Conifers who can speak to each other? Of course! This month, however, I am talking about the communication of healing that we humans have learned from conifers. You may recall that conifers are mostly evergreen trees and shrubs with needle or scale-like leaves. Most produce cones containing seeds. Pollen is carried by the wind, as we New Englanders know in the spring when the world turns yellow. A common example of a conifer would be the Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus). It is easy to identify this one as each needle cluster has five needles (w-h-i-t-e). There are 220 species of conifers worldwide, including the Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Juniper (Juniperus communis).
In Korea, China, and Japan the pine is seen as a symbol of longevity. The pine is featured as a plant in the garden or home as well as in paintings. In New England, conifers were used for ship masts, pitch for ship caulking, and furniture. Conifers tell the story of an area such as the sandy soil of the Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida), the acidic soil of the White Pine, and the moist, rocky soils of the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).
Many conifers are used as an herb or as a flower essence. Please be sure to research the tree you wish to use as an herb as some are not safe (Blue Spruce) and others may not be appropriate if you are pregnant. Juniper (Juniperus communis) has a long culinary history. The berries, which are really female cones, were and are used to flavor meats or create gin. These cones are a well-known assist with arthritis (in moderation). My grandfather used to soak raisins in gin and have a teaspoon every day. He felt it helped his joints. Juniper is also a diuretic and a powerful antiseptic against urinary tract infections. According to the late Dr. James Duke, juniper should not be taken more than four to six weeks at a time as it could cause stress on the kidneys. Additionally, if you have compromised kidneys, juniper should not be used.
White Pine (Pinus strobus) is a great tree to know if you need food in the wild. Steeping some needles in cold or warm water provides you with a wonderful antioxidant and is high in vitamin C. It does have a resinous taste, but I don’t think it is unpleasant. Mix it with sassafras or sarsaparilla for a fabulous drink. I source my needles from limbs that have newly fallen from the tree. See page 246 in Robin Rose Bennett’s book listed below for another recipe. Herbalist Chris Marano says the inner bark clears up green and yellow phlegm of deep respiratory infections. The bark should be sourced from small stems, not the main trunk. Pine sap is anti-microbial. A dab on a cut provides an instant antiseptic band aid. Herbalist Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower uses Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) to create a healing salve. She said it is especially helpful for shingle hives. I helped a family member who thought they had shingles and it worked well.
As a flower essence trees, in general, are a bridge between above and below, crown chakra and the feet, and can be a source of strength and comfort. Juniper is an example of a conifer that strengthens one’s nerves and up-lifts the spirit. White Pine brings peace to the mind, heart, and soul. Its flower essence also acts as a person’s guide to ancestral knowledge and wisdom. Balsam (Abies balsamea) has a wonderful scent that I find very relaxing. The flower essence balances and up-lifts the spirit. Dr. Bach said that Scotch pine is about forgiveness, acceptance and taking responsibility. This is the flower essence for those who say “I’m sorry” for everything and assume they are responsible for something even when they are not. Finally, one of my personal favorite trees the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). This tree picked me and I always get a hello whenever I am near one. As there are a lot changes in my life, this flower essence is excellent for easing one through changes and transformations.
In this cold and somewhat monochromatic time of year, conifers add color to the landscape. They offer a promise of more green plants to come, and they offer healing solace to our minds, bodies and souls. Be well.
Herb Walk NEHA November 2011, Chris Marano, Clearpath Herbals
Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower, Herbalist
The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook, James A. Duke, Ph.D., St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2000.
The Gift of Healing Herbs, Robin Rose Bennett, North Atlantic Books, 2014.
Bach Flower Massage, Daniele Lo Rito, M.D., Healing Arts Press, 1997.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees Eastern Region, Chanticleer Press, 2000.