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Herb Gallery

Xin Yi Hua (Magnolia denudata)

  • Botanical name: Magnolia denudata
  • Common name: Magnolia flower, Lily tree
  • Family: Magnoliaceae, magnolia family
  • Part used in Chinese medicine: flower buds
  • Major Chinese medicine actions:
  • Expels wind-cold, unblocks nasal passages
Magnolia denudata
Magnolia denudata
Magnolia denudata
Magnolia sprengeri;

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Magnolia denudata; 09/2006; author Shizhao; permission under Creative Commons
Photo 2: Magnolia denudata; 03/2007; author Kenpei; permission under Creative Commons
Photo 3: Magnolia denudata; 03/2007; author Kenpei; permission under Creative Commons
Photo 4: Magnolia sprengeri; 05/2007; author Denek Ramsey; permission under GFDL

Growing and Propagation

The tree produced highly fragrant flowers from March to May and the seeds ripen from September to November. It prefers acid and neutral soil that is well drained but moist. It can grow in full sun to part shade, found in its native habitat at the edge of light woodland growth. Magnolia denudata is hardy to USDA zone 6, and can survive in temperatures down to -4 degrees F when the tree is dormant. However in a mild winter, the tree may begin to grow early and flowers can be killed by a late frost.

Plants can be propagated by seed sown as soon as it is ripe. It will usually germinate the following spring, but it can take up to 18 months. If seeds are stored in order to plant the following spring, they must be kept cold throughout the winter. Seedlings should be grown in a cold frame or greenhouse in pots during their first year, and then planted in a permanent location when they are six or more inches tall. Young trees should be protected during the winter and well-mulched. Trees can also be propagated by layering in early spring.

Harvesting and Preparation

Xin Yi Hua flowers should be harvested in early spring when buds are young. For medicinal use, good quality flower buds are fragrant and compact, covered with soft glossy hairs.


They are three major species of Magnolia grown in Chinese medicine for their flower buds, called Xin Yi Hua. Although Magnolia biondii is considered the best for medicinal use, Magnolia denudata is also commonly used and is widely cultivated around the world. Magnolia sprengeri is another acceptable variant. The first three photos above are of the Magnolia denudata flower bud, opened flower and the tree in full bloom. The lower photo is the fruit of Magnolia sprengeri.

Native to East Asia, Magnolia denudata still grows wild in east-central China. It has been cultivated in Chinese gardens for over 1000 years, at least since the Tang dynasty. It bears creamy white flowers on bare branches in the early spring and is commonly depicted in traditional Chinese painting, regarded as a symbol of purity, feminine sweetness and beauty. This species of Magnolia is known in China as “yu lan” or “jade orchid”. It is sometimes pictured with crabapple and tree peony representing the auspicious phrase “wealth and rank in the jade hall”.

The fresh flower petals of Magnolia denudata are deep-fried and considered a delicacy in regions of China where the tree is cultivated. The petals used for food are called “yu lan hua pian”. The flower buds are also prepared as a food in southern regions of China where it is pickled with vinegar and ginger and eaten with rice.

To prepare the deep fried petals, flowers are gathered soon after they open, washed, drained and covered with a damp cloth until ready to cook. A batter is made combining 1/2 cup flour, 1 Tablespoon cornstarch, 1 Tablespoons sugar, 1/5 teaspoon baking powder, and water. 2 cups of vegetable oil is heated to a high temperature, then immediately turned down to medium-high. Holding with a pair of chopsticks, the petals are dipped individually into the batter and then placed carefully into the oil. They are fried briefly, just until the battered petal turns yellow, and eaten while hot. The above batter proportions make enough to coat the petals of about 10 flowers.