At the present time we are focusing on cacao flavoring. Our original studies were cacao and its relatives, such as pataxte. We raise both of these in our garden of Mayan ethnobotanical plants. But gradually we have concentrated on flavors for pre-Columbian cacao. So we are not studying cacao nibs, cacao powder.

However we are fully familiar with the processing of cacao beans. We have spent time in the cacao area of Tabasco and Izapa, Chiapas, Mexico, as well as all cacao-growing areas of Guatemala. We have also been in the vanilla areas of Veracruz.

We are familiar with the cacao tree starting with the flowers. We raised our own cacao from seeds, so we have experience with Theobroma cacao out in the real world. We also raise as many of the cacao flavorings as are possible, considering that our office is in the middle of a city so we rather obviously don’t yet have any agricultural land. But we pack a lot of plants inside and around our research center.

We use the pre-Hispanic word cacao rather than the modern derivation cocoa. We are aware of the health benefits of cacao though be realistic about sugar and other modern additives that lower the health benefits dramatically.

Magnolia flower, Antigua Guatemala, Taken with a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III

Uses of Magnolia are multiple

Clavigero mentions adding the following to flavor cacao (cocoa in today’s English): vanilla, honey, mecaxochitl, the flowers of Piper amalago, a small vine related to Piper nigrum, flower of Tagetes lucida, marigold called Mexican saffron, flower of yolloxochitl, or heart flower (Magnolia mexicana), seeds of piztle (Cahocarpum
mammosum)  (Sophie Coe 1994:104).

Common names for Magnolia (in Mexico)

Aguacote, árbol de corazón, flor de corazón, magnolia, súchil, yolosóchil; Oaxaca: ita ndix (mixteco); Puebla: kuwisana (totonaco), kuwi xa’nat, yoloshanat; Veracruz: moniacuy,moñiacuy, sochil moynacoy (Atlas de las Plantas de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana). We can add words for Magnolia in Q’ekchi’, coj.

Considering that in Guatemala at least Magnolia grows primarily at high elevations, I would not have expected to find words for Magnolia in all Lowland Mayan languages. But we found it in one:

kul ak’, Lacandon (Kashanipour and McGee 2004:55).

But the really extensive Lacandon Maya ethnobotanical list of Suzanne Cook does not yet have either kul ak’ or magnolia. Perhaps I need to look for Talauma in her list?

Magnolia is in many states of Mexico but close to extinct in Guatemala

You can find several species of Magnolia in Jalisco, Morelos, Veracruz and elsewhere in Mexico. One species is present throughout half of Chiapas (which borders on Huehuetenango departamento of Guatemala). But in Guatemala most of the Magnolia trees have been chopped down to make wood paneling or flooring for houses.

So we don’t have any good photos yet, since our plant scouts have only their cell phones to take snapshots (and most flowers are in really tall trees). We sent out a photo team but by June the flowers had mostly fallen. So we will have to wait an entire year to do professional quality photographs. Hopefully the magnolia trees will still be standing in 2015.


Magnolia flower, Guatemala City, Taken with a Nikon D800E, January 2014

Here is an early botanical report on Magnolia in Mexico.

Standley, in Trees and Shrubs of Mexico, Part II, has to say, pp. 275-276:

Talauma mexlcona (DC.) Don, Hist. Dichl. PI. 1: 851. 1831, ^

Magnolia mexicana DC. Reg. Veg. Syst 1: 451. 1818.

Talauma macrocarpa Zucc. Abh. Bayer. Akad. 2: 869. pL i, 2. 1886.

Mountains of Veracruz, Oaxaca, Mexico, and Morelos.

A large tree, soluetimes 30 meters high, with a trunk 1.2 to 1.5 meters in
diameter ; leaves persistent, oval or elliptic, 12 to 25 cm. long or larger, acute,
lustrous, reticulate-veined; fiowers large, white, sweet-scented, the petals and
sepals very thick and leathery, often tinged with purple; sepals 3; seeds sur-
rounded by a fieshy red aril, hanging by a white tiireadlike funide. " Flor de
coraz6n" (Oaxaca, Veracruz, Morelos); "hualhua" (Veracruz, Morelos);
“yoloxochitl " (Nahuatl) ; "hierba de las mataduras" (Morelos, Mexico,
Ramirez) ; “laurel tulipfi-n" (Morelos) ; " guielacfhi ** (Oaxaca, Zapotec, Reko).

This is one of the best-known of Mexican trees. It was highly esteemed by
tbe early inhabitants because of the sweet odor of the blossoms, a single flower
being sufficient to perfume a whole house. The tree was cultivated In gardens,
and the flowers were reserved for the exclusive use of the nobility. The plant was valued also for its reputed medicinal properties, and it still finds use in
domestic medicine. The bark is employed for fevers, and is said also to have
an effect upon the heart similar to that of digitalis. A decoction of the flowers
is administered for epilepsy, paralysis, and various heart affections, and as a
tonic. The plant, upon analysis, is said to yield a glucoside which dissolves the
blood corpuscles.

The Nahuatl name, “yoloxochitl," signifies "heart-flower," an allusion to
the shape of the unopened flower buds. Robelo gives ** chipagua " as one of the
vernacular names — a derivative of the Nahuatl chipahuaCj " the beautiful.'*
The species has been reported from Mexico as Magnolia glauca, a name synonymous with Jf. virginiana L., which pertains to the sweet bay of the eastern and southern United States. It appears, also, that Talauma mexicana and Mag
nolia Schiedeana have often been confused. The two species are much alike in
leaf form and in the appearance of their flowers, but the fruits are very dif-

Talauma macrocarpa is mentioned by Acosta (1590) under the name " yolo-
suchil." It is illustrated and descriled by Hemandez * under the name “yoloxo-
chitl." The latter author discusses its medical properties, stating that "it is an
excellent remedy for sterility," and remarks that the flowers were sometimes
used to flavor chocolate.

STANDLEY, Paul Carpenter, Trees and Shrubs of Mexico, Part 2

Here is a longer discussion on Talauma mexicana:

This is from, a web-based discussion of plants in Africa. but in reality is is more likely from Pennington and Sarukhan or Standley or comparable. The web page has a bibliography but does not cite individual sections (sort of like Parker’s monograph).

The title of the PDF on the Internet is Some medicinal forest plants of Africa and Latin America. FAO Forestry Paper 67

BOTANICAL NAME: Talauma mexicana (DC.) Don

SYNONYMS: Magnolia mexicana DC., Talauma macrocarpa Zucco

FAMILY: Magnoliaceae


Flor del corazon; Cuhui-xana (Totonaco); Chocoijoyo (Zoque); Flor de atole, Flor de las mataduras, Guia-lacha-yati (Zapoteca)j Jolmashte (Tzeltal); Magnolia mexicana, Yolo, Yoloxochitl - "flower of the heart" (Nahuatl); Anonilla (Yucatan).


Talauma mexicana is a tree of cultivated areas, deciduous woodlands and high evergreen forests at altitudes ranging between 110 and 290Om. In Mexico it occurs in the States of Chiapas, Mexico, Guerrero, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla and Vera Cruz in a belt in which the high evergreen forests alternate with secondary vegetation.
The species occurs in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala; it is sometimes cultivated (see distribution map).

An evergreen tree up to 30m high; trunk up to 1.5m in diameter; glabrous or almost so. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules lanceolate, 2-5cm long, at first united with the petiole, finally deciduous and leaving a conspicuous scar; pet.iole up to 9cm or more long; blade ovate or elliptic, 8-30cm long, 4-12cm wide, apex acute or obtuse, base cuneate, margins entire, coriaceous. Florescence terminal, solitary. Sepals 3, white, oblong or obovate, 4-10cm long, 3-7cm wide, apex truncate, fleshy, glabrous; petals 6, white with reddish markings, thick and leathery, in 2 whorls or 3, outer obovate, 8-10cm long, 5-7cm wide, inner 7-8cm long, 5-6cm wide; stamens numerous; carpels numerous. Fruit
multi-folliculate, obovoid, 10-15cm long, woody; follicles 2-seeded, woody; seeds bright breen surrounded by fleshy red aril and hanging from a white, thread-like funicle, obovoid, 7-12mm long. Flowering May to July.

Scientific study of the composition and properties of T. mexicana began at the end of the last century in Mexico. It was then concluded that the plant possessed a glucoside substance called talumine, to which pharmacological effects on the action of the heart were attributed. Tinctures and other extracts were prepared from the bark, leaves and flowers of T. mexicana and tested on various animals and even in clinics. From these studies it was concluded that th~ fruit and bark of the tree contained substances which affected the action of the heart, slowing down the rate and increasing the force of its beat, and regularizing it. From then on Talauma was included in national pharmacopoeia as a useful drug in the treatment of cardiac deficiency, possessing cardiotonic glucoside properties. It was even put forward as a national substitute for digitalis.

Its close resemblance to Magnolia grandiflora has led to the two trees being frequently confused and similar medicinal properties being attributed to them. The classification of Talauma mexicana, was made in the XVIII century, when its leaves and flowers were considered to possess tonic properties, stimulating and of great benefit for cardiac complaints. However, in earlier times the Mexican people attributed to them sedative effects and other properties which cannot be clearly identified owing to the little knowledge we have of the original Aztec medicine.

The flowers stay on the tree from May to July and are bought in great quantities in the markets of the capital and of the towns in south-eastern Mexico. At present T. mexicana is used mainly as a medicine, in the form of a syrup used to prevent epileptic attacks and also to treat various cardiac ailments, tonic properties being attributed to it.
The bark of the tree is used to prepare an infusion useful in the treatment of fevers, and cardiac glucoside properties are attributed to it. Its fame as a remedy for heart complaints led to it being incorporated in the symbol of the Instituto Nactional de Cardiolog{a. The flower buds are dried in the sun and sold in the markets in bright garlands. Three or four petals boiled in half a litre of water is the usual dose for an infusion for the treatment of cardiac affections and as a sedative.

In later years the cardiotonic action of the flowers, leaves and bark of Talauma were proved. Various purified extracts of these parts of the plant have a vasoconstrictive, hypertensive and cardiotonic effect. In the middle of the present century the alkaloid aztequina was obtained from the leaves of Talauma, and this does not have a heart-stimulant effect. It was postulated that substances known to exist in Magnolia grandiflora, magnoline and magnolamine alkaloids which produce inhibition of the vasomotor nerves and a peripheral effect of an adrenolitic type were present also in Talauma. Magnoline also appears to be an inhibitor of colinesterasej while magnolamine is a vigorous hypotensive.

Recently pharmacological studies have been conducted with infusions of Magnolia and Talauma in comparative cardio-vascular tests, showing that the first produces a negative chronotropic effect on the heart of the dog, accompanied by fleeting but intense arterial hypotension, while the Talauma has an aminergic effect, contracting the blood vessels and producing a notable increase in the frequency of the co~tractions of the heart. The tonic effect of Talauma suggests the presence in the plant of notable products whose stimulative action on the nervous and cardiovascular system makes this one of the most important plants in Mexican herbalism.

It is often grown as an ornamental and powdered flowers are used to flavour chocolate and other foods (Morton, 1981).

pages.  211-213;

Our longer range interests in the Magnolia of Guatemala and adjacent countries

As soon as funds are available, we are interested in moving forward as these are definitely plants worth studying. Here is a list of what aspects we wish to learn about.

  • Botany of Magnolia (of Mesoamerica)
  • Ethnobotany and linguistics of Magnolia (names of Magnolia in each local language)
  • Magnolia among the Aztecs
  • Magnolia among the Zapotecs and Mixtecs
  • Magnolia use among the Maya
  • Magnolia as a medicine
    Magnolia as a source of fragrance, including for aromatherapy
  • Magnolia as edible
  • Raising magnolia (Mesoamerican species)

Our bibliography of Magnolia species is on our Maya bibliography site.

Our list of all the Magnolia species potentially available in Guatemala is on our Mayan ethnobotanicals site.

First posted June 20, 2014 after sending out plant scouts many times and going on a long field trip myself to attempt to locate this nearly extinct tree in Guatemala.

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