07 August 2017
Evergreen Medicine in Summer
At the height of summer, it seems the whole world is lush and verdant. This is a good time to think about evergreens. Yes, evergreens. We tend to pay attention to them only during the winter, as we decorate our homes for the holidays. But evergreens are year-round allies; they are edible and can be used for medicine.
It may sound odd that you can eat your Christmas tree, but you actually can. The idea of eating evergreens may also sound odd because the hemlock tree is an evergreen, and most of us have heard of “poison hemlock”. This is one of those instances where the common name is misleading; the two are completely unrelated botanically.
Poison hemlock is actually in the umbelifers family, with the highly divided leaves of carrot or parsley. It’s an annual with a white flower and it dies back in winter. The tree is entirely different.Poison hemlock is actually in the umbelifers family, with the highly divided leaves of carrot or parsley. It’s an annual with a white flower and it dies back in winter. The tree is entirely different.
Granted that the yew tree, an evergreen, is an ornamental and is toxic, most common and wild evergreens are edible, including hemlock (tsuga genus), pine (pinus genus), juniper (juniperus genus) and cedar (cedrus genus). The evergreens’ leaves are a rich source of vitamin C—very useful in the winter. It’s said that Native Americans showed settlers how to eat evergreen needles to prevent scurvy.
While you can harvest the needles at any time of year, they are most tender and delicious—with a nice, sour tang—during spring and summer. Mid-summer, when the season’s growth at the tips is 3-6 inches long, is the best time to harvest for making medicine. Make sure to harvest on a dry day when it hasn’t rained the night before (the second dry day in a row) in the afternoon, after the morning dew has dried. If there is moisture on the leaves, it can contribute to mold forming during processing.
Evergreen oil is excellent massage oil and particularly nourishing for breast massage. The oil is analgesic (pain killing), antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-tumor.
To make evergreen oil, harvest the tips and stuff them into a jar. Fill the jar with good, organic olive oil, cap and let it sit for 6 weeks, occasionally poking the plant material down and topping off with olive oil.
Although you may be distracted by showier foliage, don’t overlook the evergreens during the warmer months. These stalwart plant allies are there for us throughout the year.