When you walk into the forest what do you see? Beautiful tall evergreens, strong oaks, and hickories, underbrush? Leaves fill trail paths as do the needles from pines, creating a softer forest carpet to cushion our steps. An animal or a bird may get our attention. We feel more peaceful as if the forest itself takes our tasks, lightens our load at least for the time we are among them.
As an herbalist, I tend to look around to see what plants are edible. And while I don’t strip large swaths of bark for medicine making, I remember that trees supply us with food and medicine. Acorns and chestnuts make a delicious flour. Twigs and pine needles make tea filled with minerals and vitamins, and nourishment.
Today I would like to go back to the white pine, Pinus strobus.
Twigs, bark, needles, and resins promote health and healing when used properly. Native Americans would use the resin and combine it with beeswax to seal the seams when canoe-making.
From the perspective of holism, I have another question. How does the tree heal itself? Our Native ancestors observed nature, using nature’s gifts from trial and error, yes but also how nature heals itself. How does a species such as an evergreen survive?
Let’s look at a wound that trees have to handle, a broken limb which creates an open wound. These open wounds on a pine and others expose the tree to different fungi and pathogens by infiltrating the center core of the tree, the hardwood. The hardwood is the largest part of the tree, the middle of the tree. When the living barrier, the Cambrian fails, is penetrated, the hardwood starts to soften which weakens the integral structure of the tree. While limbs breaking etc are part of a tree’s life cycle and they learn to deal with these occurrences to some extent, trees use resin to heal these wounds. The tree uses the resin which not only heals the wound but contributes to their longevity. We see this to some extent in our native forests.
White pines produce resin we think of as sticky, very hard to remove, thick and a problem when dropping on the metal exterior of a car. The US Forest Service tells us:
“Resins are plant products that,
- are not soluble in water,
- harden when exposed to air,
- do not play a role in the fundamental processes of the plant, and
- are generally produced by woody plants.
Resins are produced in special resin cells in plants and are also produced when an injury occurs to the plant. Resins can be produced through the bark of a tree, the flowers of an herb, or the buds of a shrub.”
However, let’s go back to the pine tree. With the loss of a limb, resin seeps in, in an attempt to create a band-aid for the empty spot. It creates a seal and hardens. It is this observation that prompted our ancestors to try resin for sealing as in canoe making and for wound healing.
The dot I hope I connect here is this: we have learned much from nature. If that is true, and I believe it is, why are we disregarding her now? We forget about the forest community filled with so many species each with a purpose and a role. We forget to give thanks for her gifts. We forget to use the gifts she brings. In simple ways, such as tea making we can bring nature home. And, science, field observations, and tests are proving that we have harmed water, air, and soil to our detriment.
Ellen Moyer, Ph.D., this week’s podcast guest, is committed to sustainability and creating solutions. We can go over the problems again but we’ve done that. Now is time for practical action. Check out her website for a free gift: 55 things simple things you can do right now to make a difference.
What are you doing that reduces your carbon footprint? What about this earth moves you? As an herbalist and educator, I enjoy teaching about her gifts. Whether trees or plants, animals or resources, she offers much. What have you observed in nature that applies to us? We’d love to hear from you.