Just before Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to lead an herb walk with Sue Sierralupé on the Medicinal Trees of Mount Pisgah, which got me thinking about tree medicine again. It’s amazing to me how quickly we herbalists forget about the potent medicine these largest of the herbal world offer. We don’t think twice about adding a bay leaf or two to our soups or stews to make them more aromatic and tastier. How many of us think about the fact that those bay leaves are added medicinally to aid in digestion? How many of us think about the parental connection white willow shares with asprin when we’re trying to kill a headache or numb other pain? Or of the insecticidal power that’s the real reason we line our closets and drawers with cedar?
Right in my own front yard, I have two of the trees we talked about: Douglas Fir and Magnolia. In some ways, I suppose they are the epitome of what it is to live on this particular corner. Douglas Fir is a very male tree who provides a lot of protection from the fast-flowing energy of our busy street. His medicine is warming and penetrating, all about managing circulation and motion without getting carried away by it. Medicninally, humans have used Douglas Fir needles to make teas, particularly in the spring when the new tips are fresh, young, and a little sweeter. They’re filled with vitamins C and A, much like other pine needles, and they’ve got an invigorating quality that makes them good medicine for clearing old energies from the body. Herbalists consider them anti-inflammatory, mildly stimulating, and antiseptic, good for healing after colds and flus, relaxing general tensions, and adding a little more fire or vigor to the body, particularly during the cold, damp months of winter here in the Willametter Valley.
I made an oil from Douglas Fir needles after we’d had a major windstorm that knocked down a branch a few years ago. For warming and bringing circulation to any area, that oil is absolutely Divine. Were I a massage therapist, I’d seriously look at using it when I’m working with a patient who has stuck energy causing tight muscles–like someone who was in a car accident and has stored the trauma in his or her muscular system. As an empathic person, and a really sensitive one at that, I’m grateful for the strong, quiet presence of Douglas Fir in my space. He helps deaden the throng of traffic and sooth the fear energy that follows every emergency vehicle that races down our street. A little salve of Douglas Fir rubbed onto the chakra points is an excellant protective remedy for folk like me, particularly when friends or family stop by or for being out in public or crowds.
While Douglas Fir has a strong male, protective energy about him, Magnolia has a distinctly femine protective energy. In our yard, Magnolia vies for space, competing with a giant laurel hedge and a young lilac. I’m certain we need a little more Magnolia in our space, actually. She helps to bring clarity and appreciation of one’s inner soul to the surface. Flower Esssence practioners use Magnoia to help folk who struggle with their past and current identities, such as those of us who have lived what seems like at least two different lives. In the face of turmoil and transition, magnoila’s tender but firm energy helps to create clarity betweeen what was and what is.
Chinese herbalists use Magnolia bark, known as Hou Po bark in Traditional Chinese Medicine, to help improve digestion, particularly to assist in gastrointestial motility and bowel function, and the seeds are used for eyesight. Magnolia truly helps one to better digest the situation at hand, recognize what’s no longer, and let it go. Western herbalists call Magnolia a mild diaphoretic, tonic, and a mild stimulant. In Western and Eastern herbalism, Magnolia is not recommended for inflammatory conditions, although in ages past it was sometimes used to help relieve fevers. With her warming, bitter, acrid taste, it seems unlikely she’d assist in putting fire out but would rather bring warmth and comfort to ease cold, exhausted conditions while gently encouraging digestion and progress at the same time as rest.
Last year, I almost picked a few of her flowers to make tea just to see what it tastes like, but I hesitated. At the time, I wasn’t sure they were edible. As it turns out, Magnolia flower tea is good for helping clear the upper respiratory tract, bringing balance back to an area that’s often taxed during the buzz of spring’s polination season when Magnolia bloooms in our area.
Magnolia’s connection is strongly with the element of Water. Next to a busy streeet like mine, she’s a reminder of how important it is to honor that element daily. Water helps soothe the emotional body, which is most rattled by the crazy whir of energy coursing along our road. In our yard, she probably ought to have a bigger, grander place. We, after all, are a family of fire and quite possibly a little too much male energy. That she’s here at all, to me, is a true blessing and a reminder to honor the Divine Feminine…even if it means shoving my guys hard enough to get the room necessary to make space for a little peace and quiet amidst the din of our busy neighborhood. The flower essence I made last year at Magnolia’s foot is a part of my personal blend for nurturing a safe, balanced inner life.
The walk I took with Sue was a terrific reminder of how much beauty, love, and good medicine the trees all around us have to offer. If you missed the walk or want to get a re-cap, check out An Herb Walk of the Medicinal Trees of Mount Pisgah on Youtube or the Real Herbalism Radio podcast Show 31: Herbal Tree Medicines. Be sure to like it and share it on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, too!