Mimosa: The Tree of Happiness

Mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) is an unmistakable beauty, with its frond leaves, otherworldly pink flowers, and long seed pods.Each element appears to dance weightlessly on the breeze.

When Mimosa is in flower, its delicate scent, reminiscent of gardenia and fruit, fills the air. Learning of Mimosa’s foremost herbal indication as a mood balancer and spirit lightener, then, is no surprise—this tree just seems happy! The Mimosa tree is a deciduous tree that typically grows in a vase shape, reaching heights of about 20-40 feet. Though it’s native to Asia and The Middle East, it has been widely naturalized throughout the U.S. as an ornamental and landscaping tree, especially in the southeast and California. Mimosa is prolific, and can be seen growing in vacant lots, waste areas, fields and along roadsides. In certain states, it’s considered invasive, which makes it a great candidate for herbal foraging. Mimosa has dark green fern-like compound leaves, each with 10-25 pinnae, with each pinnae producing 40-60 tiny leaflets.

The sensitive leaflets close up when touched, and through the night. Fragrant, fluffy, pink and white, silk tassel-esque flowerheads bloom from mid/late summer till fall.

The flowers give way to flat bean-like seed pods which persist into winter, even after the leaves have fallen with the first frost. The name “Mimosa” is derived from the Greek word “mimos”, which means “mimic”, and refers to the sensitive movements of the tree, which seem to mimic embodied life. Albizia, the genus name, is after Filippo degli Albizzia, an 18th century Italian naturalist who introduced Mimosa to Italy in 1749. Julibrissin comes from the Persian word ‘gul-ebruschin’ meaning “floss silk” in reference to Mimosa’s flowers.(6) All parts of the mimosa tree have been used for medicine, sustenance, and material, cross-culturally and throughout millennia, by people, animals, insects, and fungi.

The following is a brief overview of Mimosa’s recorded roots and recent history. Mimosa tree is native to Asia and The Middle East, with a range from Iran to Japan. It was first brought to the U.S. in 1785 by the French botanist Andre Michaux. Michaux planted Mimosa in his extensive botanic garden in Charleston, South Carolina, where it grew quickly into a 30 foot, vase-shaped tree with a flat, umbrella-like top. It rapidly gained popularity throughout the colonial southeast due to its prolific growth, lovely scent, and beautiful flowers, which attracted pollinators like butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

The first written documentation of Mimosa’s medicinal properties appeared in “The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica,” or “Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing,” believed to be a compilation of Chinese oral medicinal traditions, written around 200 AD. This record describes Mimosa flower, or “He huan,” as having a “sweet and balanced” taste, with beneficial effects that “harmonize the heart and will [i.e., the emotions], and make one happy and worry-free. Protracted taking may make the body light, brighten the eyes, and [put one in a contented frame of mind as if one had] acquired whatever one desired.”(3) Mimosa bark, called “He Huan Pi,” was described as treating injuries from bruises, sprains, and broken bones. Mimosa bark moves stagnant blood, acts as an analgesic, inflammation, and swelling.Traditional Chinese Medicine has used and continues to use Mimosa flower and bark in these ways for thousands of years, and western herbalism currently employs it in a similar fashion. Mimosa is sweet, sour, drying, and aromatic in taste; the bark is more acrid than the flowers. It works on the heart and liver organ systems and is mood stabilizing, calming, sedative, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic in action. Since its first mention in written history, Mimosa tree has been a wonderful remedy for low mood and depression. “[Mimosa] was traditionally used to ‘calm the spirit’ and relieve emotional constraint when associated with bad temper, bad mood, sadness, occasional sleeplessness, irritability and poor memory. It was believed to be especially useful for anyone experiencing profound heart-breaking loss.”

On a physiological level, Mimosa is thought to enhance all aspects of mood-balancing neurotransmitter secretion and regulation in the brain; in addition, it will not interact with any mood stabilizing or antidepressant pharmaceuticals. The flowers will tend to have a more uplifting effect, whereas the bark is grounding to the spirit. Studies show that Mimosa, especially Mimosa bark, has antioxidant and anti-aging compounds. In one study, a methanolic extract of the stem bark of Mimosa was also found to have significant potential in scavenging destructive free radicals.

The extract also inhibited the formation of future free radicals, reduced the total free radical species, and scavenged particularly prolific free radical compounds. Furthermore, Mimosa extract has both preventive and reparative effects against glycation, an aging process of the skin. It can neutralize or detoxify free radicals in the skin which lead to glycation, and also support a process called “de-glycation,” leading to the repair of collagen structures in the skin. Similarly, Mimosa bark has long been regarded as one of the most important herbs in the pharmacopoeia of Traditional Chinese Medicine for the treatment of external trauma and injuries. Taking the bark internally and applying it externally promotes blood circulation, reduces pain and swelling, and aids in the regeneration of flesh and bone in the case of fractures and breaks. The high concentration of the organic compounds saponines, polyphenols, and tannins in Mimosa bark make it anti-microbial and wound healing, with a marked curing effect on second and third degree burns.(6) Mimosa is considered a safe and well-tolerated herb; there are no current contraindications. As with any herb or supplement, consult an informed herbalist and primary healthcare practitioner before use. Mimosa flower and bark may be used in many forms by the skillful herbalist; the following preparation suggestions are the most widely used and accessible to obtain. Mimosa Tea can be made from either the flowers or the bark; both preparations are lovely, with a natural sweet taste. To make a tea of Mimosa blooms, pour 12 oz of just boiled water over 1 tablespoon of dried flowers, cover, and step for 5-10 minutes. Strain and enjoy! To make a tea of Mimosa bark, add 2 tablespoons to 16 oz of water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Strain, and enjoy. Add a little raw honey for some extra sweetness in your cup. Making mimosa tea is a great way to enjoy its mood elevating benefits while carving out a little quiet time for yourself. This can be used to lift the spirit, calm the heart, and increase feelings of tenderness, sensibility and sensitivity. It also helps to literally expand your life, opening both the mind and heart to the joys of existence. Flower essences are best made early in the morning on a clear day. To make a Mimosa flower essence: A tincture of Mimosa is the most portable, quickest way to ingest the herb, perfect for multiple daily doses. I recommend starting with just 3 drops, 2-3 times per day, and working your way up to no more than 20 drops at a time if desired. When taking tinctures, I recommend allowing yourself even just 1 or 2 minutes to sit quietly and experience the herb. Make it a little personal ritual. Tinctures are usually an alcohol (80 proof vodka, grain alcohol, or other clear booze) extraction of a plant, however, vegetable glycerine or apple cider vinegar can be used in place of alcohol. To prepare a Mimosa tincture, pour menstruum of choice over dried bark or flower (1:5 herb to liquid ratio), keep in a sealed, preferably glass, a container for at least 6 weeks, shaking every day until straining. Consult an informed herbalist for dosage recommendations, as it depends on the ailment. It grows in many areas around the U.S., Europe, Asia, and The Middle East. See if you can find some growing in your yard, park, or on the wooded borders of local, organic farms. When harvesting Mimosa bark, take care to cut only from limbs that need to be pruned or have already fallen off. If you can’t find a tree growing near you, or if it isn’t in season, it’s best to enjoy herbal preparations made with Mimosa.

These can be ordered from reputable sources on the internet or, ideally, purchased from small, local makers and businesses, like a neighborhood herb store or health food co-op. Carefully selected, small batch herbal products with Mimosa can be found at The Alchemist’s Kitchen. Some of my favorites are this super delightful Rose Colored Glasses Mood Elevator glycerine tincture by Wooden Spoon Herbals and this awesome, calming Run the World supplement by WTHN. Micaela Foley is a practicing herbalist and writer currently living in Providence, Rhode Island. She attended both ArborVitae School of Traditional Herbalism in New York City and Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine in Northern California. Her herbal work is focused on accessibility, community healing, and issues of social justice. Her writing aims to be holistic, an attempt to interweave the scientific, political, spiritual, poetic, ancestral and contemporary.

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