Wildcraft Wednesday: Evergreen, Ever-healthful!
It's that time of year again: The holidays are over, the twinkling lights have just been packed away, and you're about to box up the last of the decorations... but not so fast! That sense of well-being, calm, and holiday warmth comes from more than just the refreshing fragrance and the pleasant viridescence of your Christmas tree. In fact, virtually every part of the evergreen- bark, needles, oils, sap, and resin -has been used to treat common Winter ailments.
So what exactly is a conifer? Along with the classic spruce Christmas tree, conifers (or the class Coniferinae) are made up of cone-bearing, typically-evergreen trees and shrubs like the pine, hemlock, and fir. All of these contain medicinal oils that have been used for centuries to treat diseases of the respiratory system, to boost the immune system, and even to balance hormones. But the most incredibly relevant treatment for all of us experiencing the chill of snow is how the fragrance of coniferous plants can help bring circulation and warmth to cold muscles and stiff joints, and even help to stave off seasonal affective disorder. It has actually been proven that the smell of coniferous trees, with their fresh, herbaceous aroma, stimulates the brain to release dopamine and other pleasant neurotransmitters that help the body to feel revived and which increase endurance.
But the benefits don't stop with the oils! The needles, when consumed as tea, contain polyprenols, which boost the immune system and stave off diseases like the flu, and also contain B vitamins, vitamins A & C, iron, antioxidants, and a whole host of other medicinal compounds and essential minerals that help the body to repair cells and combat disease.
With the exceptions of the yew, cedar, and Ponderosa Pine (which is native to North Dakota and should not be consumed by pregnant women), all coniferous needles are edible and can be used to make a delicious tea. Simply take a tablespoon of the needles (especially from the ends of the branches, where the youngest growth is, add bits of bark, and steep in a covered cup of boiling water for 15 minutes. Strain and enjoy with honey! The tea is invigorating, healthy, and flavorful: bright, woodsy, and naturally sweet.
And if you feel a cough coming on, this simple Pine Needle Syrup recipe might be all you need to kick it to the curb:
1/2 cup foraged pine needles
1/4 cup rosehips
1 cup water
1 cup cane sugar or raw honey
1-2 tbsps of rum or brandy (optional)
Boil pine needles and rosehips for 10 minutes, or until the needles have browned. Remove the needles and rosehips with a strainer. Then, add honey to the pine water, bringing to a boil slowly until the liquid is syrupy. Add your rum or brandy. Pour into a jar and store in the refrigerator.
This warming blend is sure to soothe your throat, and may very well be all you need to beat your cold. Relax, enjoy, and stay tuned for this Friday's Evergreen recipe, making use of the flavorful components of pine needles!