As cooler weather approaches and we transition our gaze from bustling summer days into the sweet mystery of autumn, use this time to look into what the forest has to offer us. Many plants that reside right here all around us have more healing powers than what initially meets the eye. Local plants have an affinity for the illnesses within their environment making them stronger remedies for seasonal illnesses such as cold and flu. All we have to do to access their healing magic is open our senses! Connect with the local plants around you by going on walks through the park or forest, take notice of what trees are towering over you, take notice at what flowers are in bloom, take notice of what plants are peeking up out of the soil. Within the familiar lies an unexpected magic. Take wonder upon what medicine each plant holds whether it is physical, spiritual or simply visual all plants house within them a unique healing essence.
“Dark mysterious woods are home of magic and the unknown. To enter a forest is to go into the realm of Faerie, which can be as dangerous as it can be enlightening.” – Middle Earth Reflections
Some common forest friends you may encounter in the pacific northwest include: Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Salal, Willow, Oregon Grape, Reishi and Usnea. All of these medicines are amazing allies for the cold and flu season!
Douglas Fir – Pseudotsuga menziesii
Grandfather Douglas Fir towers over the forest like a gentle giant. Identify Douglas Fir by its thick gnarly bark, bottlebrush needles, and cones with three pronged scales. This grand tree offers potent antimicrobial, expectorant, demulcent, nutritive, and astringent properties making it an excellent addition to any cold/flu formula. Some common indications for Douglas Fir are: asthma, cold, headache, liver stagnancy, arthritis and rheumatism. If harvesting this plant fresh in the wild, look for green needles still attached to fallen branches before harvesting off of the tree itself. This medicine is ready to harvest all year round, however during spring the bright green growth makes the best tasting medicine.
Western Hemlock – Tsuga heterophylla
A true wizard of the forest; western hemlock watches over the forest below. Identify this evergreen by his short flat alternately arranged needles, tiny cones and drooping crown. The green parts of this tree are what are most commonly used as medicine. Western Hemlock acts as an astringent, antimicrobial, expectorant, nutritive and anti-inflammatory making it excellent for coughs, colds, and inflammatory respiratory conditions. If harvesting this plant fresh, look for fallen branches before harvesting off the tree itself. This medicine is in season all year round, however during spring the new bright green growth makes the tastiest medicine.
Salal – Galtheria shallon
Perhaps one of the most plentiful medicines in the forests of the pacific northwest. Salal is an evergreen shrub growing in the underbrush offering up medicine all year round with its astringent leaves and tart berries. Identify this plant by its round waxy leaves with serrate edges. Both the leaves and berries of Salal are used medicinally. To harvest the fresh plant look for unblemished leaves without disease all year round.
Willow – Salix spp.
The magic of willow runs as deep as the history of herbal medicine itself. Identify this tree by its long and slender leaves with slightly serrate edges. This gentle tree offers medicine for the nervous system, kidneys, and musculoskeletal system. Willow is also a wonderful anti-inflammatory, febrifuge, analgesic, antiseptic, astringent, and anti-rheumatic herb. Some specific indications for willow are mild colds and flus with a fever, arthritis, inflammation, and headaches. The bark is most commonly used as medicine.. To harvest fresh medicine from this plant it is best to use the bark from the small branches so that the integrity of the bark on the trunk is not disurbed. This medicine is ideally harvested during the fall after the plant has had time to grow.
Oregon Grape – Berberis aquifolium and Berberis nervosa
A true native to our area, Oregon grape can be found in both cultivated gardens and throughout the forest floor. This powerful plant offers potent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory medicine with an affinity for the liver, skin and gallbladder. Oregon Grape also acts as an alterative, astringent, anti-neoplastic, bitter, hepatic, and mild laxative. Some common indications for Oregon Grape are: infections, fevers, gallstones, chronic skin diseases due to liver congestion such as psoriasis and eczema, and liver/gallbladder issues. The root bark is the most commonly used medicinal part of this plant. If harvesting this herb fresh be sure to replant parts of the root so that more plants may spread! This medicine is best harvested in the spring and fall either before or after the plant has gone to seed.
Reishi – Ganoderma spp.
As one of the most widely used medicinal mushrooms, Reishi is unrivaled with its beautiful healing actions within the immune, nervous, cardiac, respiratory, and digestive systems. Within Chinese Medicine, Reishi has been used for centuries as a whole body tonic. Reishi also acts as a nervous system sedative, analgesic, adaptogen, antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, anti-tussive, expectorant, cardiotonic, and hepatoprotective medicine. The fruiting body and mycelium of Reishi are both used as medicine. If harvesting the fresh fruiting body, it is best to look for specimens that have not begun to decay during the late summer to fall months.