Trees and Their Many Uses Outside of the Industry
As we work in and around trees all day, we often are looking at them trying to figure out the best tie in point, how to rig down a big limb, and where to put our notch when it's time to bring down the trunk. Rarely ever do we stop and realize ALL that these grand, unique, diverse species have to offer us. Medicine, food, and tree parts are even used in rituals! Let's take a look at some common and some other very surprising uses for trees!
Maple Trees - Maple Syrup
We thought we would start with one everyone is fairly familiar with and that is tapping Maple trees for maple syrup! If you've ever been in the woods and saw random buckets hanging off of trees you've more than likely saw a tree being tapped for syrup. In cold climates maples store starch in their trunks and roots before winter, which is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in early Spring. By simply drilling a hole into the trunk you can collect the sap, which then needs to be processed in order to enjoy on your pancakes. Who knew a tree's natural cycle could produce such a sweet treat for us!
Birch Trees - Fire Starter
First off, you can get syrup from Birch trees as well, but they are even better suited as a fire starter! Their bark is the perfect paper like material that quickly lights thanks to how flammable it is, even if it's wet. Birch is a wood that is also well known for its waterproofing abilities and used to be used on roofs! Skip the chemicals and starter logs, next time reach for Birch bark, a natural, free alternative! *Please note--never walk up to a live tree and tear off the bark. On birch trees it may appear as if you're simply just peeling off a thin layer, but think of this as ripping off a human's skin. This is not healthy for the tree and can cause major damage, so your best bet is to look for downed trees and collect their dark for future use. They will do the job equally as well for you!
Pine Trees - Tea
At any time of the year Pine Trees will make a nice tea when in a pinch. This can be a nice backcountry tip if you're ever camping with a small jet boil and the nights get chilly. Warm up with some naturally flavored tea by boiling a few sprigs in water, then removing to drink. There you have it, a flavored beverage, free of charge.
Spruce Tips - Food
Spruce Tips, or Spruce buds, are extremely refreshing to eat in the Spring, right after they have broken out of their protective cones. They have a nice citrus flavor to them and can be eaten raw. Don't wait too long, they are not edible as they grow older, and fair warning, flavor wise you won't want to eat the tip whole. Sprinkle on top of a salad or dessert to enjoy it as a garnish.
Cedar - Rituals
Cedar has been used for centuries due to it's pleasant aromatic properties and its ability to protect items from rot. Because of this some cultures also use Cedar in their rituals, believing because of these same protective properties the wood when burnt aides in clearing the mind. Light a small piece of Cedar, allow the flame to go out, and wait for it to smoke. This is referred to as smudging, which is a process of cleansing the air while also adding a great scent to the room.
Willow and Alder Bark - Anti-Inflammatory
Before there was modern medicine made by man, there were just abundant and free plants and trees from nature that eventually men and women realized could be used for medicinal purposes. Everything from the root, to the bark, to the leaves, to the fruit could aid people in treating diverse sicknesses. One very well known over the counter drug used today is Aspirin, but before that there was just plain Willow bark. Both Willow and Alder bark have anti-inflammatory and fever reducing properties thanks to a compound called salicin. This natural substance from the Earth is what brought upon the synthesized version that aids us today in helping to reduce inflammation. Many of our modern medicines were inspired and evolved from plant medicine, and many forms of plant medicine are still used today by many in many different forms such as tinctures, oils, tea, and more.
Sassafras - Root Beer and MDA
If you've ever chipped up a Sassafras tree before your nostrils have been graced with the familiar smell of root beer, and that's for good reason. The roots of Sassafras are used in the making of root beer! But this tree gets even wilder! The oil of this tree called safrole can also be found in the drug MDA, which causes hallucinations! This would be a perfect example of how not ALL parts of every tree or plant are created equal when it comes to its properties, uses, and safety warnings. When working with the SAME tree we can get a very tasty beverage safe for all ages, and then a trippy drug most of us would not want to mess with due to all the side effects and dangers involved.
And there you have it. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to starting to see trees for more than just shade and dollar signs when we remove them. Understanding all that they offer us can start to change the way we look at them, value them, and treat them. The next time you climb into a tree take a moment to acknowledge everything that it holds within it, and if you have the opportunity to save a tree versus remove it, try to offer it a few more years of good health in return for everything it has to offer you.
*** Please note not all trees, plants, or differing parts of the same tree / plants are created equal and it is VERY important to properly research and identify each plant / tree and their properties before doing ANYTHING with them! ALWAYS do your own plant identification and research before ingesting or using ANY plants / trees for anything outside of landscaping.