Welcome to the first of my blogs about healing with nature! I’m Gareth, a nature loving naturopath and in this blog we’ll branch out and explore the healing power of trees! I trust you’ll excuse the occasional pun and stick with it…
Before we begin, a key element of naturopathy is treating the root cause rather than the symptoms. Therefore, it is important to state that the information to follow is more aimed at treating acute symptoms of short term conditions rather than targeting longer term chronic imbalances by treating the cause.
In my work I see the wondrous well-being effects that just simple acts of self care and connecting with nature can bring to all of us, through methods such as either a brisk or mindful walk in the woods or giving a tree a big hug!
So join me on a whistle-stop tree world tour as we check out 5 trees that have traditionally been used to help boost our health and leaf us feeling totally tree-mendous!
1) Copal (Buresa spp.)
Our first healing tree transports us to the lush tropical rain forests of South America, where it produces a heavy sap that dries naturally into a hard resin. This aromatic copal resin has traditionally been used as a ritual incense by ancient indigenous people such as the Mayan and Aztec cultures. These trees are considered to be plentiful, quick growing and supportive of long-term resin production and collection.
The spicy-sweet scent of copal is thought of as calming, emotionally grounding, cleansing to spaces and is popular as an aid to meditation; thus promoting a deeper connection to ourselves through connection with Nature. Meditation can be a life-changing practice and self care strategy!
Copal resin incense produces quite a heavy smoke in abundance, so only burn one larger chunk (0.5 – 1 cm) or a few smaller chunks (<0.5 cm) at a time and make sure you have a window open to stay well ventilated and avoid setting off your smoke alarms! Click here for more guidance on using incense resins with charcoal discs.
2) Elder (Sambucus nigra)
We stay at home for our next tree as this species of the Elder family is native to the UK and Europe. It is steeped in folklore and myth, especially relating to the spirit of the tree being that of the protective Earth Mother and its links to the enchanting Faery realm. Who doesn’t love some magical myths?!
Returning back to this earthly realm and the topic in hand, the Elder also has many traditional healing properties provided by various parts of the tree. The bark, berries, leaves and flowers are all utilised, supporting its description as a one-tree medicine chest!
We will focus on the most commonly used parts of the tree which are the berries and flowers. Both are rich in vitamin C and compounds called flavanoids that are both supportive of our immune response and may help to give us a general boost to in immunity. More specifically, they are especially useful in cases of respiratory inflammation such as hay fever and sinusitis as well as coughs, colds and flu-like conditions, particularly important as we prepare for colder months to come.
The berries and flowers are most often taken either as teas or in the form of tinctures. For elderberry products, click here.
3) Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
Evoking images of branches cradling koala bears, this healing tree is most popular for its leaves rich in essential oils used in aromatherapy, which radiate a blue haze giving rise to the so called Blue Mountains of Australia where this ancient tree is native and abundant.
Eucalyptus oil is perhaps best known for its anti-viral properties, especially in relation to the respiratory system, indicating its use in colds, coughs, flu and other respiratory conditions.
Eucalpytus is more of a stimulating than relaxation inducing oil, ideal for home aromatherapy practices such as warm baths (up to 5 drops), chest rubs (1 drop per 2ml of carrier oil) or good old steam inhalation (2-3 drops). Steam inhalation is the fancy term for the traditional practice of adding the essential oils to a large bowl of about 2 pints of boiling water, placing your face over the bowl at a comfortable distance, closing your eyes and then covering your head and the bowl with a towel and breathing the oils in through your nose. Generally up to about 10 minutes should do the trick.
For more tips and techniques on using Nature’s amazing aromatherapy oils at home, click here.
4) Neem (Azhadirachta indica)
With its roots in the traditional Ayurvedic medicine of its homeland of India, the Neem trees use as a healing tree dates back almost 5000 years! The ancient healing Neem tree provides us with a plethora of health boosting properties from various parts of this popular and sacred tree.
Although the leaves, bark, flowers and seeds are utilised for their health boosting benefits, in this short overview of the neem tree, we will just focus on some acute uses for Neem oil which is derived from the cold-pressing of the trees seeds.
Neem oil is a very effective home remedy for head lice when massaged into the scalp. In addition, it can also promote the growth of thicker, stronger, shiny and smooth head hair. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it useful for treating acutely inflamed and itchy skin, again it can be massaged onto effected areas. Burning the oil in has also proven to deter insects, such as mosquitos. So fill up your aromatherapy tealight diffuser with some neem oil to help banish the last of this summers bitey bugs!
5) Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)
Our final tree is slippery by name and by nature! The Slippery Elm tree is native to North America where it has a long traditional use as a healing tree by the Native American people. It is most commonly the inner bark that is utilised for the trees healing properties. The inner bark is finely ground into powder form and when mixed with liquid, becomes thick, gel-like and “slippery”, hence its common name!
Slippery Elm is most often used internally for inflammatory conditions such as sore throats, as a soothing laxative for constipation-predominant IBS and to calm inflammation in the oesophagus caused by acid reflux. The thick texture of Slippery Elm enables it to soothe as it slowly passes through our digestive tract.
The same soothing properties can be utilised for calming external inflammation such as bites, stings, inflamed skin and boils.
For More Information
To find out more about the history/folklore, health benefits and any precautions around these trees plus many more natural health products available at Indigo Herbs, check out our Natural Health Guide by clicking here!
Bartram, T., (1998). Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine. EC: Robinson Publishing
Bone, K., and Mills, S., (2013). Principles and practice of phytotherapy. China: Elsevier
Bruton-Seal, J,, and Seal, M., (2008). Hedgerow medicine. UK: Merlin Unwin Books
Hoffman, D., (1990). Holistic herbal. UK: Martins the Printers
Plus the fabulous Indigo Herbs Natural Health Guide!