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Albizia, or he huan pi (“collective happiness bark”), soothes psycho-emotional conditions stemming from constrained emotions.

Albizia

Albizia julibrissin Fabaceae

Albizia belongs to the ‘herbs that nourish the Heart and calm the spirit’ category in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) where it is an integral herb for treating anxiety, depression, irritability, poor memory and insomnia derived from pent up emotions. While featured in few classical TCM formulas, it is frequently added to introduce or enhance this function and has grown in popularity in western herbalism.

  • 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.

  • Traditional uses

    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.

  • Traditional actions

    Western Herbal Medicine actions:

    • Alteratives
    • Nervines
    • Vulneraries

    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.

  • Research

    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”.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Albizia is considered very safe, although caution should be taken when pregnant as it invigorates blood.

  • Interactions

    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.

  • Contraindications

    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.

  • Preparation

    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

    Bark: 9-15g
    Flowers: 3-9
    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

  • Constituents

    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).

  • Habitat

    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.

  • Sustainability

    According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status: This taxon has not yet been assessed.

  • Quality control

    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.

  • References

    1. Borrelli F, Capasso R, Aviello G, et al (2005). Effectiveness and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. Obstet Gynecol. 105(4): 849-56
    2. Chaiyakunapruk N, Kitikannakorn N, Nathisuwan S, Leeprakobboon K, Leelasettagool C. The efficacy of ginger for the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting: a meta-analysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006;194(1):95–99
    3. Lien HC, Sun WM, Chen YH, Kim H, Hasler W, Owyang C. Effects of ginger on motion sickness and gastric slow-wave dysrhythmias induced by circular vection. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2003;284(3): G481–G489
    4. Haniadka R, Saldanha E, Sunita V, et al. (2013) A review of the gastroprotective effects of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Food Funct. 4 (6):845–855.
    5. Al-Nahain A, Jahan R, Rahmatullah M. (2014) Zingiber officinale: A Potential Plant against Rheumatoid Arthritis. Arthritis. 159089.
    6. Srivastava KC, Mustafa T. (1992) Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in rheumatism and musculoskeletal disorders. Med Hypothesis 39: 342-8
    7. Wilson PB. (2015) Ginger (Zingiber officinale) as an Analgesic and Ergogenic Aid in Sport: A Systemic Review. J Strength Cond Res. 29(10): 2980–2995.
    8. Daily JW, Zhang X, Kim DS, Park S. (2015) Efficacy of Ginger for Alleviating the Symptoms of Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Pain Med. 16 (12): 2243–2255.
    9. Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. (2005) Ginger – an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. J Med Food. 8(2): 125–132.
    10. Mao QQ, Xu XY, Cao SY, et al. (2019) Bioactive Compounds and Bioactivities of Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Foods. 8(6): 185.
    11. Wang J, Ke W, Bao R, Hu X, Chen F. (2017) Beneficial effects of ginger Zingiber officinale Roscoe on obesity and metabolic syndrome: a review. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1398 (1): 83–98.
    12. Ebrahimzadeh Attari V, Malek Mahdavi A, Javadivala Z, et al. (2018) A systematic review of the anti-obesity and weight lowering effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) and its mechanisms of action. Phytother Res. 32(4): 577–585
    13. Baliga MS, Haniadka R, Pereira MM, et al. (2012) Radioprotective effects of Zingiber officinale Roscoe (ginger): past, present and future. Food Funct. 3(7): 714–723.
    14. Tosun B, Unal N, Yigit D, et al. (2017) Effects of Self-Knee Massage With Ginger Oil in Patients With Osteoarthritis: An Experimental Study. Res Theory Nurs Pract. 31(4): 379–392.
    15. Paritakul P, Ruangrongmorakot K, Laosooksathit W, et al. (2016) The Effect of Ginger on Breast Milk Volume in the Early Postpartum Period: A Randomized, Double-Blind Controlled Trial. Breastfeed Med. 11: 361–365
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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