Tamara Segal Registered Herbalist

Wellness from the Wild: The Majestic White Pine

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Northeastern landscapes could be characterized by the silhouette images of the Eastern white pine tree. These trees, of Group of Seven

fame, outline many a horizon with their high, fluffy-looking, outward reaching evergreen branches. Our native white pine (Pinus strobus) has been considered the monarch of the Canadian forest—and for good reason. This tree offers a cornucopia of healing and nutritional support.

White pine is identified by its long, soft needles which form clusters in groups of five, while other types of pines form needle clusters of just two. White pine needles also have a white stripe running lengthwise from the base to the tip.

The needles are richly nutritious with vitamins A, C and K. A tea made with a small handful of needles steeped in one to two cups of water for 10 to 15 minutes has a mild citrus-like flavour. A cup of this tasty brew can help to fight respiratory infections and boost immunity. The tea will be more potent if covered while it steeps. This helps to keep the aromatic volatile oils (which contain many healing constituents) from evaporating out. A little lemon juice and/or honey could enhance its effectiveness and make it even tastier.

Pine needles and bark have strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, particularly in the respiratory tract. They can help to open the bronchial passages in cases of congestion and asthma. Their tea, being rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, can also serve as a healthful tonic that supports cardiovascular, as well as eye and skin health.

The pine trees of this region thrive in cold, dark winters as well as the heat of summer, pulling up vitamins and minerals from deep in the earth, and assimilating energy through their evergreen leaves with the help of the northeastern sunlight. Their ability to adapt themselves to harsh conditions in a healthy way is indicative of the medicine they provide. White pine is considered by some herbalists to be an adaptogen- a class of herbs that safely and effectively support the body through periods of physical and mental stress, nourishing and balancing the endocrine, immune, nervous and cardiovascular systems.

Adaptogens often support adrenal gland function. The adrenals secrete hormones that regulate the body and mind’s stress response. White pine helps to balance the stress response in an elegant and sophisticated manner such as that associated with adaptogens. It also tends to lift the spirits, and brighten one’s outlook on dark and dreary days.

White pine can be harvested at any time of year—even in the deep dormancy of winter. A hike beneath the white pines in the crisp forest air on a sunny, snowy day is sure to lift the heart, facilitate deep breathing and shake off the winter blues. On such a walk, you may encounter a freshly fallen branch, with bundles of healthy green needles on it. With gratitude for the tree’s gift, this can be brought home. The bark can be shaved off with a knife, and the needles removed by hand. These can be steeped fresh into a healing tea, and/or dried and stored in a jar in the cupboard, perhaps for another winter day.

The monarch of the Canadian forest grants us with abundant gifts. It is ours to learn to appreciate them.

 

Originally Published: December 16, 2017

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Tamara Segal, Contributor and Registered Herbalist

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Tamara Segal is a Registered Herbalist and wild foods enthusiast. She runs an herbal clinic called Hawthorn Herbals at her farm in Prince Edward County. She also teaches classes and gives plant identification walks and workshops throughout the Quinte area.



Yellow Dock

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Autumn has arrived--the season for harvesting roots! From root vegetables to the roots of medicinal herbs, the fall offers us gifts from beneath the soil. At this time of year, plants send their nutrients and energy down into their roots for winter storage, enriching them with nourishing and healing elements.

One of my favourite local wild roots is yellow dock (Rumex crispus). Also known as “curly dock”, this dock family biennial is easily found throughout our region. It has leaves that are longer than they are wide (up to about one foot long), with white-reddish midribs and a long stem. The leaf edges have a curly or wavy appearance and come up in a basal rosette formation. In its second year of growth, yellow dock shoots up a tall flowering stalk with a cluster of tiny whitish-green flowers. When it eventually develops seeds, the whole stalk, seeds included, turns a reddish-bronze hue and remains that way throughout the winter. Beneath the ground, yellow dock’s long tap root has flesh that is an unmistakable shade of yellow—hence the name!

The yellow roots indicate an important signature of this plant: it effectively promotes bile production and movement.

The liver and gall bladder are largely supported by yellow dock root. When yellow bile flows freely through the digestive tract, it helps us to break down and absorb fats, allowing further nutrient absorption while also carrying out wastes and toxins so that they don’t build up and burden our organs of elimination. Thus yellow dock root is an excellent herbal digestive aid, helping us to absorb the nutrients we need while clearing out toxicity, keeping us healthy and energized.

Yellow dock also has a strong affinity for the skin, helping to clear eczema and other rashes and irritations that sometimes stem from an inhibited or overburdened liver’s challenged ability to clear toxins. When toxins or immune by-products build up in the system and the liver can’t easily clear them, they will often be cleared through the pores of the skin, causing various skin irritations. Yellow dock root helps to relieve these conditions by working from the inside out.

The deep tap roots accumulate iron, making yellow dock a choice supplement for iron deficiency. The root, infused in apple cider vinegar will readily secrete iron and other trace minerals into the vinegar, which can be strained after three to four weeks, and safely taken daily (one to three teaspoons) until iron levels increase. While many iron supplements tend to cause constipation, yellow dock has mild laxative properties, supporting proper elimination while supplying the needed iron.

All this aid in clearing away wastes and toxins helps to prevent infections, while also freeing up the immune system to stay on strict guard against any potential invading pathogens— thus yellow dock root strengthens immune function too.

This wild plant is so hardy that it is often found breaking through pavement or thriving in neglected, compacted soil. It also comes up as a “weed” in fields and gardens, where it can be dug in the autumn of its first year. The cleaned, sliced root infused in cider vinegar or dried and stored for use as a tea, is an invaluable addition to anyone’s herb cupboard, and should stay viable for two to three years. With all this in mind, in root harvest season...I dig yellow dock!

 

Originally published: October 12, 2017

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Tamara Segal, Contributor and Registered Herbalist

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Tamara Segal is a Registered Herbalist and wild foods enthusiast. She runs an herbal clinic called Hawthorn Herbals at her farm in Prince Edward County. She also teaches classes and gives plant identification walks and workshops throughout the Quinte area.



Poplar: Tree of the People

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Humans have known for millennia that society benefits from honey bees. In temperate climates, ancient settlements used to plant poplar trees around them, aiming to attract bees. Poplars provide a resin used by honey bees to create propolis—the antibacterial glue that seals the hive and supports its health. It was once known that if on your travels you found a grove of poplars in the distance, you were likely approaching a human settlement. Where poplars grew, people dwelled. The genus of these trees was thus aptly named Populus-- the Latin name for people.

Poplar supports people’s health, and in turn, their enjoyment of life by offering potent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, digestive and restorative properties. In the early spring, the aromatic buds can be harvested and heated in olive oil to yield the makings of an ointment for pain, inflammation and infections of various kinds. It also makes soothing massage oil. The buds of one species, Populus gileadensis make the famous Balm of Gilead—a remarkable healing balm.

Poplar’s inner bark can be shaved off pruned or newly fallen branches in the early spring and simmered in water to yield a bitter-tasting digestive tea. It will help cleanse and restore a tired, aged or debilitated system, clearing away toxicity, reducing arthritic or rheumatic pain and renewing vigour. Taken in the spring, this tea can help one adapt to the increased activity that comes with the new season, such as outdoor sports, gardening, hiking and the like. The bark contains salicin, the same active pain-relieving ingredient found in aspirin, giving it analgesic and fever-reducing properties. Any bark that is not used fresh can be cut into smaller pieces and dried for future use. It can last for three to four years if stored in a jar and kept away from light.

Later in spring, young poplar leaves can be infused in water for a healing tea. This too has a bitter flavour which indicates its myriad benefits to the digestion, the ability to absorb nutrients and safe, gentle detoxification. To balance out the bitter flavour, one could add mint, cinnamon or lemon verbena to the infusion. Poplar leaves crushed up can be placed on an insect bite to reduce swelling and irritation, making outdoor excursions more fun.

There are a number of Populus species found in our region. Trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), large-toothed aspen (Populus grandidenta), Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra) and balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) are common. Any of these can be used for similar purposes.

Poplars love to grow in sunlight and can be found in clearings, near beaches or at forest edges. Trembling aspens grow in clusters with smooth, narrow light-grey trunks. Lombardy poplars are long, narrow trees that sometimes line lane-ways or paths. Large-toothed aspens have widely serrated leaves compared with those of the other varieties. Balsam poplar has the largest, stickiest leaf buds with a pleasing aroma that spreads on the wind. This species is a big honey bee attractor.

My favourite time to harvest poplar is when taking a walk or hike after a wind storm in early spring when fallen branches, laden with sticky buds, make themselves easily available for use. I am continually impressed by the many uses they offer, and am always grateful to encounter them.

Tamara Segal is a Registered Herbalist and wild foods enthusiast. She teaches classes and gives plant identification walks and workshops in the Quinte area. She also runs an herbal clinic called Hawthorn Herbals at her farm in Prince Edward County.

 

Originally Published: April 17, 2017

Author opinion disclosure.jpg

about the author.jpg
Photo 2017-05-20, 5 38 06 PM.jpg

Tamara Segal, Contributor and Registered Herbalist

+ Read Bio

Tamara Segal is a Registered Herbalist and wild foods enthusiast. She runs an herbal clinic called Hawthorn Herbals at her farm in Prince Edward County. She also teaches classes and gives plant identification walks and workshops throughout the Quinte area.