Evergreens grow almost everywhere from mountain ranges to deserts to swamps, but most commonly are found in the forests of Northern United States and Canada.
Evergreens are important winter medicine and can be harvested all winter long, as well as the rest of the year. They provide immune and respiratory benefits, relieve aches and pains, provide Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, fight opportunistic pathogens and more. You can make use of the needles, resin, inner bark and pollen in most species.
In the spring, the green "new growth" needles of evergreens can be harvested. They are high in essential oils, vitamin C and bioflavonoids, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Make a delicious tea or tincture.
The bark is high in tannins (outer more than inner) and can be used topically for healing wounds and infections.
The resin, or pitch, holds the more potent volatile properties. Extract this in oil that is gently heated. Infuse in oils to warm muscles, relieve pain and aid expectoration. Resin helps disinfect wounds and remove splinters and can be burned as incense. When working with resin, use rubbing alcohol or other high proof alcohol to get the resin off your skin.
Pine essential oils are antimicrobial, disinfectants, mood lifters, clarity enhancers and great for a steam or bath.
To really understand what you are looking for and harvesting, you need to find a good guide to determine the different species of evergreens interested in harvesting from . Please note that evergreens in general are considered NOT safe during pregnancy.
So, a quick overview of the different species of evergreens and their medicinal qualities. Many of them are interchangeable.
Have long needles that grow in clusters with bundles of 2,3, or 5. Pine cones grow down.
You can eat the young needles (soft, bright green new growth) for a Vitamin C boost. Older needles are harvested for tea and incense. Pine needles are rich in Vitamin C, bioflavonoids and phenols.
The inner bark has the richest sources of antioxidant proanthocyanidins. Harvested bark can be used in a decoction for respiratory expectorant, is an antimicrobial, warming, mildly diuretic and anti-rheumatic.
The resin draws out splinters, stimulates blood flow and immune response. It helps soothe sore muscles, aids coughs and phlegmy lung congestion. Topically the resin in a salve is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, helps with rheumatic pain, arthritis, acne, eczema and psoriasis.
As incense, pine resin, bark and needles are used. Native Americans consider the pine as their Sacred Tree. The steam and incense are used to relieve asthma, bronchitis, clear sinuses and other respiratory problems. It can also relieve stress, fatigue, nervous tension, promote mental clarity and more.
Pine essential oils can be irritating to kidneys and digestive tract. Never take orally.
RECIPE: Pine Forest Tea
2 parts fresh pine needles
1 part orange peel
1 part cinnamon stick
Infuse in boiling water for a delicious and healthy winter tea
Has softer, single needles that attach strongly to the branch. Needles are flat or mostly flat sprays. Bark is smooth and gray. Cones grow up and disintegrate as they mature.
Gather resin by popping blisters on trunks or collect chunks of dried resin. Use fresh growth needles in spring. Medicinally interchangeable with Pine.
BALSAMS have flat needles and can be used interchangeably with Pine for teas and incense or steam baths.
Balsam Flower Essences help to balance and ground with inspiration and is uplifting
SPRUCE varieties have sharply pointed, square needles that are easy to roll between fingers. Cones point down and are mostly small in size.
Use spruce interchangeably with Pine
JUNIPER has short, prickly needles attached singly or in a whorl of 3 or feathered. Blue or reddish brown berries (modified cones) are present. The berries are green the first year and ripen the next year to a blue color. Use the blue ripe berries.
Medicinally we tend to use the bluish berries. They have diuretic action which flushes and helps disinfect the kidney-urinary system. They also stimulate digestion and detoxification, boosting hydrochloric acid and pepsin and aiding digestion of fats and proteins. Juniper has carminative (relieve gas) and hypoglycemic activities. Topically it is antimicrobial.
I use Juniper berries ground up in a spice mix or to sprinkle on foods. They make a fantastic incense addition as well. As incense, we use the fresh needle tips and the blue berries. Juniper has widely been burned since antiquity as a fumigant to stave off viruses and plagues of sickness. Research is showing its effectiveness in sore muscles and joints, gout and even several skin disorders.
Juniper flower essence helps to calm the heart and let the body deeply relax and free blocked energy.
CEDAR has flat scale needles that are soft and fan like foliage spray. Bark is fibrous and fissured. Small slim cones point up.
Thuja or Northern White Cedar has resin in the folds of the bark and makes fantastic incense, along with the wood. I personally use cedar only for incense. Its uses are to strengthen concentration, decongestant and for grounding energy. It helps people overcome deep seated anxieties, self doubt and insecurity. Pull off some needles and bury your nose in it and see if you don't immediately feel better and happier. When we find cedar trees on our hiking trips, my companions have a hard time pulling me away. I just want to stay in its energy and aroma.
As a topical remedy, cedar helps fight impetigo, warts, papillomatous growths, genital infections, bacterial vaginosis, skin ulcer, hemorrhoids and fungus.
The essential oil is toxic. White Cedar Flower Essence is for protection and purifying. It helps release negative energy from within.
Western Red Cedar Flower Essence is for grounding, finding your courage, strength and wisdom in your deepest inner resources as you need it.
HEMLOCK has flat needles attached singly with two white lines on underside. The small cones point down.
Make sure you differentiate from Poisonous Yew tree whose needles are yellowish and has red olive berry like cones.
Hemlock needles are easy to harvest and can use fresh or dry in tea or nibble straight from the tree as you collect. The inner bark is very high in tannins so not really great for ingestion but great to tan hides. :)
Uses are similar to Pine.
Hemlock Flower Essence is for easing through the processof change in our awareness.
Oh, there is so much more to learn from evergreens. I will continue on even more healing evergreens offer us in next weeks post.
Here is a reference you may enjoy:
Groves, Maria Noel (2016). Evergreen healers: Medicine from the Winter Forest. https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/2016/03/evergreen-healers-medicine-from-the-winter-forest/.
Enjoy your winter walks, snowshoeing, cross country skiing among the evergreen forests all around us in Minnesota. So much healing power lies within them. Harness it.