Medicinal Trees

Eastern Red Cedar

  • Scientific Name: Juniperus virginiana
  • Parts Used: Berries (female cones), branches, leaves, bark
  • Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Diaphoretic, Expectorant, Astringent, Antimicrobial, Diuretic, Antiasthmatic, Antifungal

The uses of Eastern Red Cedar branch out into many. They are very similar to the Old World, standard Common Juniper in that its female cones- or berries- are one of its favored usable parts, if not an attribute of the plant that really grabs the eye. When you see the Cedar’s fragrant branches heavily-laden with these bright blue little “fruits,” it’s hard for an herbalist to think that these are NOT somehow useful!

One of the virtues of the berry is that it goes impeccably well with several mediums: salve, tincture, elixir, syrup, you name it. What more: it tastes delicious, and mixes well with a large variety of other herbal flavors in combination, if you are crafting a blend or formula of sorts. The twigs, leaves, branches and bark of Cedar have effects and flavor too, although they are notably more intense and astringent, having a reputation of being hard to extract; their use is important, but not as eclectic.

I would wager that the berries are more for tonic use, whereas the rest of this beautiful plant should be saved for acute situations, which I will get to later. Berries can be picked during the fall or winter, as they last, when they “ripen” to an appetizing-looking blue.

Remember: Cedar trees tend to be dioecious (at least the Eastern Reds are). That is, there are males and females of the species. If it is fall or winter, and the trees you are looking at for harvesting don’t seem to have blue cones, chances are they are male. Keep looking– you will more than likely stumble upon a female tree not far off.

In its many mediums, the berries serve as a very ideal winter medicine– all the better since they can, for the most part, be harvested all winter as the berries are available. They are high in Ascorbic Acid, or Vitamin C, an ideal vitamin to take over the winter for immune support. Even if you don’t have a cold, their use as a tonic will be more than welcome.

When winter illnesses take a nasty turn, Eastern Red Cedar berries work with expectorant action, helping the lungs clear out excess mucus and promote a healthy cough. It can be useful for a dry or wet cough: it relieves that “tickle” you may feel with a scratchy, dry throat with a hoarse cough, but it also stimulates the lungs to cough more productively, and expel phlegm in less time than without it. So here you have a medicine that stimulates the immune system, relieves a scratchy throat, improves your cough– and tastes great!

Cedar berries in syrup form are especially delightful. Sounds like quite a valuable ally to have, if you ask me.

Medicinal Uses

The young leafy twigs of the red cedar were officially listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1894 as a diuretic. The distilled oil of the red cedar has been officially listed as a reagent in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia since 1916.

The berries in decoction are diaphoretic and emmenagogue, like those of Common Juniper, and the leaves have diuretic properties.

People take Eastern red cedar for cough, bronchitis, joint pain (rheumatism), water retention, and flatulence. They also take it to improve appetite and digestion, and as a treatment for fungal infections and worms.

People apply Eastern red cedar to the skin for wounds, skin rashes, hair loss, eczema, acne, warts, fungal skin infections, and hemorrhoids. They also rub it onto joints for rheumatism, and onto the chest for asthma.

In the Native-Hispanic tradition, Cedars and their relatives are valued highly for the properties of their leaves, “needles,” or branches. These hold the more potent effects of the tree, and as such, are more difficult to capture in preparations. They can be slightly toxic.

The berries are used when there are excess fluids in the body, but Juniper really shines when the kidneys are sluggish, dilating tissues to increase urine flow, and reducing excess mucus production. It’s diuretic actions are truly remarkable, and is indicated in many cases of edema. Those berries are irritating, though, and are not recommended in large doses, for long-term use, and definitely not for those with kidney problems.

Eating 3-5 fresh berries is suggested for an upset stomach. It is thought the bitter nature stimulates gastric juices and improves digestion.

While certainly not widely considered poisonous or dangerous, it is still good to be careful. Be sparing when using preparations of Cedar needles or branches, even the berries, for that matter. Cedars are very powerful diuretics. When taken overboard, they cause kidney irritation, which feels like cramping in the abdomen– similar to a period cramp. Even higher doses can be more dangerous. Folks with weak kidneys, or outstanding kidney issues should avoid using the Cedar leaf.

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Thuja aka Arborvitae

  • Parts Used: Young twigs
  • Constituents: 1% volatile oil including thujone, flavonoid glyoside, musilage, tannin.
  • Actions: Expectorant, Stimulant to smooth muscles, Diuretic, Astringent, Alterative, Anthelmintic, Diaphoretic, Emmenagogue
  • Cautions: Avoid during pregnancy. Taken in excess the essential oil can produce unpleasant results; it was officially listed as an abortifacient and convulsant in overdose.

Thuja is a genus of coniferous trees in the Cupressaceae (cypress family). There are five species in the genus, two native to North America and three native to eastern Asia.

  • White Cedar – Thuja occidentalis
  • Western Red Cedar – Thuja plicata
  • Korean Thuja – Thuja koraiensis
  • Japanese Thuja – Thuja standishii 
  • Sichuan Thuja – Thuja sutchuenensis

Members are commonly known as arborvitaes, (from Latin for tree of life) Thujas or Cedars. The name Thuja is a latinized form of a Greek word meaning ‘to fumigate,’ or thuo (‘to sacrifice’), for the fragrant wood was burnt by the ancients with sacrifices. The tree was described as ‘arbor vita ‘ by Clusius, who saw it in the royal garden of Fontainebleau after its importation from Canada.

The Basics

Most of the herbal information I found on Thuja refers specifically to Thuja occidentalis – White Cedar, or Arborvitae –  but it is possible that the other varieties share similar characteristics and qualities.

  • It is important not to confuse the Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) with the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) as the two are quite different.

The name arborvitae is particularly used in the horticultural trade in the United States. It is Latin for “tree of life” – due to the medicinal properties of the sap, bark, and twigs. Despite its common names, it is not a true cedar in the genus Cedrus, nor is it related to the Australian white cedar, Melia azedarach.

Thuja is used for respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, bacterial skin infections, and cold sores. It is also used for painful conditions including osteoarthritis and a nerve disorder that affects the face called trigeminal neuralgia.

Some people use Thuja to loosen phlegm (as an expectorant), to boost the immune system (as an immunostimulant), and to increase urine flow (as a diuretic). It has also been used to cause abortions.

Thuja is sometimes applied directly to the skin for joint pain, ostearthritis, and muscle pain. Thuja oil is also used for skin diseases, warts, and cancer; and as an insect repellent.

In foods and beverages, Thuja is used as a flavoring agent. In manufacturing, Thuja is used as a fragrance in cosmetics and soaps.

According to WebMD, Thuja contains chemicals that might fight viruses. It also contains a chemical called thujone that can cause brain problems.

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Elder Tree

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  • Scientific NameSambucus Nigra
  • Plant FamilyCaprifoliaceae
  • Parts UsedBark, Flowers, Berries, Leaves
  • Actions: Vary based on what part of the plant is used
    • Bark: Purgative, emetic, diuretic
    • Leaves: Externally emollient and vulnerary, Internally as purgative, expectorant, diuretic and diaphoretic
    • Flowers: Diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal, pectoral
    • Berries: Diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative

Varieties:

The elder tree grows in Britain and from Scandinavia to the coast of Africa, a twisted, shrubby tree, seldom more than 30 ft high and common in hedgerows and waste places. The strong smelling leaves are divided into broad leaflets, creamy flowers grow in sweetly scented clusters in midsummer and in the late summer black juicy berries ripen and fall.

Note: Do not confuse European Elder (Sambucus Nigra) with American Elder, Elderflower, or Dwarf Elder. There are other, similar elder species in Europe and North America but these have different properties.  For a definitive list of the various elder species, and to verify that you are using Sambucus nigra (European or Black Elder) visit this link via wikipedia: Sambucus

The Basics:

Elder has a very long history of household use as a medicinal herb and is also much used by herbalists. The plant has been called “the medicine chest of country people.”

The bark and leaves of the elder have a violent purgative action when taken internally and are not safe. However, used externally, the juice of the leaves is cooling, soothing and healing and thus has been a common and efficient domestic remedy for several thousand years.

elder-04-lThe inner bark is collected from young trees in the autumn and is best sun-dried. It is diuretic, a strong purgative and in large doses emetic. It is used in the treatment of constipation and arthritic conditions. An emollient ointment is made from the green inner bark. The pith of young stems is used in treating burns and scalds. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh inner bark of young branches. It relieves asthmatic symptoms and spurious croup in children.

The leaves are used primarily for bruises, sprains, wounds and chilblains. The leaves can be used both fresh or dry. The leaves are purgative, but are more nauseous than the bark. They are also diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant and haemostatic. The juice is said to be a good treatment for inflamed eyes. An ointment made from the leaves is emollient and is used in the treatment of bruises, sprains, chilblains, wounds etc. It has been reported that Elder Leaves may be useful in an ointment for tumors.

The flowers are the main part used in modern herbalism, Elder flowers are ideal for the treatment of colds and influenza. They are indicated in any catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract such as hay fever and sinusitis. Catarrhal deafness responds well to Elder Flowers. The fresh flowers are used in the distillation of “Elder Flower Water”. The flowers can be preserved with salt to make them available for distillation later in the season. The water is mildly astringent and a gentle stimulant. It is mainly used as a vehicle for eye and skin lotions.

The dried flowers are diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, galactogogue and pectoral. An infusion is very effective in the treatment of chest complaints and is also used to bathe inflamed eyes. The infusion is also a very good spring tonic and blood cleanser. Externally, the flowers are used in poultices to ease pain and abate inflammation. Used as an ointment, it treats chilblains, burns, wounds, scalds etc.

Elder Berries have similar properties to the Flowers, with the addition of their usefulness in rheumatism. The fruit is depurative, weakly diaphoretic and gently laxative. A tea made from the dried berries is said to be a good remedy for colic and diarrhoea. The fruit is widely used for making wines, preserves etc., and these are said to retain the medicinal properties of the fruit.

The root is no longer used in herbal medicine but it formerly had a high reputation as an emetic and purgative that was very effective against dropsy.

Are Elderberries poisonous?

elderberries-2Most species of Sambucus berries are edible when picked ripe and then cooked. Both the skin and pulp can be eaten. However, it is important to note that most uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous. Sambucus nigra is the variety of Elderberry that is most often used for health benefits as it is the only variety considered to be non-toxic even when not cooked, but it is still recommended to cook the berries at least a little to enhance their taste and digestibility. Continue reading

Slippery Elm

slippery-elm

  • Scientific NameUlmus rubra
  • Plant FamilyUrticaceae
  • Parts UsedInner bark
  • Actions: Demulcent, Emollient, Nutrient, Astringent, Vulnerary

The Basics:

The pale, aromatic inner bark of the Slippery Elm tree  is considered one of the most valuable remedies in herbal practice, the abundant mucilage it contains having wonderfully strengthening and healing qualities. It can be used to make a soothing, healing medicine for sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, catarrh and stomach and bowel troubles. It also acts as a treatment for cystitis and urinary complaints.

People take slippery elm for coughs, sore throat, colic, diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bladder and urinary tract infections, syphilis, herpes, and for expelling tapeworms. Because Slippery Elm bark is a soothing nutritive demulcent, it is perfectly suited for sensitive or inflamed mucous membrane linings in the digestive system. It is used for protecting against stomach and duodenal ulcers, for colitis, diverticulitis, GI inflammation, and too much stomach acid.

Slippery elm is also taken by mouth to cause an abortion.

It is often used as a food during convalescence as it is gentle and easily assimilated. In diarrhea it will soothe and astringent at the same time. Externally it makes an excellent poultice for use in cases of boils, abscesses or ulcers. Slippery elm is applied to the skin for wounds, burns, gout, rheumatism, cold sores, toothaches, sore throat, and as a lubricant to ease labor.

In manufacturing, slippery elm is used in some baby foods and adult nutritionals, and in some oral lozenges used for soothing throat pain. Continue reading

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