I’m sure we’ve all felt the power of trees. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are surrounded by an abundance of them. Sometimes we are in awe of their sheer size and height, other times it’s the sound of the wind through their leaves or needles, or the scent of their resins or aromatic terpenes released from their needles, the grounding smell of earth and woods amidst the forests.
Knowing that trees essentially inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen is a benefit of sharing space around trees and plants of all kinds as well. We breathe in as they breathe out, and our lungs and bodies benefit. In addition, if you’ve ever stood or sat at the base of a tree, most people feel the grounding and calming effects of this. Rooted into the earth, and reaching toward the sky and sunlight, trees emit a calming presence.
Medicinally and ceremonially, trees have wonderful benefits as well. As I was considering this article and began listing all the trees I know of that are used for their healing benefits, I was impressed by how long the list was getting, and I definitely did not even get close to completing it! Here are a few to remind you, also: Ponderosa Pine (and other pine trees), Fir, Larch, Spruce, Cottonwood/Poplar, Willow, Slippery elm, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Western Red Cedar (Thuja), Eucalyptus, Tea tree, Palo santo, Copal, Frankincense, Ginkgo, White Oak, etc.
There are a few we use the bark of as a tea or tincture (liquid extract) preparation (such as willow bark and slippery elm inner bark), several where the wood is distilled for essential oil (cedarwood, sandalwood, palo santo), several where the needles are distilled for essential oil (all the conifers – fir, spruce, pine), and several where the leaves are distilled (eucalyptus, tea tree). Cottonwood is used for the both the bark occasionally and for the resinous buds as a tincture or infused oil for topical application. Some the resin is used, such as the conifers, frankincense, copal, etc. to burn, powder, or distill into essential oil.
There are many trees that have been used in a more sacred and ceremonial way, by burning their wood, leaves, or resins, which may be in addition to their uses as physical medicine. These include Palo santo wood which has become very popular for its grounding, centering, and protective properties when burned like an incense, Western red cedar, whose leaves are bundled and burned to clear energy and spaces, and Copal resin which is burned ceremonially for spiritual cleansing and healing and is a popular incense.
When it comes to the conifer (evergreen) tree needles distilled into essential oils or hydrosols, these can be used in a diffuser or in topical applications for several purposes. By inhaling these oils, there are many positive effects on the respiratory tract, helping to open the lungs and sinuses, thinning and drying up excess mucus, and reducing inflammation of the mucosal membranes. These oils, such as Black Spruce, Grand Fir, Scotch Pine, are used for acute and chronic lung and sinus issues, so are great for wintertime health by diffusing in your living spaces, or applying in an oil or cream to the chest and neck. This is also true because compounds in these conifer needle essential oils stimulate the immune system and help ward off airborne viruses and bacteria. They are also useful for chronic lung issues, such as asthma and weak lung capacity, as well as recovery from bronchitis and sinusitis, and smoke exposure (think of cigarette smoke or smoke from wildfires) when inhaled directly or via steam inhalation.
In addition to their respiratory effects, conifer tree essential oils are known for their restoring, energizing, and stabilizing effects on the body. They can be inhaled for helping with burnout, fatigue, chronic or acute stress, recovery from physical illness, during a workout or run, etc. They also can help with muscle soreness by massaging on topically (diluted of course). Black spruce is also used for helping balance emotions, by inhaling for its grounding and centering effects, or massaging on the body and inhaling.
There is so much more I could say about trees and their medicine, but I will leave more for another day. Enjoy, appreciate, and utilize trees for their many positive effects on the body, mind, and spirit, and always be aware of sustainability practices with these precious plants.