Linden Love

Posted on June 7, 2014. Filed under: Trees |

Wow!  Herbstalk festival starts today!    Each year Herbstalk has a particular plant as a theme and this year it is Linden.  Here’s a post I did for the Herbstalk blog back in May– Linden Love.   Hope to see you all at Herbstalk this weekend (I’ll be teaching there tomorrow!) 🙂


Right now is one of my favorite times of the year because it is when the linden trees start to send forth their spring leaves. It’s a magical time thanks to a magical tree.  There are numerous linden trees about in Boston, since it is a longtime favorite of urban landscapers, but there is one linden tree that has a special place in my heart.

Beloved Linden Tree (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Beloved Linden Tree (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Each day on the way to work I walk by it in the morning.  I always take the time to pause, place my hand against it and connect and ground before starting the day.

When you look at the general shape of a linden tree it forms a fairly distinctive bell, which I think speaks to its essence in general as a plant that promotes harmony.  Its soothing nature is recognized by the Germans where the word to sooth is “lindern” and the tree is thought to represent “mercy.”

It’s usually not classified, in herbal parlance, as a nervine but I think in its heart linden is a nervine. I find it particularly well suited for generally calming and relaxing the emotional nervous system and addressing a host of physical ailments whose underlying cause is emotional. Insomnia, IBS, headaches, indigestion and high blood pressure with an emotional basis are often best dealt with by linden.  It is also good, in general, for relaxing the arteries and warming the digestive system.

I prefer to use it solo as a tea for its strictly calming and sedating actions and in combination with herbs aimed at specific physical ailments where there may be an emotional cause – like willow and linden tea for headaches or linden and hawthorn for heart or high blood pressure issues.

For me, linden trees are powerfully soothing and calming and I love to meditate under them.  Some trees’ presence can be so powerful as to be almost intimate and be a bit too majestic, but linden is comforting and gentle in its strength.  Infusions of linden flowers and leaves are my go-to tea when I’m seeking to connect with its warm and supportive nature.  However, I have made linden glycerides that were just amazing.  I don’t find tinctures with harsh alcohol as amenable to the gentleness of linden.

Beyond its many wondrous internal uses as a tea, it’s great for the skin — you can apply it as a tea wash or compress for itchy or inflamed skin.  Or infuse it in oil as the basis of a healing skin salve. The tea also makes a great refreshing face wash. I brew it overnight and press it out and wash my face with it in the morning for an amazing start to a day. And it makes for a great facial steam after a long day of work as well –- just throw some linden flowers into some boiling water, cover, let steep for a bit and then remove the lid and place your head over the batch with a towel to cover and keep the steamy linden goodness in.

You can also make a cough syrup of the flowers which children (and adults!) love by making a strong tea, adding sugar and reducing it down over a low heat until syrupy.

We’re fast approaching the time when the flowers emerge and you can make a flower essence of them, which is great for those dealing with emotional blockages and helps to open up people who struggle with the giving and receiving of love and affection after painful pasts.

It’s been said that if you fall asleep under a linden tree – you’ll awake in the realm of fairies.  But even time spent awake with them is magical to me.

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Oh, Oak – would you, could you?

Posted on May 31, 2014. Filed under: Trees |

To think the Herbstalk festival starts in just a week!    Here’s a post I did for the Herbstalk blog back in April– Oh, Oak – would you, could you? Enjoy…and you better rush and buy your tickets for the festival! 🙂


We all know oak trees and we all love oak trees. But sadly, we don’t know them as well as we should including us herby folks who can forget the magic they offer.

English Oak (Querus rober) and friend; Family: Fagaceae

English Oak (Querus rober) and friend; Family: Fagaceae

Well, at least some love oaks like they should…right, my squirrelly friend?

There are a couple of classic species used by herbalists: Querus rober (English Oak) which is the mainstay of UK herbalism and Querus alba (White Oak) which is the oak of choice for US herbalism. Most of the common oak species have similar properties since the primary medicinal aspect are their tannins which are prominent in most oaks. The Northern Red Oak (Querus rubra) is one of the most common around here and quite useable for medicine making.

Generally speaking oaks are broadleaf trees with distinct lobes and sinuses which are alternately placed rather than side to side. Their leaves are longer than wide and asymmetrical (in contrast to Maples which are symmetrical and shorter.) Only oaks have acorns which is one of their best identifiers. Black/Red Oaks have pointed lobes while White Oaks have rounded ones.

Ideally, you make herbal preparations from the inner bark and you should use young twigs or small branches for it. However, you can also use the acorns, leaves and galls for it too. Historically, oak galls have also been used to make ink and many famous historical documents were written with oak ink, including the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. (And some Native Americans would use powdered oak galls for treating inflamed and infected eyes!)

Thanks to its tannin content the primary action of oaks is astringent. Think of really strong black tea (which is also rich in tannins) and how tightening and bitter it is when you drink it. This is why it is great for dealing with excess fluid, easing inflammations, helping with bleeding, and as an antiseptic. You generally use it as a decoction or tincture to treat things like diarrhea and dysentery, or for hemorrhoids, mouth inflammations, nasal polyps, sort throats and wounds.

You can use oak in so many ways:
•As a gargle for sore throats, mouth inflammations and coughs (decoction)
•As a cream or salve for hemorrhoids
•As wash for burns and wounds and generally as a disinfectant (decoction)
•As a mouthwash for bleeding gums (decoction)
•Chew on the bark for mouth ulcers and sores
•Use for poison ivy (tincture – the decoction won’t work as well because while the tannins help deal with the rash aspect, the alcohol part of the tincture helps disperse and breakdown the oil)
•Use for rashes (tincture or decoction)
•Use in salve form for muscular pains
•The leaves make for quick field medicine – soften by steaming or immersing in boiled water or just crush them a bit and apply them to wounds to ease inflammation and as an antiseptic
•Drink as a tea for diarrhea (Since the tannins tend to block nutrient absorption don’t take it for more than a couple of days – use it only to deal with the immediate problem of diarrhea and not as a daily tea.)

A couple of fun general oak uses that I love include the tradition of carrying an acorn to feel youthful. Or that the flower remedy is used to help folks be brave and strong in their lives, especially those who have trouble accepting their own weaknesses.

Finally, I’ve been experimenting lately with making acorn unguent – unguents are oily pastes for wound healing, rashes and skin conditions.

Essentially you make a decoction of acorns. (Be sure to throw away those that float when you first throw them in. ) Simmer it until the water is at least half its original volume. Press it out and mix (Slippery or Siberian) Elm bark powder to make a paste and apply as needed. Surprisingly good!

So go out and find some oak love – you’ll never regret it!

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He’s back or What’s Happening?

Posted on November 4, 2013. Filed under: Kitchen Herbalism, Site News, Trees, Uncategorized |

My overly long hiatus from the blogging world is over.  I had intended to take a little break because things were just so busy, but it ended up a tad longer than I thought.  But I’m back to regular posting and I’ve had lots of exciting things happening.  So pull up  a seat…

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism

And try not to look so darned shocked that I’m back.

I’ve been mainly working on two things in my herbal life lately.  One is finding a nice location to teach monthly herbal workshops in my neighborhood in Boston.  After a long search, I finally found one and am starting up a mostly monthly series of herbal workshops.

The first two of which are coming up shortly.  The first one is on one of my favorite topics TREES! Cause trees are the bees knees!

10 Trees to Know and Love
(Herbal Healing Circle – Boston)
Sunday – November 17, 2013 from 1 – 3 PM;
Spontaneous Celebrations, 45 Danforth St, 1st Floor, Jamaica Plain, MA (google maps)
(Just a two minute walk from Stony Brook on the Orange line!)
Cost: $25

Trees make for great medicine, but there is more to trees in herbal medicine than just Elder, Hawthorn and Linden.  This workshop is an introduction to some of the herbal uses of our friends the trees – starting with just  ten of the many trees  available to us.  Hear about the varieties of common local trees, as well as some of the not so common ones.    Learn harvesting tips, where to buy and how best to work with them. 

Come and learn so you won’t end up “barking” up the wrong tree.

And in December I’m tackling another favorite topic – things you can do with what you most likely have in your kitchen:

Herbal Magic in Your Kitchen
Sunday – December 15, 2013 from 1 – 3 PM
Spontaneous Celebrations,  45 Danforth St,  1st Floor, Jamaica Plain, MA (google maps)
(Just a two minute walk from Stony Brook on the Orange line!)
Cost:   $25

You don’t need to order things from specialized stores or even hunt for them in the wild – you can make magic with herbs and foods you commonly have in your kitchen.  Come to this workshop and share the fun as we explore the wonders hidden in your spice rack and lurking in your fridge that you never suspected you had!

Or what I sometime call MacGyver herbalism.  😉   I was so tempted to call it that too. But I did just barely restrain myself.

In 2014 I’ll be lining up some more workshops that I’ll be teaching as well as bringing out some guest speakers from amongst the many gifted herbalists in the Boston area – many of which are part of my circle of herby friends.

The other project is something I call the Boston Herbal Salon:

Community of Plants (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Community of Plants (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

which was partly inspired by the last couple of Herbstalk Festivals here in the Boston area. One of the things that we all loved was catching up with folks that we hadn’t seen in a while.

It was then I decided we needed a semi-regular social gathering for herbal folks and the Boston Herbal Salon was born.   I had a first, kind of testing the waters, one at the end of August where ten of us met one Sunday afternoon in the garden yard of my place.  We had so much fun just talking and connecting that I knew magic was being born.

Now the next Boston Herbal Salon is coming up:

Boston Herbal Salon
Tuesday, November 19 from 7 – 8:30 PM
Hosted at the Commonwealth Center for Herbal Medicine, 25 Saint Mary’s Court, Brookline, MA.    Directions at link – (directions)

We herbalists all love spending time with our plants friends, but it can be just as much fun sharing that love with others. So come on out to the Boston Herbal Salon where you get that chance to meet and share that joyful celebration of our plant pals with those who feel just the same way. The Boston Herbal Salon is an informal discussion/get together for herbalists (both current herbalists as well as those on that path) in the Boston area. It’s a chance to socialize and network a bit with other herbalists.

Bring a favorite herbal recipe to share with the group or a good herbal story!

We’ll talk, laugh, share bodice ripping tales of forbidden plant love (well maybe not so true….) There will be teas, snacks, tinctures and more. But most of all fun!

And it promises to be even better!

So that’s what I’ve been doing during my blogging vacation. 😉

Now that you’re caught up it’s time to go back to my usual collection of silly and inspiring tales of herbs, yoga and spirituality.

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True Heart Tea

Posted on August 23, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Herbal Medicine Making, Plant Friends, Trees | Tags: , |

Sometimes in the flurry of daily life your heart can take a beating and become hidden away.   That’s when that happens,  I try to re-connect to my true heart via the magic of Hawthorn, Linden and Rose as a tea (with just a touch of Licorice root.)

True Heart Blend (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

True Heart Blend (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Linden -aka Lime, Basswood, Bee Tree (Tilia spp.)  Family: Linden

Linden is a pretty magical tree in of itself.  One of my favorite bits of folklore says that if you fall asleep under a Linden tree you will be whisked off to fairyland.  To be honest, as much as I’ve tried to replicate that, I still always awake where I started.  Dangnabit!

Although not classified as a Nervine, in its heart Linden is a Nervine. I think of it as particularly helpful for generally calming and relaxing the emotional nervous system and addressing a host of physical ailments whose underlying cause is emotional. Insomnia, IBS, headaches, indigestion and high blood pressure whose basis is more emotional are often best dealt with by Linden.

In this blend I think of it as having a special affinity for the emotional heart – soothing and gently unwinding the emotional knotting of it.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) Family: Rosaceae

One of its other names in England is the May tree because it tends to flower in May.  I like to think of it as adding “Spring/spring” to the heart.   It is also known as the “father of the heart” which speaks to its profound affinity to the heart.

It is the classic herbalist heart remedy and is great for almost every heart and circulatory issue. It strengthens the heart and its antioxidants components help protect the heart from damage. It relaxes the blood vessels and thus improves the blood circulation and circulation to the heart. It generally works in a fairly gentle and supportive way. Its full effect builds slowly so it works best over long periods of time. While not only a classic physical heart tonic it can be a great balm for the emotional heart as well and is almost nervine like in its ability to support in cases of nervous tension and stress.

So I place it in this blend for its healing of the physical heart but also for its ability to align in a healing way to the emotional heart as well.

Rose Family Rosaceae

There’s a saying that “Roses are good for the skin and the soul” and I think that is powerfully true.   While herbally they have been used for their anti-inflammatory properties and ability to help with everything from headaches to sore throat as well as in skin care.  Which is just a way to show off their ability to soothe in general.

There is a particular uplifting quality to ones spirit with Rose is involved, which makes it a great addition to this blend for the more spiritual aspects of the heart.

Finally, I usually add a touch of Licorice root to the blend to harmonize the formula as well as for the touch of sweetness it adds which always help sweeten not only the tea but one’s mood and life.

That’s my favorite True Heart Blend for keeping you “young at heart.”

Young at Heart – Jimmy Durante

Yes, I’ve been on a bit of Jimmy Durante kick lately.  🙂

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Oak is the word

Posted on March 11, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Trees |

I have to admit Oak was never one of my OMG herbs.  Setting aside the fact it’s a tree and not and herb, it just never resonated me for healing magic.   Other magic, oh my yes.  They are wonderful trees with a great spiritual power and resonance.  But as teas, tinctures, etc.  it was never on solidly on my radar.

Then once I found a special magic to it where it worked so much better than traditional herbs you might use that I grew fascinated.

Before we rush there how about the basics of Oak?

"Tell me more, tell me more..." (From the movie Grease)

“Tell me more, tell me more…” (From the movie Grease)

Oak (Quercus spp.) Family: Fagaceae (Beech)

The classic species used by herbalists are Q. rober (English)  – a mainstay of UK herbalism and Q. alba (White)  – a mainstay of US herbalism.   But frankly most of the common Oak species have similar medicinal properties.  Northern Red Oak (Q. rubra) is one of the most common around species around my area in Boston and is a pretty popular urban tree in the US in general.

A couple of ID tips:  Oaks are broadleaf trees with distinct lobes and sinuses which are alternately placed rather than side to side.  Leaves are longer than wide and asymmetrical (distinct from Maple for example which is symmetrical and shorter.)   Only Oaks have acorns.  Black/Red Oaks have pointed lobes while White Oaks have rounded ones.

Generally you use the bark (and preferably from young twigs) to make medicine – be it teas or tincture because that is where the main medicinal magical element tannins lay.  In fact the bark can be 15 – 20 % tannins!

Whenever you see tannins think astringent actions (like the action of really strong tea in your mouth), thus toning of tissues and fluid leakage.  Because  the primary action of Oaks is based around Tannins which the majority of Oaks have prominently, you can use Oaks reasonably interchangeably, but in the US you’re more like to find White Oak offered by herbal stores.

Because of that wonderful toning aspect you can use a decoction or tincture internally for diarrhea or  dysentery.  While externally you can use decoctions or tinctures for hemorrhoids (in salve form would be way easier and more pleasant) and wounds while using it as a mouthwash or gargle for  sore throats, nasal polyps and oral inflammation.    The Cherokee just chewed the bark for mouth sores, which works pretty well too, but will never be a taste sensation.

One caveat, since tannins interfere with the absorption of nutrients (one of their functions for plants is to impair the ability to absorb nutrients in the herbivores that attack them)  and can interfere with the actions of other herbs, please do use Oak internally by itself and for limited times (a few days.)

That’s the basics.  Nice, good and useful but there are plenty of plants you can use that way.

Here’s what caught my interest though….

Several herbalists I know swore that White Oak bark tincture is the best thing for Poison Ivy which I’ve read nowhere.  And being the type who loves to check things out, I made a bunch of tincture and gave out some bottles of it at a talk I did on tree medicine as well as giving them to some herby friends.   Then I got reports back that yes it worked really well.

I thought that’s interesting and kind of useful since a tincture is way easier to carry around than some of the other ways to deal with Poison Ivy.  And it makes sense it would work given the alcohol would help deal with the oils and while the tannins would help calm the rash reaction.

Then I decided to try it on a rash that I sometimes get in the depths of winter.  Last year when I got it the more traditional herbs worked okay but nothing spectacular (Aloe Vera worked the best) but it still took a week or so to get rid of it.  But with the Oak bark tincture I saw it decreasing in hours and was gone in a day or two.  Now that’s nifty and put Oak on my healing map.

In a pinch, given you might not have Oak bark about and tannins are part of the magic, a really strong black tea would help as well since it is high in tannins.  Either make a strong infusion or a poultice with it.   Hey remember tea is just as much herbal medicine as more mainstream “herbal” teas!

Keep in mind not all rashes are alike – some are irritant based (chemical or physical), some are infection/fungal and some come from more internal issues.  So try it first on a small area and see if it helps.

In other words don’t make any rash judgments…  😉

Sorry I  couldn’t resist.

Well, I could have resisted but I didn’t really want to okay?

So Oak and I now…well….:

We go together like
rama lama lama
ke ding a de dinga a dong
remembered for ever like
shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yipitty boom de boom

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Celebrating the Joy of Trees with Books about Them

Posted on December 17, 2012. Filed under: Book Reviews, Trees |

Since I just taught a workshop on working with tree medicines last week and next week is the climax of the ritual tree sacrifice to some magical red suited man (I always found Santa a little suspicious what with the enslaving elves to work in his factory and whipping reindeer into being his transport, let alone breaking into people’s homes…but I digress) I thought it would be fun to pull together a list of my favorite books celebrating trees.


Yes, yes I appreciate the irony of books being made of trees – shoo, shoo you malcontents!

So here in alphabetical order by author last name, lest I be accused of playing favorites are my top ten favorite tree books:

    • The Life of the Leaf by Steven Vogel: Focuses on the physical sciences aspects of trees. Gives a great contrast to the ones that focus on medicinal or biological/botanical aspects. Can be a little bit of a slog since even toned down for the layman as it is; it is still the physics of trees. But it is still very interesting stuff.
    • Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History by Diana Wells: Fascinating collections of stories, facts and history about different tree species.

Hopefully they might serve to inspire your interest or tweak some holiday giving for the tree loving people in your life!

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Pine Trees – True Punk Love

Posted on October 2, 2012. Filed under: Plant Friends, Trees |

To me, Pine trees are totally Punkers.

The ever cool Siouxsie Sioux

Not only in appearance with their spiky hair and studded cones, but in the most important way as the band the Wrecks sang it so right “Punk is an Attitude” (Youtube video) and “Pine is an attitude” too.

There’s a special attitude and presence about Pine (Pinus spp.) trees in nature – they just stand out in a special way.  There’s their quality as an evergreen, that wonderful scent, the strong essence of strength that permeates the areas they are in.

White Pine Tree (Pinus strobus)

But sadly, just like Punk, their greatness has been co-opted into lack luster products.   Pine scented everything; Pine cleaners with no actual Pine, etc.  All of which hint at the truth of Pine – it is amazing cleanser.   It can actually clean and disinfect with great ease as well as offer spiritual and energetic cleansing.  But that’s just a part of it.

In the herbalist purvey is generally noted as an antibacterial, antioxidant, antiseptic, expectorant, demulcent and diuretic and is generally considered a warming agent.  The needles and bark have special affinities for the respiratory system making for its frequent use for congestion, coughs, lung infections where it helps to clear mucus and fight infections – it pairs wonderfully with Eucalyptus for all of that.  They have been used to ease tonsillitis and laryngitis.  And they also work well helping to flush the bladder and kidneys.

I love using it for its skin related properties.  The resin is the sap that seeps from wounds in the tree and is part of the tree’s defense against infections and is very antimicrobial and a strong disinfectant because of it.  You can use it on skin wounds (chew it for gum disorders and tooth problems!) and its natural drawing action helps with cuts, splinters, boils, abscesses and insect bites.   While the needles and bark can be used to make infused oil which is great for the skin – soothing, healing and greatly calming energetically.  I also make a hair oil with pine, nettles and lavender – which is nothing short of amazing!

Pine needle baths are warming and a great thing to enjoy in winter just throw some in your bath water – or in satchels to put in the water if you don’t want to clean them up out of the tub.  But not too close to bedtime or it might energize you too much.   I find that Pine needle tea imbues you with a wonderful sense of serenity.

Pine also is filled with nutritious goodness.  The needles are rich in vitamin A & C and plantation slaves used boil the needles with molasses as a vitamin and mineral tonic.  Let’s not forget pine nuts which are chock full of minerals such as potassium and magnesium.  Some Native American tribes frequently ate the bark and made teas from it and the needles for those reasons.  The Adirondack Indians name comes from the word “tree eaters.”

In the spiritual realm Pine is a symbol of immortality and the branches often used to cleanse worship areas.  The Iroquois use the bundle of five needles (White Pine) as a symbol of the Five Nations joined together and tell a story that I love:

“I, Dekandwi’d1, and the union lords now uproot the tallest pine tree and into the cavity thereby made we cast all weapons of war. Into the depths of the earth, down into the deep under-earth currents of water flowing to unknown regions we cast all the weapons of strife. We bury them from sight and we plant again the tree. Thus shall the Great Peace, Kayd”narh6’kS’wa, be established.”  (Certain Iroquois Tree Myths and Symbols by Arthur C. Parker.  American Anthropologist , New Series, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 1912), pp. 608-620)

Pretty nifty huh?  It cleansed the evils of war and violence.

Pine is wonderful.  Spend time getting to know it and work with it and you’ll love it too.

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Horsing Around: Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)Trees, Made of Awesome

Posted on August 27, 2012. Filed under: Trees | Tags: |

I recently found a very nice stand of Horse Chestnut trees right near my apartment (where the photos below are from) which has inspired a new found interest in working with this tree as I’ve spent more time out amongst them. Thus this week, part of my Summer of Tree love, I’m beginning my explorations of Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum).

Let’s face it; it is a special and fun looking tree.

Horse Chestnut – Aesculus hippocastanum (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

With its big palmate leaves:

Horse Chestnut – Aesculus hippocastanum (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals) leaves

When you look at the leaves you can notice how prominent the veins on them and one “prominent” take away is the specific and powerful action Horse Chestnut has on veins. Then you can think of most of the associated healing actions as related to its ability to strengthen, repair and heal veins.

That’s where its magic is most often mentioned when talking with herbalists. It’s an excellent remedy for circulatory problems, especially those involving the veins and any sort of swelling or stagnation such as hemorrhoids, varicose veins and swollen feet and calves – like being on your feet all day. It works by stemming fluid leakage, strengthening and toning cell walls.

Its big spikey seed pods are quite distinct:

Horse Chestnut – Aesculus hippocastanum (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals) seed pods

I feel they help covey some of the warnings about working with it internally:

  • Seed husks are toxic (less in the sense of dying but more in the sense of they can make you ill but frankly they are unpleasant tasting enough that you’d be hard pressed to ingest much of them)
  • The leaves and the nut’s green outer husk can cause stomach upset and are noted for their strong narcotic effect
  • Shouldn’t be used if you are on blood thinning meds or have any bleeding disorders

Not that you can’t use it internally, but you should really know what you’re doing or work with someone who does.

For me, I’m less interested with working with it internally but instead am focused on its external uses such as:

  • Bruises
  • Swelling from sports injuries
  • Improving skin tone and strength
  • Easing the effects of aging on the skin
  • Helping with bags under the eyes

All of which sounds like things I think a whole slew of people would in interested in – and certainly worth exploring more of as I work with it. I suspect that its affinity for dealing with fluid leakage and improving cell walls will make it especially effective for all of those things.

We’re coming up on a great time to be harvesting the nuts, known as Conkers. In the fall, the seed pods drop to the ground and the husks open and if you gather them promptly the nuts are easier to break apart for medicine making.

The flower essence (Bach’s markets it as White Chestnut) is used for repetitive, gnawing thoughts you can’t let go of. And it is considered a powerful remedy to clarify your mind and begin to think clearly. While a strong tincture of the flowers used to be used as a remedy for rheumatism (applying externally twice a day.)

The nuts, known as Conkers, also had a lot of interesting historic/folkloric uses that may or may not be terribly “valued” today:

  • Conkers (just like saying that) used to be carried in one’s pocket to prevent hemorrhoids and rheumatism
  • They were also placed with clothing to keep away moths and were believed to drive away spiders when kept in the corners of the room and behind furniture
  • The powder was worn in a bag over the heart for cramps
  • They were used to make explosives
  • Conkers (almost out of my system now) are like soap nuts and produce a lather that can be used for shampoo or cleaning clothes

All right, one more thing about Conkers then I think I can let go of them. There’s a game where you hit one Conker into another to see how long you can do it with it breaking. And in fact there is a World Conker Championship!

One other fun thing about Horse Chestnut trees is a local connection. I work right around the corner from where the tree spoken of in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem The Village Blacksmith stood:

“Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands. “

There’s a plaque there commemorating it, and it is believed by some to have been a Horse Chestnut tree. There is a chair said to be made from the tree when it was cut down which was given to Longfellow and it was tested and indicated to be Horse Chestnut.

Sure there are folks who think it was a Sweet Chestnut tree but there’s a word for those folks – wrong!

Maybe a “conk” to the noggin will help them see sense…


References of Note:

Comfort to the Sick by Brother Aloysius
Backyard Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier
Tree Medicine by Peter Conway
Male Herbal by James Green
Practical Herbs by Henriette Kress
Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood

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Book Review: trees a visual guide by Tony Rodd and Jennifer Stackhouse

Posted on August 3, 2012. Filed under: Book Reviews, Trees | Tags: , |

Trees are the bees knees!  (Yes, yes, I know left brain it sounds silly but I’m waxing* poetic or at least very silly.)

(*Yes that’s a bee pun!)

I’ve been spending time this summer as part of my Summer of Tree Love getting to know them including reading all kinds of tree related books.   I’m particularly excited about the latest book I’ve read about the subject – trees a visual guide by Tony Rodd and Jennifer Stackhouse

One of the big reasons is that it has many, many…more than a few…beautiful and inspiring pictures of trees!

More than a picture book though, it is also a lite botany book focused on trees.   In particular, it is a form and function focused book and not a tree identification book, although it has a nice reference section on 99 individual trees.

It’s broken down by thematic chapters:

  • A world of trees:  a basic overview of what constitutes a tree, the evolutionary history of trees as well as considerations of climate
  • Form and function: One of my favorite sections which goes into the essence of the parts of the tree, its reproduction, environment and the external factors affecting them (soil, predators, etc.)
  • Diversity of design:  How the different types of trees express the elements above and deal with their environment
  • Communities of life:  the natural world that develops around the differing community of trees – other plants, animals, fungi, etc.
  • Trees and the human world:  how we use trees in society historically and currently
  • An indispensable resource:  Trees immense value to the life on the planet as a whole
  • Factfile:  Nice sum up of leave type, tree appearance and families

Which really covers the bases well.

There are little touches throughout like have to scale icons of people next to trees to illustrate the sizes which is a marvelous nice quick visual aid that I wish other tree books would do. And it is filled with moments where you learn new things.  I periodically thought “wow I didn’t know that”, “oh interesting”, “now it makes sense”, etc.   Plus did I mention the many nifty pictures?

Now I’ll grant that it doesn’t talk about the medicinal properties of trees but I still think it is interesting and valuable for herbal folks.    It can be pretty easy to just focus on the medicinal uses of the plants but I feel you can work with best them by understanding them better which means a little botany and this is a very painless introduction to that topic.  On that note, I’d also recommend Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon which is an amazing book – both books work well together.

Yes, someone will no doubt be raising their hand going Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel which is another very nifty book but that is oriented toward botany for identification which is great but I like that these two are more form and function.  It’s the difference between just knowing someone’s height, weight and name – and actually knowing something about them.

I think it is important for herbalists (and folks who love plants in general) to really know more about plants and not just how to ID them and use them.  It is a more respectful approach to them spiritually as well IMO.

Anyway…I definitely recommend this one.  It’s pretty, informative and fun – how many books can say that?

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Book Review: The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore by Fred Hageneder

Posted on June 12, 2012. Filed under: Book Reviews, Trees | Tags: |

Admittedly, I’m beginning to feel like Goldilocks in the quest for the just right book on tree medicine and spirituality. That said once more into the breech dear friends….

I just finished The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore by Fred Hageneder and enjoyed it it in many ways, but found it still not quite what I was hoping for.

The book drifts along the boundary between coffee table book and a reading book. It’s filled with big beautiful pictures of…. you guessed it TREES! The photos are generally magical and often invoked a deep yearning in me to be with the trees in the places shown. They aren’t ID style photos and generally couldn’t be used to ID the trees discussed in real life. But that is clearly not the intention of the author – instead they are meant to inspire that sense of magic embodied by our tree friends and not to stir up that intellectual labeling we so tend to do.

The book covers more than 50 trees (58 if you’re the sort that counts – which apparently I may actually be.) Which is fair coverage, but given it isn’t focused on a particular region means it isn’t remotely covering them all. (BTW, one thing that bemused me is that the book is alphabetical by the trees’ Latin names, but the table of contents only lists the common English names – not a problem just amusing.)

The chapters are structured in a very exact format with an introduction which covers very, basic botany followed by sections on:

  • Practical Uses
  • Natural Healing
  • Culture, Myth and Symbol

And a sidebar in each with sections on:

  • Symbolism
  • Divine Association
  • Astrological Association
  • Superstition
  • Historical Spotlight

But not every tree has every section in the sidebar.

I actually found the section on Culture, Myth and Symbol often the most interesting segments of the text and they increased my urge to learn more about those aspects. I’ll certainly be reading other books more specifically on those topics in the future.

The natural healing parts varied tremendously. Some were brief and forgettable. Other offered more interesting notions but none of them are quite detailed enough though to be a real herbal reference. But instead just served to offer some tantalizing hints of things to be researched. But still I really wanted a lot more coverage on that front. (I did find the uses for Tree Essences very interesting.)

The sidebars were not quite effective for me. If I were to try to put my finger on it, I think the format was too constraining and it felt like he was trying force some things to fit that really didn’t seem like they did. But every now and then there would be something I loved – generally in Superstition like this:

“In 19th-century England and France, the finger and toe-nail clippings of a person who had a fever or who was suffering from a toothache were buried under an ash tree in the belief that this would cure their affliction.”

I’m not sure why but that just really struck me. Reading more about some of the differing superstitions and folk beliefs about trees would be amazing and fascinating in itself. I’ll definitely search for some of those.

Overall, a beautiful book to enhance one’s appreciation of trees. Not essential for herbalists but a nice adjunct if you are interested in the non-herbal aspects of trees as well. A good part of my budding tree library.

Now to continue that quest for that mythical perfect book on tree healing and spirituality….

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