Medicine from the Trees of Life

-Excerpts from Ellen Evert Hopman's book  A Druid’s herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine (with permission)

Through the ages trees have been our guides, teachers and healers. We learn and relearn how to receive their wisdom and how to care for them in true reciprocity. While the simple presence of trees is calming and revivifying, traditional healers have also learned to use elements from the trees for medicine-making.  We offer here some guidance from druid/author  Ellen Evert Hopman on the art of making tree medicines. The trees offer their healing gifts, and as we receive them with gratitude, we are able to become strong, perceptive and inspired stewards of our natural world.  See also Tree Bark Medicine from nurse/herbalist/teacher Jen Costa

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A bit about Gathering Medicinal Parts from Trees:
Never gird a tree by removing bark from the main trunk, as this will kill the tree Bark should only be taken from a twig or from the root or trunk of a tree that has fallen or been cut down. The medicinal parts are found just under the outer bark, in the thin living layer of tissue called the cambium. Leaves should be collected before the Summer Solstice (after that they will contain too many natural insecticides and be too harsh for human consumption), and berries are gathered in the fall. (p9)

The general rules are that roots, barks, and berries are “decocted” (simmered, not boiled) and leaves and flowers are “infused” (steeped in freshly boiled water, removed from the stove) using two tablespoons of plant matter per cup of water for about twenty minutes. Please use only non-aluminum cookware, and be sure you have a tight lid on your pot to avoid losing the volatile oils via the steam….

To make a poultice, soak a clean cloth in a strong tea and apply or put tree parts into a blender with enough water to make a slush. Pour into a bowl. And buckwheat flour..or powdered slippery elm bark and knead with your fingers until you have a “pie dough” consistency Roll out on a clean cloth using a rolling pin. Apply to a wound or burn for one hour and discard.

Black birch leaves

Black birch leaves


Birch leaves can be picked very early spring to make a laxative tea. Used as a gargle, the tea heals mouth sores. Taken internally the tea helps to purge kidney and bladder sediment and benefits gout and rheumatism. The teas is also slightly sedative and helps sore muscles.

…Make a strong tea using the leaves, twigs, and bark, and add it to the bath or use it as a wash for eczema, psoriasis, and other moist, oozing skin conditions.

All birches are valuable as medicine…the best beverage tea is made from black birch and the birches, such as river birch, that have a distinct wintergreen smell when you crush the leaf or chew on a twig.

Birch is known as “the way-shower”. Birch is regarded in all cultures as a Goddess tree..Birch helps us to focus on what needs doing and gives us energy in the process. She tells us to honor our female side, our vulnerability and our feminine, life-giving nurturing  qualities. ..


Trees of life

All the properties of aspirin are also the properties of willow (which was first synthesized from willow bark)  Willow bark reduces fever and inflammation and helps with the pain of rheumatism, arthritis, and gout. It is protective of the heart (acts as a blood thinner) and can cause the same negative effects as aspirin (such as internal bleeding) if abused or overused.

However, when ingesting a capsule of willow bark, many natural buffers and other components such as bioflavonoids are present. Willow is much easier on the body than synthetic aspirin….

The best willow for human consumption is white willow (Saliz alba)  The bark can be simmered to deal with all of the above mentioned ailments. The bark tea can also be taken as a gargle for sore throats and used as an external wash for wounds, sores, and burns. The bark is collected in the spring.

 Steep three teaspoons of the bark per cup of cold water for five hours. Bring to a boil and take up to one cup a day in tablespoon doses (adult dosage).

Willow is above all, a healer with a gentle touch.


White Oak leaves (note rounded lobes)

White Oak leaves (note rounded lobes)

Oak leaves and bark are astringent, meaning they will shrink and tone tissue as they heal. Oak ..helps with fever, sore throat, and phlegm in the lungs. The tea can be used both internally and externally to help shrink varicose veins. It makes a fine wash for sores and skin irritations, and a hair rinse for dandruff and hair loss.

A cloth can be soaked in the tea and wrapped around the neck to shrink..glandular inflammations. ..A tea or poultice of the bark and leaf will benefit burns.

 The most palatable oak for internal use is the white oak (Quercus alba). A tea of white oak bark removes excess mucus and tones the stomach..the bark must be collected from branches in early spring.

To make the bark tea for internal use, simmer one tablespoon of bark …per pint of water for ten minutes in a non aluminum pot with a tight lid. Drink up to three cups a day.

For a wound wash use substantially greater amounts of bark; about a pound of bark and/or leaves per quart of water.
To make a leaf tea, steep two teaspoons of shredded white oak or English oak leaf per cup of freshly boiled water, for twenty minutes.

Oak is above all a symbol of balance.

Excerpts from: A Druid's Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine, Hopman, Ellen Evert, Destiny Books, Rochester, Vermont, 2008