The magnolia flower was named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol in the late 17th century, but these sumptuous flowers originated long before that. Magnolias are reputed to be older than bees, first evolving through beetle pollination. Many strands are native to South East Asia, China and Japan, where they play a significant role in national cultures. In China, their majestic form has invited associations of nobility and purity, while in art they came to represent femininity and beauty. In Japan, leaves and buds of certain varieties have been eaten for centuries as a vegetable, while some magnolia flowers are pickled and used in miso as well as to flavour rice tea and to wrap food.
Magnolia also forms an important part of traditional medicine in East Asia – essences of its bark, flower and leaves used for millennia to treat a range of ailments, from indigestion, lung conditions and anxiety. Magnolia is also said to possess anti-inflammatory properties, and is thought to help alleviate skin irritation and visible redness.
In addition to being extremely care-giving, magnolia flowers are also renowned for being at once extremely tough and extremely beautiful. Hence the phrase ‘steel magnolias’ – used as an affectionate term to refer to the strong women of the American South, and famously used as the title of the 1989 film starring Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts and Shirley Maclaine. Incidentally, the magnolia is also the official flower of the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. In 1990, Mississippi school children chose the flower above all others to go on the state’s commemorative coin.
Magnolia’s fragrance is warm and sunny, evoking a sense of springtime when the tree blooms into life – dowsing passers-by in its uplifting notes that are at once, rich, creamy and lightly citrusy.
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