Biological activity and toxicity of the Chinese herb Magnolia officinalis Rehder & E. Wilson (Houpo) and its constituents

J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2017;18(3):194-214. doi: 10.1631/jzus.B1600299.


Traditional Chinese herbal drugs have been used for thousands of years in Chinese pharmacopoeia. The bark of Magnolia officinalis Rehder & E. Wilson, known under the pinyin name "Houpo", has been traditionally used in Chinese and Japanese medicines for the treatment of anxiety, asthma, depression, gastrointestinal disorders, headache, and more. Moreover, Magnolia bark extract is a major constituent of currently marketed dietary supplements and cosmetic products. Much pharmacological activity has been reported for this herb and its major compounds, notably antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antispasmodic effects. However, the mechanisms underlying this have not been elucidated and only a very few clinical trials have been published. In vitro and in vivo toxicity studies have also been published and indicate some intriguing features. The present review aims to summarize the literature on M. officinalis bark composition, utilisation, pharmacology, and safety.

Keywords: Chinese herb; Houpo; Magnolia bark; Traditional Chinese medicine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Anxiety / drug therapy
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / pharmacology*
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / toxicity
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / drug therapy
  • Headache / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Magnolia / chemistry*
  • Parasympatholytics / pharmacology
  • Plant Bark / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plant Extracts / toxicity


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • Parasympatholytics
  • Plant Extracts