If I lived on the NC or SC coast I probably wouldn’t be thinking about Hurricane Florence as a gift-giver right now. Those areas have been (and continue to be) battered for DAYS by this slow-moving hurricane/tropical storm. My thoughts and healing energy go out to everyone negatively impacted by this storm system.
So far, here in central NC, on the edges of her power, we are only feeling balmy breezes with an occasional gust punctuated by bands of light rain. So, I ventured out on my usual morning walk during a lull in the action and was gifted with some wonderful finds.
Florence’s balmy breezes caused several tree friends to loosen their grips on some branches and fling them to the ground. To my delight, two of those trees also happen to be both edible and good medicine. So, I collected the branches from one and the seed pods from the other and spent the morning making teas and tinctures.
The Mighty Pinus
There were several loblolly pine branches scattered along my path, but the one I chose to bring home had fallen near the lake. Being farther from the main roads, it was exposed to less pollution, and having lived by the lake it had to soak up some life-giving, peaceful water vibes, right? So, I picked it up and carried it home to make some pine needle tea.
I just recently learned about pine needle tea while taking a medicinal plant walk with Anna from Multiflora Botanicals. I was curious about the taste of this tea, so I made three versions – a cold infusion, a hot infusion, and a mix of cold and hot. The cold infusion extracts Vitamin C, while the hot infusion extracts more of the resinous compounds that can be decongesting and immune-stimulating. (You can read more about all that here.)
The cold infusion smelled and tasted bright and piney-citrusy while the hot infusion smelled and tasted more earthy and piney. Both were very pleasant to drink but left a mild sticky feeling in the mouth (as if the resins coated the tissues). When I washed the tea containers later, they also had a coating of pine resin that needed to be scrubbed off. I do love the aroma of pine as it relaxes and brings feelings of being outdoors in happy times.
The Tree Everyone Loves to Hate
The other tree gift that Florence left for me to harvest was a sweet gum (Liquidamber styraciflua). Sweet gums were once the darling landscape tree, marketed heavily as a beauty for its brilliant fall colors and sweet smelling leaves. Then, people realized it made pokey, sticky seed pods that when fallen from the tree HURT LIKE HELL to step upon and littered yards and trails making them difficult to mow or walk upon or even look nice. So, sweet gum has a lot of urban enemies, but they do have value as a wildlife food. Chickadees and other birds love the seeds. Deer will get some nutrients from browsing the bark. For humans, though, sweet gum has some interesting medicine.
A compound in sweet gum, styrax, has been used for centuries, dating back to the Aztec Empire in Paleo times, to treat many conditions, from skin infections to dysentery. Sweet gum also contains shikimic acid in its leaves, green seed pods, and bark. This is the same compound found in Star anise, which was used to develop the anti-viral drug, Tamiflu®. (source) So, sweet gum can be considered a powerful flu remedy as well.
I decided to make an alcohol-based tincture with the green seed pods I collected and smashed and will use it in both my homemade household cleaning mix as well as in teas during flu season. My tincture will need to macerate for about 6 weeks,so it will be ready to use just in time for flu season. As a gift from the hurricane, it should contain some extra-special healing energy, don’t you think? 🙂
So, even with flash flood advisories still in effect, and the rains now coming down more frequently, my heart is happy to have found these beautiful gifts amid the stormy skies. Today I am grateful for the weather and the trees.
Note: I am not an herbalist or plant medicine expert, nor do I recommend you try any plant foods or medicines I may write about. I share my experiences here purely for entertainment value.