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Plant Profile: Mimosa

Mimosa deserves its nickname as the “tree of collective happiness” as it eases dark depression and despondency. Mimosa’s botanical name is Albizia julibrissin and it is one of my favorite members of the Fabaceae or pea family. It is widely used medicinally and has a long history as a spiritual uplifter in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

A variety of plant parts are used medicinally, with differing effects depending on which is used. The bark is considered grounding and stabilizing whereas the flowers are considered either sedating or uplifting, depending on the person. Mimosa’s herbal actions include its role as an relaxing nervine or anxiolytic, but it is also slightly bitter carminative and thus helps to ease gut tension and indigestion.

I think of mimosa as appropriate to support the nervous system during deep grief and dysthymia characterized by exhaustion and sadness that can’t be eased by gentle dispersive nervines like lemon balm or chamomile. Mimosa is indicated when the emotional pattern has a more defeatist and heavy quality; to relieve burden and help to see a sense of possibility and where one previously couldn’t. Such despondency is often connected with trauma, both acute earlier-in-life experiences as well as the cumulative effects of day-to-day microaggressions and trauma endured by those most marginalized by oppressive systems such as white supremacy and global capitalism. This isn’t the plant for daily use as a tonic nervine (think peppermint, linden, or milky oats for that purpose), but rather for those moments when the weight of the world feels insurmountable, when it feels like all the hardship and suffering the world is just too big a burden to carry. Both leaf and bark offer stability and rootedness, though the flower is considered more uplifting while the bark is considered more grounding.

Like hawthorn or linden, mimosa can be used to support emotional wellness during periods of loss. For this purpose, I use the flowers tinctured fresh in brandy. When the flowers are infused in alcohol, the menstruum turns a bright pink hue, mirroring this beautiful tree in bloom, its pink puff-ball inflorescence like something out of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Truly delightful.

There are numerous scientific studies on Albizia, many of which suggest that isolated constituents from the plant (namely the triterpenoid saponins, flavonol glycosides, and isoflavones) could play a role in addressing conditions ranging from generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, depression, and even cancer. These findings about "active ingredients" are an exciting area of emerging research, but need to be considered alongside traditional use of whole-plant preparations. To be sure, humans have been using plants as medicine for centuries without examining them under a microscope, and Mimosa’s long history in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) attests to power in mood support. In his blog, renowned herbalist Michael Tierra provides more context for Albizia's pharmacology and use in TCM.

Tincture is available commercially through sources such as Herb Pharm and many smaller-batch distributors. Check out this blog by Amber Shehan for recipes to make your own mimosa tincture or a yummy mimosa cordial. Dose for mimosa tincture is low. In his book The Modern Herbal Dispensatory, Thomas Easley suggests to start with 10 drops and increase up to 1 tsp if needed, not more than four times per day. I love to combine mimosa with other nervines, especially milky oats, hawthorn, and rose.

Mimosa is not safe to use in pregnancy or lactation, nor is mimosa considered safe for co-administration alongside medications which affect serotonin and GABA (such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, some sedatives). Mimosa is also not appropriate for depression patterns that include periods of mania, nor is it a substitute for professional or peer-facilitated counseling, movement activities, nutritional therapy or other adjunctive healing modalities. Consult with your doctor before starting to use herbs, especially if you are pregnant, lactating, or taking medication.

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