Updated: Feb 28
by Anne Stobart of Holt Wood Herbs If you go down to the woods, you are likely to find you can use quite a few trees for healing purposes and make your own woodland tonic infusion.
There is plenty of talk today about the need to plant more trees. We often hear how trees can contribute significantly to ecosystems and the environment through carbon storage, water management and many other benefits.
Of course, there are some well-known tree products that are imported for food, drink and medicine. These include cinnamon, coffee and cinchona (Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Coffea arabica and Cinchona officinalis). Some trees from temperate climates (having seasonal changes) are under investigation for active constituents which may have pharmaceutical use although sadly, there are threats to medicinal trees and shrubs in both tropical and temperate climates due to habitat change and over harvesting. But there could be more acknowledgement of the additional benefits of planting medicinal trees!
Here is a suggestion for a woodland leaf tea that you can adapt yourself and remember to ensure you have correctly identified the plant/tree before you harvest material for your herbal infusion.
Woodland tonic infusion Select young shoots and leaves from a variety of trees and shrubs such as birch, pine and bramble, of similar amounts making around 50 g weight (if dried then use half the quantity about 25 g). Chop or bruise the plant material and place it in a teapot. Add 500 mL of boiling water and cover with the lid. Allow to stand for 5-10 min and then strain. Drink while hot or store in a labelled bottle in the refrigerator for 1-2 days and reheat when required.
This tea has a pleasant taste and tonic effect, and the tree components also have added benefits. Birch (Betula pendula) leaves and bark have many traditional uses in Europe, some now explained by modern research. Ebeling et al. (2014) have written about the triterpene constituents betulin which help to explain why the leaves have wound healing activity. Conifer trees including pines and Douglas fir have aromatic foliage rich in essential oils and these antiseptic and anti-inflammatory components support longstanding and present-day use as a herbal remedy for coughs and colds (Kucharska et al., 2018).
Creating a herbal tea formula
There are many other combinations possible for a woodland tea. Generally, there seem to be two to three components to consider for a tasty leaf tea formula:
an aromatic herb (such as pine or mint leaves)
an astringent herb (such as bramble or rose leaves)
a healing herb, for example a bitter or anti-inflammatory component (leaves of birch or yarrow ) makes a more stimulating and invigorating tea, whereas adding a demulcent and cooling herb (lime flowers or leaves) makes a calming and relaxing tea.
Consider keeping a herbal tea diary, recording the amount of each tree or shrub leaf used so in future you can repeat your successful herbal infusions and share your recipes with friends and family.
Growing medicinal trees
If you have space then you could consider planting your own medicinal trees and many will grow in pots. Learning about growing and harvesting our own supplies of medicinal trees and shrubs has been an exhilarating 16-year adventure at Holt Wood in Devon. We have learnt a lot about what grows well in our 'oceanic' climate, especially benefiting from land that varies from a boggy fertile meadow to stony slopes and acidic claggy soil. Developing out of this experience I have written and published The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook (Permanent Publications, 2020). Photo credits (c) Kay Piercy.
Ebeling, S., Naumann, K., Pollok, S., Wardecki, T., Vidal-Y-Sy, S. and Nascimento, J.M. et al. (2014). From a traditional medicinal plant to a rational drug: Understanding the clinically proven wound healing efficacy of birch bark extract. PLoS One 9: e86147. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0086147.
Kucharska, M., Szymańska, J.A., Wesołowski, W., Bruchajzer, E. and Frydrych, B. (2018). [Comparison of chemical composition of selected essential oils used in respiratory diseases]. Med Pr 69, pp.167-178.