Mother Nature, with her multifarious organisms and ecosystems, is a complex, interwoven tapestry comprised of the countless interrelationships between all living things.
Gaia herself is akin to a living symphony. She is a gestalt consisting of a complex aggregation of myriad biodiverse life forms that are all interconnected with and interdependent upon one another.
Some of the relationships between earth’s species could be considered exploitative, such as predators at the top of the food chain that hunt and consume other species as their prey, or parasites that feed off the bodies of their hosts.
Other relationships, for instant those which exists between most all medicinal mushrooms/mycelium and trees, are much more symbiotic, as both species in the relationship enjoy a mutually beneficial reciprocity.
Because of this intimate, mutualistic connection between medicinal mushrooms and trees; because it is often very helpful for those studying the benefits of herbs to familiarize themselves with an herb’s native habitat and its place and function in nature; and because trees provide mankind and the planet with such a varied assemblage of benefits, it seems most appropriate in this little volume to include an exploration of tree wisdom, tree foods, tree medicines and tree symbolism.
As we delve into this discussion about trees, please bear in mind that the healing powers of medicinal mushrooms are most certainly informed on various levels by the trees with which they are so innately and symbiotically connected.
Wise Ancient Sentinels
Some species of trees, particularly evergreens including the bristlecone Pinus longaeva, are considered to be among the oldest living things on earth.
Just as mycelium is said to be among the largest living things in the world, a few species of trees, such as the giant Sequoias and Redwoods, are also on the short list of the most massive living organisms on the planet. Such trees are tremendous repositories of biomass, each one being an entire ecosystem unto itself which supports a wide variety of other species including birds, mammals, reptiles and insects, by providing them with essentials such as shelter, protection, habitat and food.
One of the ways in which these extremely large trees often reproduce themselves is by sprouting a number of saplings which emerge from the ground in what are called ‘fairy rings’ around the base of a fallen tree.
Rather than being the result of seed germination, which combines the DNA from more than one tree, saplings that grow in a fairy ring are essentially identical clones of the tree whose root system has spawned new growth. Such new saplings are simply offshoots of the same tree, which has not actually died.
What this means is that trees living now may very well have been in existence for thousands upon thousands of years, silently holding vigil as stalwart forest sentinels, gathering and harboring the accumulated wisdom conferred upon them by vast eons of time.
Trees take in carbon dioxide or CO2, while releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. Since all air breathing creatures including humans do the opposite, we have a uniquely symbiotic relationship with trees.
Building Materials and Fuel
Since wood is such a strong, dense, abundant and versatile substance, it is used in the manufacture of many, many things – from buildings, boats, fences and signs, to furniture, weapons, artwork, musical instruments, food utensils, paper, tools and more.
Wood has also been used by people as fuel for both heating and cooking for many thousands of years.
Trees bear a wide variety of tasty and nourishing fruits and nuts which are enjoyed by both wild animals and people alike. Juices pressed from fruits and oils pressed from nuts and seeds are concentrated sources of nutrition.
Some tree flowers are also edible by animals, and flowers also produce nectar which is food for a variety of pollinators including bees, birds, bats, and even some marsupials such as sugar gliders and honey possums.
The sap from maple and birch trees tapped in the spring are mineral rich tonics which when boiled down and reduced make for some of the most nourishing natural sweeteners available.
Trees are also vast storehouses of a variety of different kinds of earth based medicines.
Here are just a few of the natural remedies derived from trees:
pine needle tea – an excellent source of vitamin C
pine pollen – contains bioavailable phyto-androgen compounds beneficial for male sexual health
willow bark – grandmother of aspirin, it contains the analgesic component salicylic acid
cherry bark – famous for its use in cough syrups
slippery elm bark – soothing mucilaginous demulcent for both internal and external use
pau d’arco bark – from South America, known for its anti-fungal properties
eucommia bark – a Chinese adaptogen containing a latex-like substance beneficial for connective tissue
sangre de drago or dragon’s blood – sap of a South American tree excellent for wound care to reduce pain and inflammation and prevent infection
DMSO aka dimethyl sulfoxide – a byproduct of the pulp making industry used for many years by vets topically on racehorses, this liquid is very safe for external use to help reduce inflammation, ease pain and promote healing of muscle aches and strains and join issues such as sprains or arthritis
Trees exude pitch or saps and those particularly of pines, firs or other evergreens are very therapeutic for use in healing skin salves.
Mastic gum is known for its use in the treatment of h. pylori infections, ulcers, and acid reflux, and is also beneficial for oral use in the case of canker sores or gum inflammation.
Several tree resins are renowned for their aromatic and purification qualities when burned or smudged.
The smoke of such resins have long been associated with purification and elevated states of consciousness, and the resins themselves, as well as the essential oils derived from them, have many therapeutic constituents.
With their strong root systems, most trees are firmly rooted in the ground. And at the same time their trunks, limbs and branches reach ever upward toward the sky.
Because of this trees have long symbolized the dualistic connection between the ground and the sky, between the material and the celestial, or between the mundane and the cosmic.
A tree is also familiar to most of us as an ancient symbol of the knowledge of good and evil, as well as the Tree of Life, which represents the interconnectivity of all things and the interface between transcendent and material realms.