Eastern Hemlock Medicine

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis):

A Materia Medica

Part Used:  Needles, Inner Bark, Sap/Pitch.  Traditionally, the entire young twigs were used.
Habitat & Ecology:  Prefers moist, well-drained, acidic soils.  Often grows in pure stands in moist cool valleys and ravines. Also found in rocky outcrops and north-facing bluffs.  Along with white pine, definitely the most common evergreen found in our local woods.  Grows to about 2,400 ft elevation.   Frequently associates with White Pine (Pinus strobus), and Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), or forms pure stands.  A common medicinal found growing beneath hemlock is Goldthread (Coptis groenlandica).   The pure stands create their own moist and slightly humid microclimate, and provide excellent winter shelter for many species of wildlife. These trees play a key role in stream ecology, shading the waters of mountain streams and headwaters and keeping them cool, thus creating habitat for native fish and invertebrates.  They also stabilize the soil in the steep ravines they commonly grow in, preventing erosion.
Description:  Along with White Pine, definitely the most common evergreen found in our forests.  Grows in a distinctive pyramidical shape.  Short needles (3/8-5/8”) growing in 2 rows off the branch.  Flat, flexible, and rounded at the tip (not sharp).  Shiny dark green above with 2 white lines below.  Has very small cones (5/8-3/4” long).  Could be confused with the poisonous Canada Yew (Taxus canadensis, Fam Taxacaea/ Yew Family), sometimes called Ground Hemlock, (a low-growing native forest shrub that can be toxic at large doses internally, but this species has dark green needles both above and below.  Can reach up to 175 ft tall and over 6 ft in diameter. Shares a common name with Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), but is a completely different plant.

Collection: The needles can be collected anytime, as well as the bark.  To get the medicinal properties of the needles, inner bark/bark and sap all together, harvest the twigs.  The young, bright green needles that grow in late spring are especially high in Vit C and make a great trailside snack and medicine. Never girdle a tree when collecting bark, as it will kill the tree. 
Taste: Bitter, Pungent, Sweet, Sour
Energetics: Warm, Dry
Constituents:  Essential Oils, Tannins (esp in the bark)
Herbal Actions:  Astringent, Circulatory Stimulant, Diaporetic, Diuretic, Expectorant, Immune-enhancer,
Medicinal Uses:  The needles are the most medicinal parts of this species, and the inner bark and sap have some use as well.  The young new growth at the tips can be eaten and are a spring tonic.  They are deliciously sour, tonifying the digestion, promoting digestive secretions, and waking up the liver. Like White Pine, the needles are very rich in vitamin c, and build immunity during the cold and flu season, and can help lessen the duration of an illness if it has already set-in.  Hemlock has an affinity for the lungs and is helpful for wet, boggy cough and as over-all tonic for the respiratory system. It makes a delicious tea, especially when mixed with wild medicinal fruits such as Rose Hips (Rosa sp), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), and Hawthorn (Crateagus sp).  Rich in tannins, the bark is very astringent, and can be used as a wash for any skin irritations, diarrhea, to tonify the skin, and help reduce excess secretions in the body.  The sap is also medicinal and can be used similarly to Pine species- as a warming expectorant in a chest rub, as an oil for sore muscles, rheumatic pains, to draw out splinters, and so on.  Also, hemlock is a host for our native adaptogenic muchroom, Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae)!  In the forest, hemlock has a very calming, soothing presence, and it tends to do the same in medicinal preparations.  It is a wonderful addition to any bioregional incense blend.
Preparation:  Tea, Salve, Smudge, Incense, Elixer, Honey, Infused Oil, Cordial, Ghee, Syrup, Vinegar, Bath Salt/Scrub, Essential Oil
Dosage: Tea- 1 tsp: 1 cup water. Drink freely.  Vinegar, Honey, Cordial, Oil, Salve, Cream, Elixer/Cordial- Enjoy freely
Contraindications:  Avoid in high dosages in pregnancy due to high Vitamin C content
Other: The inner bark can be used as survival food, and is very nutritious.  It can simply be chewed and swallowed, can be cut into strips and boiled to make “hemlock noodles,” or dried and ground into flour for baking.  This inner bark can also be soaked to produce a pink dye.  The bark is very high in tannins and was formerly much used in the tanning industry, and at one point the tree was even threatened in the northeast due to overharvest.  Tsuga, derived from the Japanese words for tree (tsu) mother (ga): the “mother of trees.” This tree is currently also being attacked by the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an aphidlike insect from Asia that looks like white wooly fluff on the underside of Hemlock needles. DO NOT harvest from this tree or surrounding trees if you find this insect.

Hemlock Cordial✨

To Make:
Roughly chop your Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) needles and thin twigs (kitchen scissors or clippers work great for this). Put in a glass jar and cover the Hemlock with roughly 75% brandy (or any liquor that is at atleast 40% alcohol) and 25% raw honey. Let sit for a month (or as long as you want) and strain. This can be sipped on as a cordial, added to bubbly water or tonic water (it's esp nice mixed with tonic and blueberry soda) or take by the spoonful as medicine. It's delicious and tastes like the forest! Hemlock is warming and a very gentle circulatory stimulant. It is rich in immune-stimulating essential oils. Hemlock has a special affinity for the respiratory system, which makes sense-remember, trees are the lungs of the earth! It helps promote respiratory health, heals wet and boggy coughs, clears congestion from both the lungs and sinuses, and has some anti-microbial properties as well.

Registration is OPEN for our bioregional herbalism series and apprenticeship, From the Roots Up, if you'd like hands-on experience working with our local medicinals!
More info here!

Bone Broth Gravy

Bone broth is a staple in our home, and I'm always looking for new ways to incorporate it into my family's diet and get my clients excited about it! Hence the origination of this recipe.  This stuff is nourishing, versatile, and makes everything taste better. And an added bonus is that this recipe is also gluten and dairy-free!  If you're just learning about bone broth, check-out this piece I wrote about its myriad of benefits and how to make it here.

Bone Broth Gravy
4-6 cups bone broth
Olive oil or ghee (made from pasture butter)
1 small onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tsp rosemary pwd (or spice of choice)
Black pepper and sea salt to taste (can also use tamari here)
2 tbsp arrowroot powder
½ cup cold water

Sautee the onion and garlic in the oil or ghee until soft, with the spices. Then add the bone broth and simmer on medium heat for 5-10 minutes until it reduces a bit.  Meanwhile mix the arrowroot pwd in cold water. After the bone broth had reduced a bit add the arrowroot pwd/cold water mix and stir it all until it thickens.  Add more arrowroot pwd/cold water mix if you’d like it thicker! Put on everything! Meat, mashed potatoes, roasted root veggies, pot pies, etc. I have also found that this is great way to get bone broth into kids! Enjoy!


We'll be learning about recipes like this in my upcoming class series on kitchen herbalism- Spice Rack Medicine.  Tuition includes a course packet that has dozens of recipes included!
Spice Rack Medicine Winter Class Series
1 Sunday/month Jan-March
Greenfield, MA
More info here: http://www.milkandhoneyherbs.com/spice-rack-medicine-winter-series



Pickled Evening Primrose Roots

Evening Primrose (Oneothera biennsis) in flower

Evening Primrose (Oneothera biennsis) in flower

If you have a garden in New England, you probably have Evening Primrose (Oneothera biennsis) volunteering itself as a weed! 

"Cultivating" a Weed

Since this plant loves recently disturbed soils, gardens are one of their primary habitats, although Evening Primrose is a plant I would say I "cultivate" only in the very loosest sense of the word!  The seeds of this plant are often in the seed bed of many soils, and every year Evening Primrose invariably shows-up in my garden.  I always let a few stay and go to seed every year, ensuring that I'll have plenty of plants to harvest the following year.  To better understand this cycle, it's important to understand that Evening Primrose is a biennial, meaning it has a 2 year life cycle.  Its first year it only presents as a simple basal rosette of lanceolate, 2-8 inch long, leaves, and it doesn't flower or set seed.  In its second year of growth, it sends up a thick, branching stalk and bears small, yellow 4-petalled flowers. Then, in the late summer and fall, it goes to seed and eventually dies, re-seeding itself for the following year- this is the basic life-cycle of biennial plants. For more specifics on I.D. if you don't know this plant, check out this description.

Left to Right: Evening Primrose Rt (Oneothera biennsis), Mullein Rt (Verbascum thapsus), Wild Carrot/Queen Anne's Lace Rt (Daucus carota)

Left to Right: Evening Primrose Rt (Oneothera biennsis), Mullein Rt (Verbascum thapsus), Wild Carrot/Queen Anne's Lace Rt (Daucus carota)

Root Medicine

Although the entire plant in flower (and its seeds as well) are a wonderful medicine in their own right, that's for a later post. (In the meantime, check-out any of Kiva Rose's writings on Evening Primrose for more on that).  But it's the roots we're talking about today! The root is sweet, moistening (mucilagenous), and slightly spicy. For best results it should be harvested from first-year plants in the fall, or in its second year in the very early spring while it is still dormant.  It may be cooked and eaten as a nutrient-rich wild food or utilized medicinally....or both! Evening Primrose is a great example of "food as medicine," since you're reaping the medicinal benefits, as well as the nutritional, when you incorporate it into your diet.  The roots are classified as anti-spasmodic, vulnerary (heals irritated tissue), and anti-inflammatory.  They have a special affinity for the respiratory system (think dry, spasming coughs), digestive system (especially for pain, cramps, inflammation, nervous digestion, and leaky gut) and also for general nervous system support.  They are tonic herb in the truest definition of the word in that they work gently on the body, have no negative side-effects, and are safe for daily use.

pickled evening primrose.jpg

Pickled Evening Primrose Roots💛

To make: This is a very simple recipe! Wash and roughly chop your roots. Put them in a glass jar and cover with raw apple cider vinegar. Add some Rosemary to taste (at least a tsp/cup of apple cider vinegar) and a few cloves of garlic, and even a dash of raw honey if pure vinegar is too sour a taste for you.  Let sit for at least 2 weeks, or longer.

To use: Eat the roots (and the garlic!) as is, use them as a condiment, add to stir-fries, greens- you name it! And of course you've made an infused vinegar you can use as well! Use the vinegar to make salad dressings, cook with greens and veggies, marinate meats, and so on. Since it is made with raw apple cider vinegar, it is important to realize though that you will lose the probiotic benefit if you heat it, so best to add when you're done cooking.

Be Creative: This same recipe will also work for raw burdock root, carrots, ginger, beets, radishes, and more! And be sure to mix it up and use your own favorite spices!