If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees. ~Hal Borland
Cough, cough, cough. Cough, cough, cough.
That’s how our household sounds this week. So it was with interest that I read that infused Douglas-fir needles are a traditional cough remedy. Douglas-fir needles? They are everywhere here; they dust the sky and litter the ground. But I never thought to ingest them.
According to botanist and medical biochemist Diana Beresford-Kroeger, humans and trees are interrelated down to the most basic level. The hemoglobin, which transports oxygen into our blood, is strikingly similar on a molecular level to chlorophyll, which, in the presence of sun and water, produces oxygen.
“We cannot survive without the tree,” states Beresford-Kroeger.
It makes a perfect kind of sense that tree needles would be medicinal, especially for our lungs, whose alvioli spread out like branches.
So, this weekend, Ezra and I wandered up to a place we call the high forest in search of Douglas-fir needles. It’s actually a city park, but it feels more like a forest, because it is strangely and magically abandoned. I’ve visited regularly for years, and I’ve only seen two other people there ever.
It’s hard to find Douglas-fir needles at arm’s reach. Most of them sway in the breeze 30 to 60 feet overhead. The trails are covered with fallen branches, but Ezra and I were in search of the fresh, fragrant tips that are supposedly best for tea. We padded along quietly searching, until we spotted a small, spindly tree with branches at just the perfect height to snip off a few.
At home, we boiled the needles for 20 minutes, let it cool, and then took the first tentative sips of our homemade, hand-harvested cough remedy.
What a delicacy! It has a lemony, light, and complex flavor. It’s one of the best teas I’ve ever tasted.
Perhaps you don’t live in proximity to the giant Douglas-firs? Well, wouldn’t you know you can buy wild harvested Douglas Fir Spring Tea on the Internet? However, you probably don’t have to look far to find a tree with healing qualities right in your own backyard.
According to Beresford-Kroeger, kids can gain protection from childhood leukemia for a year by playing with the green fruit of a black walnut in August. And black walnut leaves, rubbed on the inside of the arm, protect a woman from breast cancer. In her book The Global Forest, Beresford-Kroeger also writes that fatty acids in hickory nuts promote brain development and a compound in the water ash helps prevent cancer.
And, of course, most of us are familiar with the healing properties of willow bark, which contains a chemical similar to aspirin.
I’m not sure if the Douglas-fir needles will cure our coughs, but I can tell you that harvesting them was healing. That’s the thing about forests, just visiting them is medicinal. People have known it forever. Photographer Jillian Doughty shares a story on her blog about visiting a Mayan massage practitioner, who told her that she needed to be outside with the trees more often. “She said all of us do, we need to go to the trees and let them take the thoughts we no longer need, the feelings we can no longer take, and the memories we should no longer carry ourselves. She said trees are here to collect what we don’t need. They breathe what we discard, that is why they are here.”
Modern scientific studies concur that visiting forests is healing for us. “Forests — and other natural, green settings — can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness,” says a Science News Daily article. “Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system by increasing the activity and number of natural killer cells that destroy cancer cells.”
Or, as Ezra said, as we wove through the Douglas-firs, “I like naturing, Mom.”
More about the healing power of trees:
- Interview with Diana Beresford-Kroeger – To The Best of Our Knowledge
- Douglas-fir resource sheet – Doctor Schar
- (Materia Medica) Pseudotsuga menziesii: Douglas-fir – Gold Roots and Threads
- Gathering and Processing Conifers – Cauldrons and Crockpots
- tree medicine – Jillian Doughty