Tree Medicine: Connecting Heaven and Earth
Robin DiPasquale, ND, RH(AHG)
A pure and simple tree… Its connection with the earth and movement toward heaven are witness to the bodymindspirit, that is, a composite of the forces of heaven and earth within the human being.
When exploring the medicinal uses of trees, we weave together the many facets that are included in healing the body, mind and spirit. The ancient beliefs and symbolism of trees, from many cultures, represents the roots of the trees, that of the physical, the body, connected to the earth. The understanding of the pharmacognosy of the chemical compounds found in trees, plus the relatively new knowledge of gemmotherapy and their regenerative potential both link the healing of the body and the mind. The subtle and etheric medicine of flower essences and tree essences represents the incorporation of healing on the level of the spirit. The healing on the spiritual level can also come through the use of the distilled essential oils, and of course, homeopathy, which both merit a writing of their own.
Trees offer their medicine from various parts of themselves. In some genus classifications, like Salix spp (willow), Prunus spp (cherry), and Ulmus spp (elm), the bark or inner cambium is used. In others, including Boswellia spp (frankincense), Commiphora spp (myrrh), and Pinus spp (pine), it is the oozing life blood, the sap, that brings the medicinal actions. We use the leaves, galls, acorns and bark of Quercus spp (oak), and both the flowers and berries of Crataegus spp (hawthorn). Tree nuts are incorporated as food, like Prunus dulcis (almonds), Carya illinoensis (pecans), Corylus avellana (hazelnuts), and Juglans spp (walnuts), but these nut-bearing trees also provide potent medicinal remedies. The oil pressed from the fruit of Olea europaea (olive) has been a mainstay of life-giving energy throughout the Mediterranean, and currently throughout the world, with contemporary herbal medicine showing the medicinal value of its leaves.
Edward Bach devoted the latter part of his life to unfolding the healing properties of the flower essences, many being from the trees. This level of understanding is being reproduced in more recent times with the exploration of the tree essences. From my perspective, the weaving of all these parts of tree medicine – physical, emotional, and spiritual – come through beautifully in the gemmotherapy remedies. Prepared from the buds and new growth of plants, many being the trees, these remedies capture the healing properties of all parts of the plant still held in the embryonic state, the potential of that plant’s unfolding medicine.
In this month’s column, we’ll look at a collection of trees, exploring the mind-body dimensions of the medicine that these majestic beings bring to our repertory of healing. The remedies chosen are found in both the Bach Flower Essence materia medica and that of gemmotherapy.
Fagus sylvatica, Beech
According to the teachings of Dr. Bach, a person needing beech can be judgmental and critical toward others, harsh and blaming, and always focusing on what is wrong with a person or situation. This outer projection of negativity is stemming from an inner state of insecurity and vulnerability. There is an intolerance of situations and people that are less than perfect, and a projection that the problem lies outside of themselves. The tree essence can bring a more easeful sense within the person, more self-confidence, and with less need to act out any insecurity toward others.
The gemmotherapy is used to stimulate the immune system. Fagus gemmo will increase the liver’s ability to make gamma globulins, therefore it is applied to conditions where immunoglobulin production is low and the immune system has diminished function. Examples would be diminished secretory IgA along the digestive tract compromising gut function, as occurs in food intolerance, or the situation of someone with recurrent viral infections, unable to effectively produce IgG and IgM antibodies. Energetically, beech is called the Ignatia of gemmotherapy, a remedy for grieving, mourning, and sadness.
Aesculus hippocastanum, Horse Chestnut
Edward Bach discussed 3 different essences using Aesculus spp, both the bud and flowering stages of Aesculus hippocastanum (white chestnut), and the flowering stage of Aesculus carnea (red chestnut), which he says the latter is more delicate and less robust than the white chestnut. When the buds of Aesculus hippocastanum are used it is referred to as chestnut bud and when the flowers are used it is referred to as white chestnut. All 3 have an aspect of obsessive-compulsive behavior. The chestnut bud is needed by someone who is not able to pay attention in life, who makes the same mistakes over and over again, and is not able to pause to reflect what is to be learned from a situation. The white chestnut flower is needed by someone who has obsessive thoughts, a constant inner dialogue, an inner worrisome mind, is unable to be present in daily life, and is often unable to sleep because of this inner mind chatter. The red chestnut flower is also about excessive worry, but this is directed toward the well-being of others, with ongoing concern, fear, and worry for others, being overly sympathetic with others, and often taking on the emotions of others. The tree essence brings grounding, diminishing the vata dominance, and easing the obsessive mind activity.
The gemmotherapy of Aesculus has similar applications as the homeopathic remedy, with a focus on portal circulation and the venous system; it is a good venous tonic. The gemmo is used at the physical level to strengthen the venous system and improve overall circulation, and is especially effective in treating varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Although less explored, using the horse chestnut gemmo may also be applied to the mental/emotional imbalances related to obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Juglans regia, Walnut
The walnut flower essence supports times of major transitions. It is useful when someone is moving forward to a new place in life – changing jobs, living situations, relationships ending or beginning, birth or death – and is hesitant to let go of old influences or patterns. Walnut can help to link someone to clarify and solidify their inner sense of purpose during times of change, diminishing any wavering thoughts or doubts about moving toward the next phase in their life. It is strengthening one’s own sense of self, differentiating it from the influence of others, and allowing forward movement.
In gemmotherapy, walnut works with skin and mucous membranes, influencing the boundaries between the outer environment and inner environment. It also differentiates between self and non-self, and what will be influential. It can assist in rebalancing gut flora, often part of the protocol in cases of dysbiosis. Since many diseases stem from gut dysbiosis, Juglans is used at some point in treatment for an array of disorders, including post-antibiotic use, digestive problems, recurrent urinary tract infections, vaginal candida, and arthritis. It is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and antiparasitic. Juglans regia also works through the pancreas to help regulate blood sugar, and is used particularly in non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.
Quercus robur, English Oak
There are many species of the oak tree. In both the work of Edward Bach and gemmotherapy, it is the Quercus robur, (English oak), a member of the white oak clan, which is utilized. The flower essence of oak reflects the traits of endurance, strength and perseverance. These are all admirable traits, but often with such a sense of duty that it can be at the expense of one’s own well-being. People who would benefit from oak flower essence will strive beyond their own limits, which can lead to exhaustion over time. The learning is about surrender and acceptance of limits, and balancing that sense of duty with an awareness of self-needs.
In gemmotherapy, Quercus robur is used as a general tonic and adrenal tonic. It stimulates the production of 17-ketosteroids, supporting adrenal and reproductive hormone production. Oak can help support the body when overworked and fatigued, relating it to the energetic aspects of the flower essence. Oak gemmo is also used when there is fatigue due to low cortisol levels and issues of reproduction including low libido, low testosterone (men and women), sexual asthenia, and premature ejaculation.
Olea europaea, Olive
The flower essence of olive works with physical and mental exhaustion. This deep fatigue usually occurs after a prolonged period of time when a person has given too much of themselves, and there is nothing left on that level. Some references will say that this signifies a transition from depending on the physical stamina, called to begin tapping into the spiritual dimensions of renewal and restoration. Dr. Bach calls it the regeneration flower, going from exhaustion to inner renewal.
The gemmotherapy of Olea europaea is referred to as the chimney sweep of the arteries. Through its antisclerotic and anti-inflammatory actions, it can decrease depositions of cholesterol and triglycerides. The fibrinolytic action decreases the stickiness of the blood, facilitating flow through the entire circulatory system. Olive also softens the stool, acting like a mild laxative. All of this movement and clearing can bring about increased energy, tying the physical healing of olive with the mental and spiritual dimensions.
Carpinus betulus, Hornbeam
Hornbeam from the flower essence perspective is, like olive, about exhaustion. The distinction is that rather than the deep fatigue from a prolonged period of giving too much of yourself that olive represents, the fatigue of hornbeam is one of lack of enthusiasm and lack of interest for what one does in their daily life. There is a loss of connectedness to daily tasks, leaving them feeling burdened and overwhelmed, what is sometimes referred to as “the Monday-morning feeling.” Hornbeam can bring a newness or freshness, a new approach to daily life, resolving that sense of fatigue. Of course, this is also a sign that a person might need to take a look at their life and make the appropriate changes to align what they do with their passion.
The gemmotherapy of Carpinus betulus links to the respiratory system – our life breath and the cardiovascular system and blood flow – that which carries the life breath throughout the body. Hornbeam is used for all acute and chronic respiratory conditions, including allergies, rhinitis, sinusitis, pharyngitis and bronchitis because it works to rebalance and heal the mucous membranes. Hornbeam gemmo is antihemorrhagic, increasing agglutination through increasing platelet numbers. It can be used to rebuild in thrombopenia.
Malus sylvestris, Crab Apple
According to Dr. Bach’s experience, the flower essence of crab apple is used when there is an exaggerated need for cleanliness and order. There is an aversion to dirtiness in any form, in thought and form, and an intolerance of disorganization, with great attention to the smallest detail, and difficulty accepting imperfection in oneself and in others. Giving the remedy can help to bring into focus an understanding of a higher sense of order, relinquishing the attentiveness to such details on the physical plane.
In gemmotherapy, Malus sylvestris can help detoxification of lymph and blood, creating a cleaning out. It has high antioxidant activity as rated by the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale. It helps improve memory and mental fatigue, and is used as part of the treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and multiple sclerosis. Due to the malic acid component, it is used in musculoskeletal conditions like myalgias and fibromyalgia.1 In the digestive system, crab apple gemmo is used for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulosis, and for constipation, as it can help restore peristaltic action – again, that sense of cleaning out and getting things in order.
Pinus sylvestris, Pine
Those who will benefit from the use of pine flower essence are the people who reproach themselves, blame themselves, and feel responsible for others’ mistakes. There is an extreme sense of guilt, a tendency to apologize frequently, and a sense of being unworthy and undeserving of even having a place in life. Pine flower essence can help someone to define boundaries between self and others, increase self acceptance through recognizing that they deserve to hold a place in life, and feel that they are worthy of love, from themselves and from others. This is a very delicate dance of the psyche, one that should be supported beyond the use of flower essences, perhaps through psychotherapy, myofascial release, cranial sacral therapy, and herbal and homeopathic therapies.
The gemmotherapy of Pinus Montana works with clearing out of the body, through lymph and liver, what is no longer useful and can cause toxicity, leaving a more functional state. It drains joints and removes all heavy metals from the body. It can decrease cholesterol, working through the liver. Pine works with structural aspects, helping people be more structurally sound on many levels, through regeneration of bone and cartilage, and the enhanced function of joints through drainage. Pine can also restimulate remedies that have lost their effectiveness.
Salix vitellina, Willow
Willow is a tree that grows in low-lying wet areas. Willow has the incredible ability to absorb and move great amounts of water between the earth and the heavens, using what it needs for itself along the way. Thomas Cowan tells a story in his book, The Fourfold Path to Healing, about his family moving into a house near a forest and beaver ponds in New Hampshire.3 Being a house in the forest, there was a lack of light, so reluctantly they cut down the large, old willow that guarded the property. The following spring, the basement was flooded, and realizing too late that by downing the willow tree which kept the accumulating water on the move, they removed the source that was preventing the basement from being filled with cold, stagnant water. Cowan likens the medicine of the willow tree to this same action in the body, keeping the fluids moving, preventing stagnation and unhealthy collection in the body, particularly in the joints. Hence the reason willow bark has been taken for rheumatism over the course of history. It was much later that the inflammation-modulating effects of the salicylates were considered.
The flower essence picture of someone in need of willow, according to Dr. Bach, is about resentment and bitterness, stemming from a deep smoldering anger within. There is self-pity, a sense of being a victim of fate, and the feeling of unjust treatment and not getting what they deserve in life, resulting in spitefulness and a grudging feeling. These are all inflammatory emotions, emotions related to stagnation and the development of resistance. The healing energy of willow is taking responsibility for one’s own fate, gaining flexibility, and learning to flow with life in a gentle way, through grace and acceptance.
In gemmotherapy, Salix alba (white willow) is used, which is a different species from the flower essence, yet the energetic aspects are the same – that of increasing the flow. Willow modulates inflammation through salicylic acid. It acts as a diaphoretic and diuretic to move water, and utilizing the action of betulinic acid, works as a depurative, decreasing accumulations in the joints and diminishing the damage and pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Willow also removes heavy metals from the body, especially mercury.
Whether we work with flower essences, tree essences, gemmotherapy, or any other aspect of our naturopathic tool box, understanding how healing occurs on all levels, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, is essential in assisting our patients in unfolding their unique selves, and expressing fully the gifts they have brought forth to this life. Plants, including the trees, continue to offer access to the healing properties we need as human beings to live our potential.
Robin DiPasquale, ND, RH(AHG) earned her degree in naturopathic medicine from Bastyr University in 1995 where, following graduation, she became a member of the didactic and clinical faculty. For the past eight years, she has served at Bastyr as department chair of botanical medicine, teaching and administering to both the naturopathic medicine program and the bachelor’s of science in herbal sciences program. Dr. DiPasquale is a clinical associate professor in the department of biobehavioral nursing and health systems at the University of Washington in the CAM certificate program. She loves plants, is published nationally and internationally, and teaches throughout the U.S. and in Italy about plant medicine. She is an anusara influenced yoga teacher, teaching the flow of yoga from the heart. She currently has a general naturopathic medicine practice in Madison, Wis., and is working with the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Clinic as an ND consultant. Contact: [email protected].
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