Energetics of some common North American Trees
by Laurel Redmon
Trees, Earth’s largest
plants, embody the wood element.
Humans and trees have co-evolved to a degree that our lives seem
without their wealth of resources. Symbolically, trees have represented
longevity, wisdom, fertility, and a strength that can yield without
These universal themes apply to the elemental wu
xing as well.
People residing in North
America are privileged to enjoy
plentiful woods despite almost complete logging of primeval old-growth
on our continent. Presently,
have one of the most robust timber industries in the world. Medicinal
energetic applications of these grand plants is unfortunately
overshadowed by a
plethora of other uses deemed more utilitarian.
Engaging with trees in a
way that can utilize their
resources without killing them is a wonderful and rewarding pursuit.
medicines can be harvested with minimal impact on the plant. Bark or
should always be harvested in modest vertical strips, to avoid undue
various pathogens. It is especially important not to cut completely
plant’s circumference (girdling) because this leads to the tree’s death.
A multitude of woody
plants have always been an important
source of medicine: this fact spans history and geography.
Why not “get back to our roots”—some of these
traveled here from Europe or Asia like many of us!
basswood, American Linden
This is one of the most
popular everyday tisanes (teas) in
continental Europe, and deserves consideration as a major herb.
heart-shaped leaves are a sure signature to denote its helpfulness in
physiologic and emotional heart spheres.
June blossoms exude an exquisite aroma, and honey from these
flowers is world-renowned.
A tonic that can actually
bolster heart Qi (cardiotonic),
this herb has a reputation of helping heal broken
hearts as well. Linden has soothing and demulcent properties that have
historically to treat heart palpitations, “hysteria”, vomiting or
the heart and stomach organs in Oriental medicine and indicate the
between mind and body disharmonies.
Linden’s soothing and
demulcent properties are
therapeutic to mucous membranes, aiding fevers, colds as well as a wide
chronic gastrointestinal problems.
important nervine, tea of linden leaves and blossoms could help
depressed or generally high-strung people.
It is a wonderful herb for children too-
either for colds and fever or an
White, Red, English or
This ubiquitous and famed
tree was considered sacred to the
Greeks, Romans and Druids. Its
majesty, great size and slow growth habit have contributed to this as
the hardness and centuries-long endurance of its wood. Acorns have
symbol of potential for great things burgeoning from a humble origin.
Oak bark is the quintessential astringent of
indicated primarily for hemorrhage, diarrhea and laxity or swelling of
Holmes mentions its application as a
tonic for spleen Qi: healing
of many types, tightening vessels and relieving exhaustion can be
this capacity. Oaks also yield a flower essence: this is a
remedy employed to encourage perseverance, as well as a state of
calmness in the
face of difficult or violent circumstances.
White and Red Pine
Pines are tall, straight
resinous plants that retain their
needles (leaves) but experience seasonal changes like everything else.
The Chinese viewed these plants as a tonic for
Qi, or Chest Qi,
Qi. Their resinous
qualities give them
special medicinal applications, especially in respiratory and
Pine pitch or resin
contains antimicrobial properties
resulting in a potent remedy for bacterial pneumonia or bronchitis.
Pine pitch or tar has been employed for skin
conditions of a chronic
nature, like eczema, psoriasis and seborrheaic dermatitis. Tea from
has been used historically to treat a wide range of kidney and bladder
imbalances, as well as gout. With close family ties to some of the
things on Earth (Loblolly Pine, Giant Sequoia), pines contain high
Quaking or Bigleaf aspen,
White poplar, Tulip tree
Aspens grow in groups or
clones, which lets the gentle
quaking of their leaves lull listeners into a peaceful state.
Poplar buds contain high levels of salicylic
acid as well as other
pain-relieving and vulnerary (wound-healing), calming resins with
soothing effects. This
wide range, aspirin-like pain relieving quality with a simultaneous
heal traumatic injury make it an important tree to identify and use in
wilderness or survival situations.
Poplar bark shares an
astringent quality with most other
tree barks but is unique in strengthening the kidney and bladder
This action lends it to treating “yin door”
discharges such as
leukorrhea and incontinence from Qi
Yang deficiency. This
often occurs in older women who have borne several children or in men
treated for prostate diseases both before and after surgery.
Slippery elm, American elm
While American elms were
once dominant in their
shade-providing canopies in our cities, Dutch elm disease lead most to
death. Slippery elm has persisted in Eastern U.S. forests, and provides
and pertinent healing qualities.
mucilaginous inner bark of this tree
soothes and restores mucous membranes primarily in the gastrointestinal
Ulcers in both upper and lower
gastrointestinal tract can mend with help
from this Yin-enriching plant.
Famous for lubricating
dry or inflamed throats and vocal
chords, slippery elm can also aid diarrhea, constipation, and lung
Elm’s unique emmolient
and antimicrobial properties
distinguish it as a superior Yin
with an affinity for skin diseases as well as internal medicine. This
historically made into a gruel to assist convalescence from a wide
chronic and acute disorders. Judicious
use of this plant, including increased cultivation will assure its
for future generations.
indicate the breadth of application
that trees can have. Almost
category of action is graced by an agent from a tree.
white mulberry, considered a noxious weed in our country, supplies us
agents that relieve wind-cold (Sang Ye,
mulberry leaf), clear hot phlegm (Sang Bai
Pi, mulberry inner bark), banish wind-damp from the channels (Sang
Zhi, mulberry twigs), and tonify the kidneys (Sang
Shen, dried mulberry fruit).
an unglamorous tree obviously yields a wealth of medicine.
This evokes the mystery of yet undiscovered or
forgotten uses for our
other medicinal trees.
Holmes, Peter. The
Energetics of Western Herbs: Treatment
Strategies Integrating Western and Oriental Herbal Medicine.
Volume I, Revised Third Edition. Snow
Lotus Press, Boulder: 1997.
Definitive Guidebook to the Myth, Folklore and Healing Power of Trees.
Thorsons, San Francisco:
Elpel, Thomas J. Botany
in a Day: Thomas J.
Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families.
Primitive School (HOPS) Press, Pony:
Grieve, Mrs. M. A
Modern Herbal: The
Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore
Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses.
Volume I, A-H.
Dover Publications, Inc., New York: 1971.