Bark, Roots and Buds

The seasonal rounds begin in February and March when the Pacific Chorus Frog begins its song. At this time I am thinking about the last of the winter harvests of Devil’s Club and Oregon grape root and bark, and looking for downed trees and branches of black cottonwood for their wonderful resinous buds.  I use these for teas, tinctures and salves, often in combination with other plants, which I use and share year-round for infections and supporting the immune system. In particular I have been called to gather Devil’s Club for the tribal communities I work with, we use it on canoe journey for salves, and throughout the year as a tea to aid with diabetes and as a general tonic. The salves we make from cottonwood bud, Oregon grape and devil’s club are miracle salve for the skin; protecting, healing, soothing.

Devils club in late spring with heavily armed stalks protecting unfurling new leaves  (Oplopanax horridus, Photo by Heidi Bohan)

I love these winter and early spring gatherings, often in solitude. There is so much to see and hear in the forests at this time, the song and calls of winter wren, thrush and chickaree, the thumping of pileated woodpecker in the distance, the chorus of frogs rising and falling silent, and the dripping of rain boughs above.  Walks along the flood strewn shores of snow laden rivers, scrambling over log jams seeking sticky buds  which protect the baby leaves and new flowers of the great cottonwoods trees, with a balsamiferous smell that calls to people across time, childhood memories and the ancient oils of the Meditteranean.

Black cottonwood leaf buds and stems protected by resins which allow for early leaf growth; the resins are also medicine for people (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa; photos by Heidi Bohan)

The amazing smell of these barks, roots and buds as they are gathered and prepared are each so distinctive, each with their own medicine. Soon lost to the air, so they need to be held in oils and alcohol, or revitalized in teas, dried slowly so they hold as much medicine as possible, processsed carefully to use as much of the plant medicine as possible.


 The sori on the back fronds of the licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrriza; photos by Heidi Bohan).

I also came upon some Licorice Fern on some fallen trees along the river, and captured an image of their distinctive sori which are present this time of year. The roots from licorice fern are a sweet/ bitter snack, and medicine for the throat. Native grandmothers tell of keeping a jar of dried roots to chew on to help heal an upset stomach. I use it in a honey syrup to help soothe a throat and remember my winter gathering walks.

Snoqualmie tribal elder preparing Oregon grape bark; Below: Salve-making in progress using cottonwood bud, devil’s club and Oregon grape.

March, 2011


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