I have always been a plant person. I recently came across this meme that explains everything:
Needless to say nurseries, plant sales, seed catalogs, and people that call me up to come pull out their plants are a few of my favorite things. The plant world is my happy place. It should come as no surprise if you have been reading this blog for long that I love growing my own medicinal plants. Here’s the confession: no planting bed is safe, no planting bed is sacred, no planting bed is strictly ornamental. I will put my medicine anywhere and everywhere that my heart and their growing conditions desire/require.
A year ago I listed a few of my favorite annual and perennial herbs for the medicinal herb garden. Now seems the perfect time to talk about my favorite medicinal trees and shrubs! Take a peek and consider adding a few of these valuable plants to your landscape.
10 Medicinal Trees and Shrubs
Elder (Sambucus nigra or canadensis): Full of medicine and magical lore, the elder is one of my favorite plants for the landscape. Black and blue varieties offer cooling, frothy white blooms in the late spring and early summer and delicious, immune boosting berries in the fall. All while being hardly a ho-hum plant. Black Lace elderberry is particularly striking with its purple-black foliage and pinkish blooms, though I am PERFECTLY happy with my native S. nigra var. cerulea as the cornerstone in my front yard. Get a few elders planted now so you can make these elderberry lollipops this fall.
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus): Here is a tale of how medicine might be right out your front door without you even knowing it. Hibiscus family, Rose of Sharon is an ever popular landscaping shrub. Attractive, disease and pest resistant green foliage and the most amazing palm-sized purple flowers are both demulcent, and create soothing mucilage perfect for soothing inflamed throats and digestive tracts, or infusing into oil for a soothing balm. Bonus – the flowers are delicious and can be tossed into salads, decorate a cake, or I plan to fill a few with honeyed mascarpone and pistachios this summer.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium): A favorite municipal planting, it’s likely you’ve seen Oregon Grape, although you might not know what it is. Unless you are in Oregon – in which case you’ve known since like third grade because it is the state flower. Beautiful bronze burgundy and shiny green, holly-like foliage, with vibrant yellow flowers in spring and clusters of bluish black berries midsummer, Oregon Grape has 365 days of interest. I collect the tart and tannic berries to make this berry curd. The root has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and alterative qualities. I personally would wait to harvest any root from the plant until its large and well established in your yard, clearing soil away and just trimming a small amount of root when needed.
Need more convincing that this plant is for you? The sharply toothed foliage is especially unpleasant to get scraped by. This quality making Oregon grape an excellent prowler deterrent near window and porches.
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus): Shockingly beautiful with fragrant perpetual summer blooms in shades of white, pink, and lilac, with grey-green foliage, the chaste tree offers berries in the fall that a favorite for women’s reproductive health. Tolerant of dry soils and heat, it is a favorite substitute in the southwest for lilac.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis spp.): A welcome shock of color for the late winter blues, witch hazels bloom in shades of yellow to fiery red-orange February and March. The leaves and bark are collected to create an astringent extract. This extract can soothe inflamed and irritated external tissues and tone the skin.
Willow (Salix spp.): I would be lying if I said that I didn’t swoon a little every time I pass a weeping willow tree. I mean, how much more dreaming can a tree get? The weeping variety and its willow siblings all contain aspirin-like constituent (in varying amounts) in their bark.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.): Another tree steeped in magical lore, the hawthorn offers creamy white blossoms and green leaves in spring and garnet hued berries in fall. Known primarily as a heart tonic, hawthorn is has a profound affinity for the cardiovascular system. It is even traditionally used for heartache and grief. Or you could make this mead with the hawthorn berries and the next medicinal on the list.
Rose (Rosa spp.): They are ROSES. Drops mic, leaves the stage. More seriously, roses… Just roses. Now that I have established my affection for rose, let me also tell you that roses are sedative, heart-loving, and create the most divine skincare products. I love wild roses like R. nootkana, canina, and rugosa as much if not more than the cultivated varieties. Wild rose varieties offer increased medicinal properties and a much higher likelihood of producing vitamin C packed rose hips in the fall.
Raspberry (Rubus idaeus): What, didn’t know that raspberries were medicinal? In addition to the ubiquitous fruit of summer, raspberry leaves are wonderful for supporting the tone of reproductive and digestive systems. Red raspberry leaf tea is a popular tonic for expectant mothers.
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii): I sure wouldn’t be a Pacific NW girl without mentioning the majestic Douglas fir, but please look into native evergreen firs, pines and spruces for your area. Evergreens offer wonderfully luminescent spring growth loaded with vitamins and minerals. I even have made shortbread and infused eggnog with Douglas fir needles. And we do love this Doug fir tea.
Before you purchase and plant your medicinal trees and shrubs…
A few things worthy of mention… If buying medicinal trees and shrubs from a conventional nursery, wait at least three years from the point you purchase until harvest to avoid any residue from chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When purchasing medicinal tree and shrubs, be sure to check that it is appropriate for your area. We don’t want to be introducing potentially invasive or otherwise undesirable botanicals where they are not welcome. Avoid harvesting from plants in your yard when the soil is contaminated by heavy metals and chemicals. Certain plants are considered soil “mediators”, essentially removing the toxins from the soil and depositing in plant tissues. Only harvest from healthy and well-established plants and practice good harvesting methods. Before purchasing, be sure to check that you have the right growing conditions for your medicinal trees and shrubs.
Did I just forget to add snowball bush aka crampbark, hydrangea and black walnut to the mix? Oh dear… I really could go on forever. I do hope that this post encourages you to plant medicinal trees and shrubs in your landscape!