Medicine of the Tree People
In our modern world, conifers and evergreens are used for a spectrum of staples ranging from homesteads to holiday decor, though we rarely stop to recognize the Tree People who provide us these essentials.
Shade from conifer trees and their vaunted hues of green make up a patchwork of scenery throughout the Pacific Northwest. Stands of Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Spruce, and Pines may seem outwardly static, but upon closer inspection we find that the glorious viridity of the forest is busy at work.
Standing side by side for centuries, these trees grow roots that participate in a complex web of life below the soil, grasping the Earth, holding it all together. Their bodies tower high into the sky world, creating suspended canopies of ecosystems and cleansing the air along the way.
Just under the surface of these hard exteriors, the Tree People are toiling, manufacturing bark, cones, needles, and phytochemicals like pinene and limonene. Sap is the messenger moving nutrients from the soil and the sun to wherever they are needed in the bodies of the trees. Winds circulate through the needles, creating whistling sounds heard by the Bird People journeying through the breeze, inviting them to rest and visit on their girthy branches.
When we take time to observe this great presence, we are gifted with lessons of how we humans can make positive impacts in life, community, and the living world surrounding us. In this way, the Tree People are our greatest teachers, imparting these lessons without a word, and yet offering out-loud examples. The Tree People show us how to persevere through intimidating storms by being flexible and grounded. They teach us the importance of working together to make the entire community resilient.
In our modern world, conifers and evergreens are used for a spectrum of staples ranging from homesteads to holiday decor, though we rarely stop to recognize the Tree People who provide us these essentials. We can deepen our relationship with them in whatever ways resonate: Sit with them, draw them, pray with them, sing to them, clean up garbage nearby, make an offering, or harvest some boughs and hang them inside your home.
Evergreen trees are brilliantly engineered, manufacturing exactly what they need to be able to live an entire life standing in one place. This time of year, we are seeing fresh fluorescent green growth emerge from the ends of the evergreen trees. Those tips are full of vitamin C and electrolytes. Simply pinch off the new growth and consider that you are pruning the tree, careful not to take too much. You can eat them fresh or as a woodsy trailside snack. These tips can also be used to prepare a sun tea, or an infused water, making a refreshing, hydrating beverage.
To make the sun tea:
What deepens a connection to the forest more than tasting it? Enjoy the evergreen’s piney, zingy terpenes that bear anti-inflammatory, immune-building, and astringent qualities for our human bodies.
Add 1 cup of fresh evergreen tree tips to a quart jar of room temperature water. Add lemon or lime as an optional ingredient. Place in a warm or sunny spot for 2 to 8 hours. Strain out the water and drink straight or add a splash of maple syrup as a sweetener.
Conifer Seasoning Salt
½ cup evergreen tree needles (preferably Douglas Fir or Western Hemlock)
1 cup sea salt
Optional: 1 tbsp. pink peppercorns or dried juniper berries
Optional: 1 tsp. lemon or orange peel
Combine all ingredients in a spice grinder. Blend until the salt turns a hint of green and the needles are completely pulverized. Store in a glass jar. Sprinkle on eggs, potatoes, steamed vegetables, fish, chicken.
Warning: Properly identify the tree you are harvesting. Poisonous evergreens are not common, but they do exist. Avoid yew tree species and commercially grown Christmas trees. Edible species include Firs (Abies spp.), Hemlocks (Tsuga spp.), Spruces (Picea spp.), and Douglas Firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii).