Magnolia Petals: Pickles, Honey and more

The flowers of Magnolia trees are edible and medicinal. They taste fragrant and spicy, almost like meaty versions of rose petals. They are used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine and are a wonderful find for city foragers. There is recent research suggesting that Magnolia bark extracts can help with oral health, stress reduction and several other disorders. All Magnolia species varieties are considered to possess the same medicinal qualities and there are no known side effects.

Today, I foraged a handful of petals from 6 trees, dotted around East Amsterdam, in public spaces. To avoid stealing any beauty from these striking flowers, I prefer to take one or two petals from one or two flowers per tree. Taking whole flowers really damages the appearance.

But what to do with a precious handful of petals? As I planned my forage, I fancied pickling them (you’ll find a tasty recipe using rice wine, sugar and salt on Then I considered natural fermentation, using a little salt and water, in the style of Sandor Katz. But when I tasted a petal and felt first hand their clearing effect on the head, I decided to transfer the petals’ properties to honey.

The photo shows a small pesto jar, filled with torn, touch dry petals, covered completely with runny honey. I used a chop stick to loosen trapped air bubbles, several times in the hours after adding the homey. The air bubbles won’t all leave the honey but prodding with chopsticks, helps them to escape and thus reduces the risk of contamination. The jar was topped up with more honey, covered loosely and I’ll leave it to sit in the kitchen for a few days before using as a food or to soothe anxiety or respiratory congestion. I don’t find that herb honeys keep very long so a small jar is perfect for my needs.

In traditional chinese medicine, Magnolia flowers are known as Xin yi hua and are associated with the lung and stomach meridians. In both Japanese and Chinese medicine the bark and flowers are used. Bark harvesting is not really something for an urban forager but these traditional medicine systems use it to help treat depression and anxiety.


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