Foraging Trees for Natural Medicine
It’s no secret that OTC meds and routine doctors’ visits may not be applicable during survival situations. With that in mind, preppers know taking advantage of natural resources to stay healthy and, well, alive, is crucial. Let’s learn how trees can help us gain nutrients and heal the body.
How to Forage
Foraging is a basic survival skill that every prepper should become well versed on. Being able to forage in an emergency can mean the difference between thriving on and painful starvation or suffering. Wildcrafting skills are just as vital to your food security and medical survival plan as long-term stockpiling.
Before embarking on your foraging journey, it’s important to know the best ways of harvesting from trees. This helps you and your family survive and preserves nature as much as possible. Let’s go over a few tips for successful foraging.
Whatever you’re harvesting, do not waste nature’s gifts; only use the amount needed to create your required treatment and leave the rest to keep on growing. If you’re removing bark from a tree, for example, it’s best to take it from a dead branch instead of the tree’s trunk. Trunks losing bark can lead to infestation of icky pests and diseases.
Another way to guarantee the tree’s health, as well as your own, is being 100% certain when identifying it. Check out some books for herbal medicine, watch a few survivalist tutorials, and become well versed on the trees in your area. Once you’ve confirmed its identity, there are plenty of ways to use different types of trees for medicine.
Ways to Use Trees for Medicine
Tree huggers are kind of onto something, but it takes more than a cuddle to feel a plant’s healing powers. Both bark and leaves of a tree can be used for cultivating medicinal products. Make a soothing salve, warm wash, or treatment tea with just a few products you likely already have in the prepper pantry.
If you’re using tree leaves, simmer some in a cup of water for about 20 minutes. Enjoy a delicious and soothing tea or double your batch to make a foot soak or wound wash. Tea from bark is essentially the same process, but don’t forget to strain before drinking
When creating a salve, steep leaves or bark in warm oil for around 20 minutes before straining. Then melt some beeswax (or another wax substitute) over a hot water bath. Combine a little bit of wax with that oil and soon, you’ll have a perfect salve.
Types of Trees and How to Use Them
Whether you truly realize it or not, we all bask in the glory of precious maple leaves. Every time you enjoy pancakes with syrup or indulge in a maple glazed donut, thank the maple tree. Not to mention their leaves and bark have been used for plenty of medicinal purposes.
People make tea with maple bark or use its syrup to treat issues like sore eyes, diarrhea, swollen limbs, kidney infections, colds and coughs, and bronchitis. The leaves of a young maple can even be used to make a massage oil, a lifesaver for sore muscles.
If you grow these trees or can find one, tapping them for sap can even get you some homemade maple syrup. Tree tapping can usually begin anywhere from late February to mid-April depending on your location. Ultimately, the best time to tap them is when the daily temperature rises above freezing and nighttime temperature falls below.
When finding a maple tree to tap, ensure it’s at least 12 inches in diameter. Tapping anything smaller could be damaging for the tiny tree! Usually you should only do one tap per tree, but if it’s a very large one, up to three will be okay.
What does one need to tree tap? Stock your prepper supply with a cordless drill, drill bit, hammer, spiles and hooks, colored tape, and extra buckets with lids. The process starts with you measuring the drill bit and wrapping a piece of colored tape around it, about three inches from the end.
Once you can easily determine when to stop drilling, select a spot on the tree that’s two-four feet off the ground. Drill into the tree at a slight angle upward until the edge of your tape has reached the tree. At this point you may notice some sap spilling out of the hole if it’s running.
To help the sap release, clear out any debris from the hole and insert your spile. Tap it gently into the tree with a hammer until it securely fits and the sap is flowing out of the pile. Then simply hang your bucket on the spile, cover it, and wait to enjoy some sweet maple syrup with your fresh sap.
The pine tree is a total classic, and not just when it’s adorned with lights and sparkly ornaments in December. As an evergreen, it’s often easier to access year-round in colder climates. Great for preppers on the chilly side, since it can be used for plenty of medicinal purposes.
Pine trees can be beneficial for making homemade antiseptics and wound wash. The needles and twigs can be simmered to make a vitamin C-rich tea. Some people even take pine baths to help soothe sore muscles and sore throats.
To make pine needle tea, simply clean a few handfuls of green pine needles. Break them off into pieces before simmering for around 10 minutes. After letting it steep for a few minutes, you’ll have a flavorsome and nutritious drink to sip on.
As far as pine’s bark, the light-colored inner part is called the cambium layer. It rests underneath that outer bark just above the harder interior of the tree. Cambium can be harvested by cutting a square shape in the tree’s side (very carefully!) with a knife then peeling back the layers.
Cambium makes a yummy and nutritious snack that can be scraped into strips like bacon, then fried or roasted. Speaking of snacks, can’t forget about pine nuts! They can be harvested in the fall and provide delicious flavor with plenty of protein.
Grab some gloves and a ladder if you have one, because those cones that contain the nut seeds are sticky and high up. Store the cones in a sack and place it in the sun for a few days to dry and open them up. Upon roasting the cones by a fire or in the oven, they’ll open to reveal plenty of pine nuts.
Beyond their simply beautiful exterior, willow tree bark contains salicylic acid. This is basically aspirin in its natural form. This tree has been to treat a variety of issues, both internal and external, for many years.
Willow bark in tea can be a tremendous healer for pain, fevers, and inflammation. Become your own natural medicine doctor when using it outside the body; expect all cuts, scrapes, and position ivy to diminish. Those using as an oil can soak arthritic joints to help reduce pain and swelling.
It’s ideal to forage willow trees in the spring, just as buds are starting to form. Willow are one of the first trees to bloom in early spring. These trees will always grow fast and can even tolerate prolonged areas of flooding; no wonder they’re so strong!
Birch trees can serve as an amazing natural medicine, as well as a food source in situations of emergency. Birch twigs, leaves, and bark pack a big punch of healing powers. From skincare and vitamins to pain relief, birch has got you covered.
Many preppers prefer using birch leaves and twigs to make tea. It’s said to help with a variety of issues, including constipation, oral sores, gout, kidney stones, and rhematic pain. To make a stronger concoction, soak in a birch bath for natural relief from skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
In the past, people also believed birch had the cosmetic ability to restore beauty and strength. The tree’s sap was once prescribed for skin issues, and to remove spots and freckles. Being packed full of vitamin C certainly doesn’t hurt the skin, too!
Like plenty other trees, birch can be edible in times of famine. Stop the bark and grind it take make meal for flour or add the leaves to salad for an aromatic flavor. The twigs also make a tasty snack for foragers.
You can find beautiful birches across the northern United States, as well as Canada and Europe. This alternative to medicine will be a lifesaver during survival situations. You’ll find that it starts to bud in the spring as weather gets warmer.
If you’re near an elm tree during survival, you’re in luck. Make the tree’s parts into a paste, tea, or powder. People have been ingesting elm’s inner bark medicinally for generations.
As a paste, elm trees can aid in healing fresh wounds or draw out fevers when applied directly to the abdomen. The powdery bark added to water can make a jelly, which soothes urinary and bowel issues and sore throats. Elm’s inner bark is soothing and contains mucilage that can help with mucous membrane issues.
Inner elm bark is often issued to soothe the digestive tract and is even sold as an herbal medicine to treat sensitive stomachs. It’s best to harvest slippery elm bark from low branches or coppicing stumps from fallen trees. The bark pulls away easily, even from the smallest branches.
Springtime means elms are ready for harvest. As the sugary sap rushes from the roots when you’re ready to forage, the inner bark swells and fills with sap and nutrients. All that extra liquid makes the inner bark more pliable and easier to remove from the tree.
Elm trees’ outer bark is soft and corky; a knife will go right through it. The inner bark is moist and fibrous, and once it’s scored down to the wood, strips of bark will pull away easily. After pulling off the bark in strips, separate the outer and inner bark.
Once you’ve harvested all that slippery elm goodness, preppers suggest tea as the simplest way to ingest it. Herbalists also suggest taking slippery elm bark with other medicines because it has a coating effect. It will coat the digestive tracts to help other meds adhere where they’re most needed.
Believe it or not, oak trees do more than just produce acorns. Its bark and leaves have tannins, which have plenty of antiviral and antiseptic qualities. Oak tree variety are said to help with chronic mucus discharges, diarrhea, and sore throats.
White oak bark tea, in particular, can be beneficial in treating the throat and stomach. It can also be made into a wash for skin issues like burns, poison ivy, and other wounds. And of course, we can’t forget about the delicious acorns.
The delicious nuts have a nutrient rich profile containing starches, oils, proteins, minerals (like calcium, phosphorus, and potassium) as well as several B vitamins. Acorns also have plant sugars and tannins. All parts of the oak – wood, bark, leaves, acorns, and gallnuts – have been used in survival medicine since ancient times.
In the past, Native Americans used poplar as a natural alternative to medicine. It’s been known for years to help with a variety of skin issues and physical ailments. Poplar trees have incredible medicinal qualities.
Use poplar concoctions to help with tons of issues: sore muscles, headaches, eczema, gout, phlegm, rheumatic pain, scurvy, and as an herbal medicine for cough. They grow wild in many places across North America and may be foraged as early as late January. The harvesting window for this plant is short, at least for the buds, because what they are in reality are tiny bound up leaves.
You’ll know it’s time to harvest once the buds start swelling on the ends and middles of the branches. Since the branches are often quite high, you’ll need a ladder or be agile enough to climb the tree. Unfortunately, harvesting the leaves is a rather slow process, as each must be hand gathered one by one.
To gather the poplar buds, just snap the off the ends of the branch. Usually, they grow in clusters of three to six. Look out for the resin, as well, as it’s the medicinal power of these small leaf buds.
Poplar resin emits a lovely sweet and warm scent. It might get all over your fingers during the harvest! Use it to make an infused oil or treatment tincture.
Many parts of the walnut tree can heal humans from the inside out. The husks are antifungal, rich in manganese, and full of skin healing properties. Walnut tree bark can be powdered and applied to wounds for reduced swelling and quicker healing.
Walnut leaf tea can aid in increasing circulation, energy, and digestion, and fresh bark is known to help relieve headaches when applied to the temples. Those who don’t love tea can still rub fresh walnut husks directly onto ringworm. Not to mention, walnuts provide plenty of nutrients.
If you’re looking to forage walnuts, you’ll need a bucket, gloves, and a stir sick. Gather your walnuts; note that black walnuts have a characteristic green husk, almost like a tennis ball. This husk contains a chemical called juglone that sticks and prevents things from growing near the black walnut tree, acting as a natural weed control.
You can find black walnuts in urban backyard and the wild. They’re easiest to find by flurries of squirrel activity in the area. Walnut trees produce a crop of walnuts about every other year.
Simply step on the walnuts and with a gentle twist, the husks will come right off. After de-husking them, it’s time to clean ‘em up! Fill a bucket with enough water to cover the walnuts, then stir like crazy, rinse and repeat until they’re clean.
Finally, you can set your walnuts out to dry. Put them in a paper bag or anything that will allow air to flow. Soon you’ll be enjoying some delicious and nutritious walnuts!
If you’re a prepper, elderberry may already be on your herbal medicine list. But did you know their leaves, flowers, and bark are just as incredible? Used in teas, tinctures, and oils, the qualities of elder trees are never-ending.
The berries of an elder can be used to make tea that benefits the blood and lungs. Root bark tea can help clear congestion and relieve headaches. Cold tea made from the flowers can also assist in reducing inflammation when placed on the eyes.
Elderflowers are used to create special sunburn and blemish healing water. When working with an oil from the flower, soothing balms are incredible. You can use the flowers you forage as a syrup, nutritional supplement, and in cosmetics.
Harvesting elderflowers is a late spring tradition in many parts of the world. These trees grow in temperate regions, especially in the northern hemisphere. You’ll find the trees or their flowers growing wild in ditches, roadsides, and swampy areas.
A mesh bag is best, if you have one, for harvesting the flowers. Take blooms during a cool part of the day and keep your harvested flowers out of the sun. To get them, simply clasp your fingers at the flower cluster’s base and pull.
You can use this form of naturopathic medicine fresh or preserve them for later use. To save them, hang the umbels upside down for a few days until they’re dry. Once dried, rub off the little blooms with your hands and try making an elderflower syrup for your next restorative tea.
If you’re looking for a vitamin C source during survival, cedar might be your new BFF. The twigs, leaves, and bark from this tree are often used for treating physical ailments. The red cedar, in particular, is one of the best varieties.
Cedar tea is commonly ingested for healing chest colds, flu, and rhematic pain. In addition, it an aid with urinary tract issues, fevers, skin infections, ringworm, and bronchitis. Not to mention, the leaves are easy to infuse in oil and smell amazing when used on the skin.
To make a DIY cedar tea, most preppers recommend using the leaves. Gather ½ cup of leaves and put about three cups of boiling water over top. Cover the jar and allow it to steep for at least 15 minutes before drinking.
Be sure not to drink cedar tea every single day. While it can be a great healer, it should only be used minimally for bronchial issues and helping with breathing or other health issues. You can, however, steep the tea overnight and us it externally as a liniment much more often.
If you have frequent pain or a pressing sickness, use the liniment three or four times per day to help. Those with fungal issues like ringworm or athlete’s foot will experience rapid healing after using a cedar concoction. The final option for using cedar externally is tincturing it with alcohol.
Underrated but iconic, the beech tree is a must-know. The ancient Greeks believed that beechnuts were the first food ever consumed by humans. While the nuts are edible, we don’t consume them in large quantities now.
This tree’s qualities extend far beyond the beechnut. When used in tea, it can help with cleansing the blood and healing lung ailments like tuberculosis. Use the tea externally as a wash for poison ivy or to help with frostbites and burns.
Due to the bark’s astringent effect, many have used it for minor skin complaints like boils and piles. The leaves have also been eaten as a salad veggie to add crunch and flavor. If you’re not using beech to heal or feed yourself and your family, make some beautiful furniture or utensils out of its wood.
Unlike many other trees, alders are unique and incredible because they build a strong community. Seeds fly in the wind and rain down on disturbed soils in the wake of fire, landslides, or clear cuts. Seedlings grow as much as three feet per year.
As far as alder’s healing qualities, the leaves and bark can be infused in tea to make a great wash for wounds. It can also aid with tonsilitis, fevers, or dry up breast milk. The inner bark, in particular, offers the strongest natural medicine for blood pressure and other ailments.
Alder trees’ inner bark soothes inflammation, fights infection, and promotes healing. It supports liver functions (like the breakdown of wastes), and formation of bile to assist with fat digestion. Alder bark would be incredible after a bloating meal that leaves your stomach in shambles.
The inner bark of alder trees is also antimicrobial and is used to treat internal and topical infections. Skin disorders, including acne and boils, may respond well to both internal and topical use of alder. Its astringent qualities help it tighten inflamed tissue.
You can find alder trees along the pacific coast from Alaska to central California. They’re harvested in February or March before the leaves emerge. For leaf buds, keep an eye out for recently fallen trees or branches, or trees with low hanging branches.
If you are harvesting bark from the alder’s trunk, only take a narrow strip, about the width of your hand, so the tree can keep on thriving. Separate the inner bark from the outer so you can experience all that inner goodness. You don’t need to do this on the smaller branches and twigs, however, because the bark is so thin there.
You already know apple trees and their delicious red (or green or yellow) fruits. But did you know their bark is incredible, too? Apple trees and their fruit can serve as a survival superfood and medicine in a variety of ways.
Apple tree bark can be used to make tea, which helps with fevers. The fruit is rich in iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B, B2, and C. Apples can be used to aid in both diarrhea (eating peeled apples) and constipation (stewed and unpeeled).
When consumed on a regular basis, apples have also been known to enhance restful sleep. Raw apple cider can help correct and restore bacteria in the bowels. Using it as an external wash can even help clear the skin.
Whether you’re using them as a food source or to heal some stomach issues, it’s important to know how to forage the best apples possible. Know that apples ripen from outside of the tree towards the trunk. So, if you’re unsure of ripeness, stick to apples that are farthest from the tree’s base.
Look out for apples that are firm with no nicks or bruises. Ripe apples are crisp and firm to the touch, not mushy. When you see one that seems good to go, life the apple upwards and give it a twist to release it from the tree.
Be sure not to pull the fruit downwards or shake the tree branch. Once you’ve got it, grasp the apple with the palm of your hand instead of your fingers. Check the skin – if it’s smooth and bruise-free, you’re ready to enjoy!
Now that you know some of the best trees to forage for medicine, staying healthy through survival situations should be much easier. Next time you’re on a nature walk or adventuring through the backyard, identify some trees and practice your foraging skills. Before you go, don’t forget to check out some more of Crow Survival’s epic prepper content.
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