With depression as one of the leading ailments in Western Society, any herb that has properties to relieve it are of great interest. Albizzia julibrissin or Silk Tree is one such plant. The legal happiness herb has been compared to the likes of marijuana in its calming properties. Unless you're one of those who gets paranoid immediately after taking a hit.
Translated into English, the Chinese name, Hi Huan Pimeans, means "collective happiness bark." Known as the happiness tree, its flowers and bark are used in China to mend "broken hearts" and to induce a feeling of contentment and happiness. Some scientists once believed that Coca-Cola contains this herb.
Arrival in America
Introduced into the US in 1785 by Filippo Degli Albizzia, a Florentine nobleman which gives the plant its genus name, Julibrissan is derived from the Persian gul-ebruschin, meaning soft silken threads, a reference to the flowers characteristics. The plant is a spreading tree, small domed to flat topped, with smooth, gray-brown bark and doubly pinnate leaves up to 8" long. Clusters of pink flower heads, made up mostly of long stamens, are borne in summer. It has a height of 20-30' and spread of 30'. It's hardy zones 6-10 and is frost tender. It is in flower from July to August, and the seeds ripen from September to November.
Mimosa is a bitter, astringent, sedative herb that is also diuretic and analgesic, with stimulant effects on the circulation, uterus, and appetite (bark); the flowers are tranquilizing and relieve indigestion.
The Flower and the Bark
There are two remedies that come from the Silk Tree, the flowers and the bark. In traditional Chinese medicine, albizzia flower is considered to have sweet and neutral properties, and is associated with the heart and liver meridians. Its main functions are to calm the spirit, invigorate the blood, alleviate pain, and dissipate swellings. Albizzia flower is revered as one of the most powerful types of herbal tonics available; it is used to treat conditions such as depression, insomnia and irritability. It improves the shen, or spirit. It also improves blood circulation, treats pain and swelling due to traumatic injuries (such as fractures), and reduces swellings and abscesses on the skin and in the abdominal region.
According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, albizzia bark has sweet and neutral properties, and is associated with the heart and liver meridians. It is most commonly used as a tonic to help tranquilize the mind, reduce fatigue and ease tension.
Albizzia bark also treats skin conditions, such as carbuncles and acne, reduces pain swelling, and stimulates blood circulation. It can be used either externally or internally. Silk Tree is not just a successful remedy, it's also a culinary plant. The young leaves can be cooked and used as a potherb with an aromatic flavor. The flowers are also cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The dried leaves are a tea substitute.
Grow Your Own
Care to try growing this plant? It's not too hard. In fact it's considered invasive in some parts of the country. Silk Tree requires a well-drained moisture retentive soil and a very sunny position. Highly fertile soils can promote soft sappy growth which is frost tender. Trees tolerate a high pH, saline soils, high winds and drought. They also succeed in poor soils.
When dormant trees are hardy to about 12 degrees Fahrenheit in such a zone. The young growth in spring, even on mature plants, is frost-tender and so it is best to grow the plants in a position sheltered from the early morning sun. If killed back to the ground by a severe winter, plants can often re-sprout from the base.
To get started, pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in hot water and sow in March/April in a greenhouse or sow as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. The plant germinates in two to three months at 51 degrees Fahrenheit. Scarification helps. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots of fairly rich soil when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer and consider giving them some protection from the Cold for their first winter or two outdoors. You can also root cuttings in late winter in a greenhouse. Suckers planted out in late winter. Bark is removed in spring or late summer, and flowers as they open. Both are dried for decoctions.
Albizzia flower is considered extremely safe; it has been given a class 1 rating by the American Herbal Products Association, meaning that it can be used safely when taken in the appropriate dose. While albizzia flower does not appear to cause drowsiness or affect judgment, some practitioners recommend that patients should not drive or operate heavy equipment an hour after taking the product. Albizzia bark should not be given to pregnant women and it's also recommended not to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking it.
The typical dose of albizzia bark is between 10 and 15 grams, ground down into a powder and served as a decoction. Albizzia extracts can also be used, but at much lower doses. Albizzia bark Can also be mixed With other herbs and used externally as a poultice.