The holiday season has ended and soon Christmas trees and Pine garlands will be languishing on the curb waiting for trash day. Before tossing your festive Fir away, read on to learn how you can give it a delicious second life as herbal medicine. As with many seasonal traditions, the use of Evergreens has a long history and colorful lore. They were thought to be protective from ill wishes, their "ever-green" nature was seen as a representation of eternal life, and they helped to freshen up the stagnant, unpleasant air inside ancient winter homes. The core reason for their use, Evergreens are one of the few medicinal plants available in the winter. Their medicinal properties correspond nicely to their traditional and folklore uses. Evergreen conifers have many medicinal properties.
A good source of vitamin C.
Relieve sinus congestion
Loosen and clear chest congestion
A circulatory stimulant
Warm up cold, creaky joints
Analgesic in nature
Promote a clear yet relaxed mental state
A word of caution; before using any plant material be sure to properly identify it, confirm that it is safe to consume, and make sure it has not been sprayed with chemicals or pesticides. If you are foraging for your plant material do so in a respectful way. Never taking too much from a single tree or a single part of the tree.
Common conifers that are considered edible:
Pine (Pinus spp.)
Fir (Abies spp.)
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
Spruce (Picea spp.)
Best used externally:
Cedar (Thuja plicata)
Yew (Taxus spp.), can be deadly
Pine Needle Tea
This is an easy and delicious way to benefit from Pine's vitamin C content and its congestion clearing abilities. You can add lemon slices for additional vitamin C and honey to help soothe a scratchy throat.
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh pine needles
8 ounces of hot water
Allow the pine needles to steep 10-15 minutes.
Add the additional lemon or honey if desired.
If you're feeling chilled and sore after a day of winter activities take an Evergreen bath. This will stimulate circulation, warm the extremities, and ease achy joints.
1/2 cup of fresh chopped pine, fir or cedar needles
Small muslin bag
Add the fresh needles to a muslin bag. Tie the bag to the tub spout allowing hot water to run through the plant material as the bath fills up. Once the bath is full allow the muslin bag to float in the water. For extra muscle relaxation add several cups of Epsom salts to your bath.
Conifer Herbal Steam
This simple herbal technique is magical if you're struggling with sinus or chest congestion.
Fill a large pot with water and the needles of pine, spruce or fir. The ratio is 1-2 tablespoons of stripped needles per 1 cup of water. Do I measure it out? No. Just add a bunch of pine needles until you have a very aromatic steam. Bring the pot to a boil. Allow to cool slightly and pour everything into a heatproof bowl. Lean over the bowl and breathe in the aromatic steam. To make this more effective drape a towel over your head and the bowl to trap in the steam. Breathe the steam for 10-15 minutes
This is one of my favorite uses of spruce. An oxymel uses vinegar, usually apple cider vinegar, to extract the medicinal properties of a plant. Vinegar is especially good at extracting the vitamins and minerals present in conifers like pine and spruce. Spruce oxymel can be taken like a tincture, using a few drops on the tongue. It is delicious added to hot water as tea, mixed with seltzer or used in cocktails. Let your imagination run wild.
1 large handfuls conifer (pine, spruce, fir) needles
1 cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup honey, or to taste
Roughly chop the conifer needles and add to a sterilized glass pint jar. Pour in the vinegar, stirring with a spoon handle to release air bubbles and moisten all the needles. Leave at least 1/4 in of headspace and make sure the needles are completely submerged. Cover the jar with a plastic lid and store in a cool, dark place for 2 to 4 weeks, shaking it daily, making sure the needles stay submerged. Strain the mixture and discard the solids. Combine the strained vinegar and honey in a sterilized jar or bottle, cover with a nonreactive lid, and shake to combine. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.
Cedar Disinfecting Steam
Cedar has long been used clean the air energetically and its volatile oils are anti-microbial. Use this steam whenever your home needs to be freshened up.
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons of fresh or dried cedar leaves
Place the water and cedar leaves into a pot with the lid off. Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer for 15-20 minutes. The steam will carry the antimicrobial oils from the cedar into the air in your house. Turn off the heat, let the cedar tea sit on the stove until it is cool, then pour it into your bath or pour it into your garden.