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Forest Medicine

This year was hard. 

This year was exhausting and painful. 

And, as cliche as it feels to say at this point, this will be a year we won’t forget. 

But in this year, we saw growth. 

In this year, we saw people awaken to what community truly means. We understood the importance of connecting with those around us. 

We chose to take hard times as an opportunity to illuminate the darkest corners of our society, and demand that we be better. 

This year we recognized that we have a responsibility to come back from such a disruption in our lives better than where we were, because where we were was not equal for all. 

So many of us returned to nature. So many of us returned to those things we love. So many of us found our creative spark again, and remembered what it means to feel human and present. 

Photo by Dmitry Gladkikh on Unsplash

In the spring, as many of us hunkered into quarantine, adapting to a world we did not recognize, an incredible poem, written by retired teacher Catherine “Kitty” O’Meara of Madison, Wisconsin, surfaced on the internet, at a time when we all needed it most. Now that this year is coming to an end, we feel that it is such an appropriate time to again reflect on her words, and how she reminded us that in dark times, can still come such beauty: 

And people stayed home

and read books and listened

and rested and exercised

and made art and played

and learned new ways of being

and stopped

and listened deeper 

someone meditated

someone prayed

someone danced

someone met their shadow

and people began to think differently

and people healed 

and in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways,

dangerous, meaningless and heartless,

even the earth began to heal

and when the danger ended

and people found each other

grieved for the dead people

and they made new choices 

and dreamed of new visions

and created new ways of life 

and healed the earth completely

just as they were healed themselves. 

While we have a long way to go, we have come so far this year. We invite you to allow these words to seep deeply into your heart as we reflect on the lesson nature provides us at this time of the year. 

Towards the end of December, we experience the winter solstice. This is where we sink into the longest night, which is preceded by the shortest day of the year. This is a great time to reflect on the challenges of this year, and to celebrate what is to come. Our natural world reminds us that we should not be afraid to step into the darkness, as it is a period in which we are asked to turn inward, and seek our deeper truths. In the darkness, our senses are heightened, and we are more aware and present. However, following the solstice, the days begin to grow longer again, as we slowly creep closer to spring.

Nature reminds us that the darkness does not last forever, and that the light and abundance and growth will always return again. It is this duality that we honor at this time. And it is at this time we can process the year that was 2020, grieve, and examine how it changed us, but also celebrate the light that is coming for us so very soon. 

Photo by Zetong Li on Unsplash

Even in a year like 2020, there is just something about the holiday season that feels sparkly and joyful. 

There are the jingles of bells, the twinkling of lights, the glitter of fresh snow. 

There is also the coziness of quiet evenings, accompanied by the crackle of a warm fire, the comfort of a fuzzy blanket, cheesy holiday movies that feel like old friends, and a hot beverage to warm your hands. 

It is at this time that nature reminds us of the importance of rest, as plants return to the earth, snow covers the ground, and frost bites at our cheeks. But even in an environment that seems still, there remains abundant life in the true monarchs of our forest – the Evergreen Trees. 

There is no doubt that this beautiful plant being takes center stage at this time of year (as it should), and perhaps as you admire the adornments that may be placed upon the one in your home, we invite you to further explore the incredible medicinal power of this familiar friend. 

 

Medicine of the Forest

There is something truly special about wandering in a forest. While a place that still feels incredibly wild, there is also something about being surrounded by towering trees and being embraced by the aromatic smell of the evergreens that feels like coming home. 

Photo by Riccardo Mion on Unsplash

Perhaps it is because of the trees themselves. As some of the oldest beings on our planet, they feel like loving grandparents, watching over us as we wander and explore our world around us. 

While the rest of the plant kingdom withers away, returning to the earth below as we come into winter, the evergreens remain alive and active. They are trees that do not shed their leaves in the fall, and remain a safe haven and shelter for many creatures in the colder and harsher conditions of the winter season. Perhaps it is this reason that this plant being was so celebrated by ancient cultures, welcomed into our homes to enjoy the warmth of our hearth (and continues to be celebrated today!). 

Beyond serving as the elders and guardians of the forest, the evergreens have a diverse array of medicinal properties and is a plant ally that can be connected with all year round; as it offers various benefits and aspects of itself at different times, depending on the season. 

While the term “evergreen” is a catch-all term for the type of tree with sharp needles instead of leaves, there are many different species of trees that fall into this category. These include pine, fir, hemlock, spruce, juniper, and piñon, all of which belong to the Pinaceae family of plants.

Human connection with these plants as medicine goes back incredibly far. According to Rosalee de la Forêt and Emily Han in the book Wild Remedies, humans have been working with the medicinal properties of pine for over 2,000 years. Most predominantly, this medicine can be of much use to us in the darker and colder times of the year that happen to most commonly coincide with cold and flu season. This is primarily due to its availability via evergreen needles in the winter, and the fact that the needles are incredibly rich in Vitamin-C, which aids in strengthening our immune system. 

De la Forêt and Han also teach us that there are a multitude of ways in which pine can be incorporated into an herbal preparation. Evergreens needles can be used as a decoction or tea, crafted into a festive liquor, infused in oil, made into a salve, or even simply eaten as food for its nutritional properties. Additional medicinal properties of most evergreens include the fact that it is a diuretic, stimulating expectorant, inflammatory modulator, a nutritive, and more. 

However some species (like hemlock) are poisonous, so always be sure you know what tree you are looking at before you harvest any needles.

One may also be familiar with the sticky resin or sap that oozes from pine trees. This is actually a self-defence mechanism for the tree. When a tree experiences an injury or a wound, it releases sap from a layer beneath the bark to help protect itself and heal.

This sap is incredibly antimicrobial, protecting the tree from harm from pests. This sap can also have the same effect for us. The resin, or gum, that is expelled from the subalpine fir, according to herbalists Mary O’Brien and Karen Vail, authors of Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies: Foothills to Alpine in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, has even historically been used as a topical treatment for wounds, or chewed as a means of treating bad breath.

However, it is important to keep in mind our connection and respect for our plant allies if we seek to forage pine resin, and to remember that the primary purpose of this is for healing of the tree. Never remove sap from an obvious open wound on a tree as you may put the tree at risk of attack from microorganisms or pests, or further disrupt the healing process.

Photo by pure julia on Unsplash

Lastly, pine can even be used as a flower essence! Flower essences are a form of vibrational medicine that help us to tap into healing our deeper selves, or shadow selves. According to herbalist and author of The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook, James Green, pine can be an incredible flower essence ally for people who tend to overwork themselves and continue to place pressure on themselves to be better, those who never feel satisfied with their accomplishments, or those who tend to feel guilt and despondency. 

 

Festivities in 2020

 

While we want to take this opportunity to express optimism for the road the lies ahead, we also want to acknowledge and honor the fact that 2020 will be leaving behind some scars. We recognize that for so many members of our community, this holiday season may look very different for you and your family. 

We encourage you to connect with the incredible winter medicine of the forest this year. There is something about the towering pines around us here in the beautiful mountains of Colorado that remind us we are never alone, especially in a year that has felt so isolating. De la Forêt and Han also share with us the concept of “forest bathing” and the incredible healing effects of simply spending time with our pine tree allies. Inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddist traditions, this term comes from the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, and scientific studies have demonstrated that spending time among the trees can actually decrease stress and improve immunity. 

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

While spending time in nature has incredible benefits to help alleviate distress, feelings of loneliness, or melancholy, sometimes the best medicine we can truly use is that of talking to someone.

We wanted to share a resource with our local Larimer County community, who may benefit from the support. Colorado Spirit is a free COVID-19 support line for you, your coworkers, family/friends and anyone needing to understand reactions and emotions during the COVID-19 pandemic. This service helps people manage and cope with changes, and talking with Colorado Spirit is free, confidential and anonymous.

Talk to someone who is trained, knowledgeable, and never judges. Call Colorado Spirit through Larimer County Connects, dial (970) 221-5551 ext. 3. 

We want you all to know that at Golden Poppy, we are a place of community healing, and we stand ready to help support you as we move out of this year and into the next. We wish you peace and comfort this holiday season. May all of our clients and customers receive much rest and restoration. We thank you all for your support this year, and look forward to continuing to serve our community. 

 

Sources: 

  • Forêt, R. D., & Han, E. (2020). Wild remedies: How to forage healing foods and craft your own herbal medicine. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.
  • Green, James. (2000). The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual. New York, NY: Crossing Press.
  • O’Brien, M., & Vail, K. (2016). Edible & Medicinal Plants: Foothills to Alpine in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho. Korea: Learning Tree Tales.
  • O’Meara, Catherine “Kitty”. (2020). And People Stayed Home. Retrieved from: https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2020/03/31/and-people-stayed-home/