. Albizia is widely used for this type of deficient anxiety, whether mild or severe as in the case of panic attacks. The spirit also governs cognitive function and memory. If it is weak, memory will be affected.
The nature of the depression associated with Albizia use is that with typical liver qi stagnation signs and symptoms. In addition to chest oppression, we will see frequent sighing (an attempt to shift the constraint), moodiness, hypochondriac distension and a wiry pulse.
If this persists, qi stagnation can lead to blood stagnation and more severe symptoms. As Albizia (bark, in particular) invigorates blood, it is again an ideal herb in this scenario.
Musculoskeletal: Albizia bark is used for pain and swelling from trauma, including broken bones, because of its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, and its ability to promote circulation, reduce swellings and ‘knit bones’. It may also be used in more chronic conditions such as degenerative diseases of the joints and muscles.
Women’s health: The combination of qi/ blood invigoration and spirit-calming actions make Albizia bark a popular choice for inclusion in women’s health formulas. Here, it may be added to formulas to treat conditions such as period pain (especially where there are blood clots), premenstrual tension (it is often added during the premenstrual phase of the cycle), irregular menstrual cycles (especially with tension and/ or pain around ovulation) and amenorrhea (absent periods). It is often added to formulae where the patterns behind these complaints (e.g. liver and heart qi stagnation, liver fire, blood stagnation, shen disturbance) are impacting a woman’s ability to conceive.
Respiratory: The bark may be used in formulas addressing abscesses of the lung.
Skin: The bark may be used for external abscesses, carbuncles, furuncles and slow-healing wounds and may be used topically for these purposes.
It is the ability of Albizia to act upon serotonin receptors (in particular, 5-HT1A receptors) that appears to be one of the major mechanisms behind its anti-depressant, anxiolytic and sedative effects.
In a rat study, Albizia was found to have similar effects to Imipranine (a tricyclic anti-depressant) in terms of reducing immobility time. This effect was reversed after administration of 5-HT1A and 5-HT1A/B receptor antagonists, but not after 5-HT1B or 5-HT2A antagonists were given. This suggests that the anti-depressant effect of Albizia may be specific to its interaction with 5-HT1A receptors.
A similar study looking at the perceived ‘anxiolytic-like’ effect of Albizia again found these effects were reversed with administration of a 5-HT1A/B receptor antagonist. This was concurred in a later study which used both behavioural studies and quantitative receptor autoradiography (a radiographic method used to locate precise locations and activity of specific receptors) to confirm Albizia’s specific involvement with the serotonergic nervous system, especially 5-HT1A receptors.
The main lignin in Albizia (SAG) was found to decrease anxiety apparently via the HPA axis and monoaminergic systems.
A later study linked the ability of Albizia to promote sleep and increase sleep duration in sleep-induced rats to its effect on 5-HT1A receptors.
In addition to its serotonergic actions, other potential modes of action for Albizia include its antioxidant properties (Jung 2003) and the presence of flavonol glycosides. A study looking at two of the flavonol glycosides found in Albizia flowers, quercetin and isoquercetin, found they both had sedative effects and increased sleep duration in sleep-induced rats.
Did you know?
The silk tree was introduced to the West in the 18th century by an Italian nobleman (Albizzi) and is planted widely as an ornamental plant. The leaves of the silk tree close together at night, when it rains or on light touch. Its modern Persian name, shabkhosb, translates as “night sleeper”.
Albizia is considered very safe, although caution should be taken when pregnant as it invigorates blood.
Sedatives: Albizia might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Taking Albizia julibrissin along with sedative medications might lead to drowsiness. Take caution if you are using sedative medication.
Albizia is considered very safe, although caution should be taken when pregnant as it invigorates blood. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding consult a medical herbalist to make sure you are not contraindicated.
Traditionally, Albizia bark is soaked in water for at least 20-30 minutes then decocted in non-metallic pots with water with one or more other herbs on a low-moderate heat for around 20-30 mins. Nowadays, it is also prepared in powder and tincture form.
Dosage for Albizia bark may be much higher in some instances, for example for its use in panic attacks with severe insomnia where up to 60g has been recommended (14).
Plant parts used
Bark and flower heads
Triterpenoid saponins are the primary active components of the Albizia species (1). The next main active constituents of Albizia julibrissin are tannins. Other ingredients include lignans, flavonoids, and sterols (2). Albizia julibrissin contains albitocin, albizzin, b-sitosterol, amyrin, 3,4,7-trihydroxyflavone, spinasterylglucoside, machaerinic acid, lactone, methyl ester, acaci acid, and lactone (3). The flavonol glycosides found in Albizia julibrissin include quercetin and isoquercetin (4) and the main lignin is syringaresnol-4-O-β-d-apiofuranosyl-(1→2)-β-d-glucopyranoside (SAG) (5).
Albizia is native to Southwestern and Eastern Asia, including regions of Iran (Persia), republic of Azerbaijan to China and Korea. In the wild, the Albizia tree tends to grow in forests or dry plains, sandy valleys, and uplands.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status: This taxon has not yet been assessed.
Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.
Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.
A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown.
How to grow
Grows best in light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, well-drained soil and it can grow in nutritionally poor soil.
Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline and saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and tolerates drought well. The plant can tolerate strong winds but not maritime exposure.
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