Let’s start with “The Tree of Life”.
1.) Oak Medicine
The oak tree, specifically the red oak and white oak, were
so important to the first people of California and Oregon that they called it
“The Tree Of Life”. Those in the know still rely heavily on these majestic
trees for their abundance of health benefits, and for food.
Walking up to a large oak, he turned to me and explained,
“Each plant has its own pace, its own way of living from year to year and
producing nuts, seeds, and fruit – many of which are good food and medicine.”
When we entered Dennis’ house, one of the first things I
noticed was a big basket of acorns by the door. He explained that all acorns
are edible and delicious when prepared the right way. They were planning on
grinding these up into a nutrient dense acorn flour and making bread from
it. Growing up, we were told in school that this bountiful, everyday nut was
inedible, even poisonous – yet another chapter that the modern world appears to
have gotten wrong.
The bark of the oak tree has been used for thousands of
years for its medicinal qualities. For indigestion and bowel problems, the
fresh bark is charred and made into a “charcoal soup” that alleviates the
symptoms. A decoction of the bark is used to treat throat infections,
kidney infections, and kidney stones.
Because of their styptic properties, the leaves and bark of
the oak are made into infusions and used to treat burns and cuts.
2.) Pine Medicine
During our medicine walk, Dennis pointed out a few different
pine trees and gave us the download on the myriad uses that this forest dweller
has to offer.
Scraping off a bit of the sticky ooze from the bark, he
explained that this delicious smelling pine pitch has powerful antibacterial
and antimicrobial properties. Dennis often uses this as quick wilderness first
aid for cuts, slivers, and burns.
The inner bark can be eaten as a survival food in times of
severe hardship or if you are lost in the woods for an extended period of time.
It can also be used as an expectorant to lubricate the respiratory tract and
ease a bad cough.
But the most cherished part of the pine, at least by Dennis,
is the needle. He explained that the young pine needles are a great source of
vitamin C, A, E, and a host of B vitamins. They also have strong antimutagenic,
antioxidant and antiproliferative properties, which help in preventing the
growth of cancer cells.
Dennis told us a few stories of western explorers who were
bedridden on ships, dying of scurvy, who were saved by indigenous healers with
spruce needles. He also said that during the Spanish influenza the
folks who ate pine needles didn’t become ill, and the ones who didn’t did.
Dennis shared a ton of forest medicine wisdom that day, but
as we were investigating a wild tobacco plant he said something off-hand that
reassured me that he wasn’t giving away too much of his sacred ancestral
Staring up into the trees, Dennis said, “There are certain
plants obviously that can’t be shared with the masses, but these are not them.
If they were, I wouldn’t be talking about them. They may be exploited and
they’re that valuable. They’re both culturally valuable and commercially
valuable – a combination that can lead to bad things.”
He told us that for a westerner to ever gain access to those
types of secrets, they need to spend a lifetime building trust with the tribes
again. A trust that was violated too many times to be given back lightly.
The oak and the pine. Two trees that most of us think we
know, but perhaps we’ve only scratched the surface.