The uses of wood are many; and so are the medicinal benefits of trees and plants. As announced in last week’s article, 9 fun uses of wood you will never believe, the following article is dedicated to these benefits. But before, let’s do a quick recap over what wood actually is.
What is wood?
Wood is a versatile resource; we have previously listed its top 5 most common uses. Because of its firmness, trees can reach more than 50 meters. It consists of tubular cellulose cells that are bonded together by a solid, colorless hydrocarbon compound – the lignin.
Layer by layer
If one saws a tree trunk, several layers can be seen: from the inside to the outside there is the heartwood, sapwood, cambium, and crust (bark). Each of these layers fulfills a specific function:
- The heartwood inside the tree trunk consists of dead wood cells. Because resins and tannins are stored, it is particularly firm and resistant.
- Living tubular wood cells form the sapwood and surround the heartwood. They store nutrients and direct water into the treetop.
- The cambium consists of a few layers of dividable cells. To the inside, these cells release wood cells for water transport, and to the outside, they sieve cells for juice transport, which takes place under the bark.
- The bark itself is made up of dead cells and protects the tree from extreme temperatures and animals.
In spring, the cambium forms new cells so the tree thickens. In late autumn, it then stops cell growth. The cells that have emerged since spring are larger than the previous ones so that the typical annual rings come about. This is how the age of a tree can be counted.
But no matter how old a tree is, it can heal us. Whether it heals our souls with its majestic structure or literally with the release of oxygen, a tree has magical traits. Since humans have roamed the earth, trees have been used for medicine; many of them have medicinal uses. As previously promised, here’s an in-depth look at some of them.
The medicinal benefits of trees
When we think of the medicinal benefits of trees and plants, we usually think of one medicinal herb; weed. Although it is debatable whether weed is actually useful or not, it is used in its natural form in medicine. But you can make up your own mind about it.
Medicinal plants are all around us hiding in plain sight, be it in the form of herbs or trees. In the past, people had to use trees for certain treatments. Back then, medicine was not in its current form; it was either not progressive or too expensive. So, they had to rely on “nature to heal them.” As Frank Lloyd Wright so beautifully said; “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”
Using trees for medicine is interesting because any part of the tree can be medicinal. The leaves, the twigs, and even the bark can be used. For the most part, medicinal trees are used in the same way as other herbal preparations. They can be infused into teas, tinctures, oils, and made into salves and poultices. The latter is well-known as a remedy for abscesses or an anti-inflammatory treatment for horses, but humans also benefit from it.
Wood you believe this?
How do you work with wood? It’s not edible, but the answer is simple. You have to find a way to extract its potent medicine. Wood contains thousands of compounds. Many of the compounds are linked to the tree’s defense mechanisms. They protect the tree against fungi and many other pathogens. For example, spruce resin protects the damaged bark surface from fungal spores, and it has also been used to treat human wounds throughout the ages. Resin in wound treatment has been verified in medical research. And Xylitol, retrieved from wood and rich in birch sugar, has been proved beneficial in dental health.
Willow bark is known as one of the best tree-based medicines. It was harvested by native Americans to treat pain, fevers, and wounds. The active ingredient in the medicine made from willow bark is called salicin. Some people use willow bark as a natural alternative to aspirin, particularly those that experience chronic headaches or back pain.
Speaking of the bark; if you’re interested in making your own medicine, make sure to never cut bark from the trunk of a living tree. This way you can ensure its longevity. It is also advisable to avoid ring-barking or girdling the medicinal tree. The complete removal of an entire strip of bark from around the circumference of a trunk or branch can result in damage and ultimately the death of wood tissues.
Below is a list of other healing trees and their benefits.
10 of the most popular medicinal trees
Apple: The bark can be used to treat fevers and diarrhea. And of course the fruit has benefits too; stewed apples can be used as a laxative, baked apples as a warm poultice for fevers and a sore throat, and apple cider as a destroyer of bacteria flow into the bowels. How does the saying go again? An apple a day keeps the doctor away!
Ash: Do you hate camping because of all the mosquitoes? Don’t worry, there’s a natural treatment. Tea made from the bark of ash trees can treat irritation and itchy conditions. And the juice from the leaves can treat mosquito bites. A tea made from twig tips and leaves can also help reduce rheumatism, jaundice, and gout.
Beech: Bark tea helps cleanse the blood and treat lung problems. The tree’s leaves are antibacterial and were used to treat tuberculosis. They are also used as poultices for frostbites and burns. Important announcement: Due to its abortifacient properties, beech leaves are not recommended for pregnant women.
Birch: How painful are sores in the mouth? VERY! Try making tea from the leaves of the birch; that helps. It also helps heal bladder and kidney problems. If you use the bark in a bath, it can aid in healing skin rashes, such as psoriasis and eczema. Birch sap can even help reduce tumors and fight cancer, due to its betulinic acid.
Cedar: Bark is obviously on a roll here. The one from this tree can treat fevers, flu, chest colds, and coughs. Moreover, it is used as an emmenagogue, an agent that promotes menstrual discharge. The same compounds that allow cedar trees to contribute to their medicinal properties, help them grow in moist soils and resist rot.
Elm: Though mentioned in the previous article, elm is worth naming again. Salves made of slippery elm are used to treat chilblain – itchy swellings on the skin – and gunshot wounds. During the American Revolution, soldiers would use this salve. Furthermore, the high calcium in the bark helps with the healing of injured bone, sore throats, and sensitive stomachs.
Hawthorn: Hawthorn berries have cardiac benefits; they can strengthen the heart and extended use may even lower blood pressure. The berries are often made into sweet syrup; yummy and healthy!
Maple: What’s your strategy to cure a hangover? If you don’t have any, check this out: maple sap has the right mix of minerals and is drunk traditionally in Asia to strengthen the bones. Moreover, it can support a healthy immune response and prevent hangovers! The leaves are used to relieve sore eyes.
Oak: The tannins in oak barks and leaves can help disinfect wounds. Tannins are organic substances found in plant tissues. Oak tannins are commonly used as a gargle for bleeding gums and a wash for hemorrhoids.
Walnut: Natural hair dye? Yes! Traditionally, the shell of black walnuts was used as a dye for hair and an all-natural ink. You can still make your own ink with black walnuts and other ingredients.