Gardenia plants are members of the Rubiaceae plant family and are native to parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands, including China and Japan. Today the ethanol extract of gardenia fruit and flowers is still utilized in many ways in herbal medicine and aromatherapy. There are more than 250 different types of gardenia plants, one of which is called Gardenia jasminoides Ellis, the type primarily used to make essential oil.
As you’ll learn much more about, gardenias have been shown to have numerous actions, including serving as a natural antibacterial, analgesic, antifungal, diuretic, antiseptic, detoxicant and antispasmodic. Uses of the oil, supplements and other products include diffusing the oil to fight stress, applying it to your skin to treat wounds and drinking gardenia tea to enhance digestion.
What Is Gardenia?
Depending on the exact species that is used, the products go by many names, including Gardenia jasminoides, Cape Jasmine, Cape Jessamine, Danh Danh, Gardênia, Gardenia augusta, Gardenia florida and Gardenia radicans.
What types of gardenia flowers do people usually grow in their gardens? Examples of common garden varieties include August beauty, Aimee Yashikoa, Kleim’s Hardy, Radians and First love. (1)
The most widely available type of extract that is used for medicinal purposes is gardenia essential oil, which that has numerous uses like fighting infections and tumors. Due to its strong and “seductive” floral smell and ability to promote relaxation, it is also used to make lotions, perfumes, body wash and many other topical applications.
What does the word gardenias mean? It’s believed that historically white gardenia flowers symbolized purity, love, devotion, trust and refinement — which is why they are often still included in wedding bouquets and used as decorations on special occasions. (2) The generic name is said to have been named in honor of Alexander Garden (1730–1791), who was a botanist, zoologist and physician who lived in South Carolina and helped develop the classification of gardenia genus/species.
Gardenia Benefits and Uses
Some of the many uses of gardenia plants and essential oil include treating:
- Fighting free radical damage and formation of tumors, thanks to its antiangiogenic activities (3)
- Infections, including urinary tract and bladder infections
- Insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, obesity, and other risk factors tied to diabetes and heart disease
- Acid reflux, vomiting, gas IBS and other digestive issues
- Depression and anxiety
- Fatigue and brain fog
- Muscle spasms
- Menstrual pains
- Low libido
- Poor milk production in nursing women
- Slow healing wounds
- Liver damage, liver disease and jaundice
- Blood in the urine or bloody stoolsWhat active compounds are responsible for the beneficial effects of gardenia extract?
Studies have found that gardenia contains at least 20 active compounds, including a number of powerful antioxidants. Some of compounds that have been isolated from the edible flowers of wild Gardenia jasminoides J.Ellis include benzyl and phenyl acetates, linalool, terpineol, ursolic acid, rutin, stigmasterol, crociniridoids (including coumaroylshanzhiside, butylgardenoside and methoxygenipin) and phenylpropanoid glucosides (such as gardenoside B and geniposide). (4 ,5)
What are the uses of gardenia? Below are some of the many medicinal benefits that the flowers, extract and essential oil have:
1. Helps Fight Inflammatory Diseases and Obesity
Gardenia essential oil contains many antioxidants that fight free radical damage, plus two compounds called geniposide and genipin that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory actions. It’s been found that it may also help reduce high cholesterol, insulin resistance/glucose intolerance and liver damage, potentially offering some protection against diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. (6)
Certain studies have also found evidence that gardenia jasminoide may be effective in reducing obesity, especially when combined with exercise and a healthy diet. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry states, “Geniposide, one of the main ingredients of Gardenia jasminoides, is known to be effective in inhibiting body weight gain as well as improving abnormal lipid levels, high insulin levels, impaired glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance.” (7)
2. May Help Reduce Depression and Anxiety
The smell of gardenia flowers is known to promote relaxation and help people who are feeling wound up de-stress. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, gardenia is included in aromatherapy and herbal formulas that are used to treat mood disorders, including depression, anxiety and restlessness. One study out of Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that the extract (Gardenia jasminoides Ellis) demonstrated rapid antidepressant effects via instant enhancement of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression in the limbic system (the “emotional center” of the brain). The antidepressant response started roughly two hours after administration. (8)
3. Helps Soothe the Digestive Tract
Ingredients isolated from Gardenia jasminoides, including ursolic acid and genipin, have been shown to have antigastritic activities, antioxidant activities and acid-neutralizing capacities that protect against a number of gastrointestinal issues. For example, research conducted at Duksung Women’s University’s Plant Resources Research Institute in Seoul, Korea, and published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, found that genipin and ursolic acid may be useful in the treatment and/or protection of gastritis, acid reflux, ulcers, lesions and infections caused by H. pylori action. (9)
Genipin has also been shown to help with digestion of fats by enhancing production of certain enzymes. It also seems to support other digestive processes even in a gastrointestinal environment that has an “unstable” pH balance, according to research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and conducted at Nanjing Agricultural University’s College of Food Science and Technology and Laboratory of Electron Microscopy in China. (10)
4. Fights Infections and Protects Wounds
A small amount of the essential oil can be blended with a carrier oil and applied to the skin to fight infection and promote healing. Simply mix the oil with coconut oil and apply it over wounds, scratches, scrapes, bruises or cuts (always dilute essential oils first).
5. May Help Reduce Fatigue and Pain (Headaches, Cramps, Etc.)
Gardenia extract, oil and tea are used to fight pains, aches and discomfort associated with headaches, PMS, arthritis, injuries including sprains and muscle cramps. It also has certain stimulating qualities that may be even help lift your mood and enhance cognition. It’s been found that it can improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and help deliver more oxygen and nutrients to parts of the body that need healing. For this reason, traditionally it was given to people fighting chronic pains, fatigue and various illnesses.
An animal study out of Weifang People’s Hospital’s Department of Spine Surgery II and Department of Neurology in China seems to verify the pain-reducing effects. When researchers administered ozone and gardenoside, a compound in gardenia fruits, “the results demonstrated that treatment with a combination of ozone and gardenoside increased mechanical withdrawal threshold and thermal withdrawal latency, thus confirming their pain‑relieving effects.” (12)
6. Can Help Improve Cognition and Protect Memory
A study published in the Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines found that gardenia extract helped with memory improvement, especially among older memory-deficit populations, including those with Alzheimer’s disease. In the study, two major components found within gardenia extracts, geniposide and gardenoside, seemed to help suppress the expression of immune-related genes in the brain, meaning they have anti-inflammatory effects that address the underlying mechanisms of memory deficits. (13)
Use in TCM and Ayurveda
Gardenia is referred to by several different names in Ayurvedic medicine, including Dakamali and Nahi hingu. It is used to help treat conditions, including fever, indigestion, wounds, skin diseases and abdominal pain. It is said to have a pungent, bitter taste that is dry in nature. These properties are believed to help with digestion and reduce heat and dampness.