Flower of happiness: Herb helps treat anxiety and stress

WHAT IT IS: The bark and flowers of the albizzia tree have been used for centuries in China to promote mental wellness, earning it a reputation as the "Tree of Happiness".

The flower is known as hehuan hua in Chinese, which is loosely translated as "conjoined happiness flower", the third edition Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica noted.

Albizzia flowers do not have petals and are, instead, clusters of silken-thread stamens measuring 2 to 3cm in length.

Both fresh and dried forms of the flower can be found in Asia.

The dried flower is sold at $15 for a tael (37.5g) at some medical halls here.

The Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica noted that flowers that are pale yellowish-brown, intact and slightly aromatic are regarded as of good quality.

HOW TCM USES IT: In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), this sweet-tasting herb is considered neutral in nature.

It is used primarily for calming the spirit and, in turn, treating anxiety, depression and stress, said Ms Zhao Xu Hong, a TCM practitioner at Raffles Chinese Medicine at Raffles Hospital.

In TCM, one's emotions and physical health are believed to be intimately connected, such that emotional upheavals are said to be the cause of physical ailments.

Ms Zhao said a stressful environment that leads to prolonged unhappiness for a person will disrupt the flow of qi (vital energy) in the liver, which is responsible for ensuring that energy and blood flow smoothly throughout the body.

In TCM, good circulation of sufficient qi and blood in the body is required for good health.

Poor blood circulation will cause a person to experience symptoms ranging from poor sleep or insomnia to blemishes on the face and a foul mood.

As TCM practitioners believe that an impaired liver affects eye health, the problem can also manifest as itchy or swollen eyes.

Yin - the element responsible for cooling organs - has to be balanced with yang - the element responsible for heating organs - in the body to keep the person healthy.

The ageing process is thought to cause yin deficiency in the kidneys, which often leads to blood deficiency in the liver, said Ms Zhao.

Thus, older people with weaker kidneys are said to be prone to depression because of their impaired livers.

It is not unusual to observe menopausal women being anxious, worried and depressed, Ms Zhao added.

Stagnant qi can explain why women encounter pre-menstrual symptoms, such as irritability, changes in bowel habits and poor sleep, Ms Zhao said.

The albizzia flower is used to promote qi flow and alleviate these ailments, she added.

WHO IT IS FOR: Neutral herbs, such as the albizzia flower, are neither hot nor cold, so they are often considered gentle herbs and suitable for the general population.

Ms Zhao said a person should not consume more than 10g of the herb in a day.

WHO SHOULD AVOID IT: This herb helps to promote blood circulation in the body, so pregnant women should not consume it because of the risk of miscarriage, said Ms Zhao.

WHAT RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: In a study published in the Journal Of Ethnopharmacology in 2000, the extracts of albizzia flower were found to increase the sleeping time of mice in a dose-dependent manner.

This means that the stronger the dose, the longer the sleeping time.

This led the authors to conclude that the flowers had a sedative effect on the central nervous system in mice.


Albizzia flower tea (Serves one)

INGREDIENTS: 3 to 5g albizzia flowers 350ml water

METHOD: Place the dried albizzia flowers in boiling water and steep for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve the tea warm.

Refill the cup by adding water, until the tea loses its flavour.

Source: Ms Zhao Xu Hong, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at Raffles Chinese Medicine at Raffles Hospital

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