There’s alternative medicine, and then there’s tree medicine–a holistic healing method that’s quite literally rooted (sorry, had to) in plants and is believed by many to help with everything from sex drive to skin conditions. It’s a natural therapy specific to trees that encompasses both physical, easy-to-understand practices, like making medicine and tinctures from bark and leaves, to more intangible ways of healing the body and mind through nature like “forest bathing,” which literally involves hanging out among trees and basically basking in nature. Sounds totally woo-woo, but this topic is captivating.
As you would expect the concept of “tree medicine” has been largely rejected by the traditional medical community, however some elements are used in modern practice. Take Aspirin as an example–the fever and pain-reducing med is sourced from a naturally-occurring chemical found in willow trees.
I have picked up bits and pieces about tree medicine working in the wellness space–mostly through visits to my herbalist and by studying organic skin care through Formula Botanica. My first deep-dive into this particular brand of holistic healing however was with Elizabeth DeCoursey, the founder of Antidote Apothecary and Tea Bar in Brooklyn. She leads workshops in holistic health and beauty topics, including this one. She told me that tree medicine has been used for thousands of years, whether it involves making herbal teas from leaves, bark, buds, flowers, and seeds, or infusing oils to make tinctures and salves, or making potent syrups from saps, resins, and pollens. “Many cultures have sacred relationships with trees,” she told me. “Most have some tree worship.”
Many trees have astringing, anti-fungal, or antibacterial properties that lend them well to treating infections, while saps and waters from trees can be packed with beauty-boosting vitamins and minerals. And that’s just the beginning of it–there are countless tree-derived home remedies that proponents believe can help with everything from acne to your sex life. Ahead, DeCoursey breaks down a few of her favorites.
Commonly applied topically to help treat scrapes, cuts, and skin conditions, DeCoursey uses black walnut because it is “super anti-fungal” to treat wounds, psoriasis and eczema. You can craft your own black walnut salve by infusing 1/4 cup of black walnut hulk powder with jojoba oil and heating with a tablespoon of boiling water until the water dissolves. Then add beeswax, unrefined shea butter, and apply to your skin. (Tip: test a small patch first!)
Not just a tasty breakfast topping, maple syrup had health and beauty benefits. “It’s full of trace minerals like zinc, potassium, manganese, and magnesium,” DeCoursey explained. You can make a hydrating, blemish-fighting face mask from maple syrup by combining half a cup of hot water with 1/3 cup of oatmeal. Once the mixture has cooled for several minutes, mix in a couple of tablespoons of plain yogurt and two tablespoons of maple syrup. Test on a small patch of skin first.
DeCoursey says pine pollen is an excellent source of protein, and it’s even been used to enhance male–ahem–performance in the bedroom. “[Pine pollen is] a phytoandrogen, meaning that it helps the body produce testosterone,” she told me, adding: “Think male enhancement and a good time in the bedroom!”
With a light, sweet taste, you could easily just pass birch water off as a healthier, more natural alternative to sugary soda drinks, but it’s so much more–there may be actual health and beauty benefits to sipping on it. “[Birch water] has tons of vitamins, amino acids, and antioxidants, all of which are good for the skin,” DeCoursey said.