20 Medicinal Trees You Can Forage Medicine From

When most people think of herbal medicine they think of herbs, flowers and mushrooms.

But the medicinal trees around us can also be a source of powerful herbal medicine!

Being able to identify medicinal trees and understanding how to use them is incredibly useful because they’re available year-round, unlike herbs that you have to dry or tincture to preserve.

Top 20 medicinal trees and how to forage from them

Knowing the medicinal uses for the trees available around you, year-round is a vital health and survival skill.

Before running to the pharmacy, I always check out the medicinal properties of the trees around me. A lot of them can treat common ailments. Here’s how…

In addition to identifying the medicinal trees around you, you can keep this list and plant specific trees around your property so you’ll be surrounded by medicine year-round for you and your family.

Depending on the time of year, you’ll harvest raw material from different parts of the tree. In the spring and summer the leaves and berries are used – in the winter the bark and the roots are used.

Or simply harvest what’s available, when you want, and dry them for future herbal medicines.

Even the World Health Organization has begun to look at the medical use of herbs of traditional medicines as sustainable and available replacements to pharmaceutical companies.

Foraging Guidelines

This past year I took Herbal Academy’s new botany and wildcrafting course and learned so much about identifying the plant species including tree species and medicinal herbs in the wild, and how to responsibly harvest the alternative medicine Mother Nature has to offer.

I’m all about being a good steward of my land, and that includes when I forage for wild medicine.

If you’re interested in the course, click on the banner below to learn more:

Enroll now in the Mastering Herbal Formulations Course

If you’re not up to taking the course right now, here are some foraging best practices to keep in mind while harvesting from medicinal trees:

  • If at all possible, remove the bark from a dead tree or branch, not on the trunk of the tree because that can introduce disease or pests.
  • Use the rule of thirds: one third for the plant (to reproduce), one third for wildlife and one third to harvest.
  • Verify that the tree you’re harvesting is indeed the tree you mean to harvest. Make sure you’re 100% sure on your identify.
  • Harvest only the trees and the amount you’ll use. Do not waste any.

How to Use Trees to Create Medicine

Before you start harvesting medicine from your trees, check out my post on 13 Things You Need in Your Herbal Apothecary.

To use tree bark, simmer two teaspoons of bark per cup of water for 20 minutes. Strain and drink. The dose is 1/4 cup, taken four times a day with meals.

The tea may be stored in a glass jar with a tight lid, in the refrigerator, for up to one week.

To use leaves – pick in early spring before Summer Solstice. Steep two teaspoons of fresh or dried leaves per cup for freshly boiled water for about 20 minutes.

If you’re making a tea for a wound wash or to add to a bath or foot soak, make the concentration much stronger.

To make a leaf poultice use fresh leaves or dried leaves soaked in hot water. Blend, adding powdered slippery elm bark until you get a thicker consistency.

To make a salve, steep plant material in warm oil for about 20 minutes. Strain. Melt beeswax over a water bath and add 3 Tbsp melted beeswax for every 1 cup of oil.

You can make infused oil by putting the bark and plant material in a glass baking dish and cover with oil – bake at 110 degrees for several hours.

For more a step-by-step guide to creating a tincture, including a free printable checklist, check out my How to Make an Herbal Tincture post.

If some of the herbal actions below are new to you, check out my post 18 Herbal Actions and How to Use Them.

And before you take a look at these trees, consider adding them to your own Materia Medica. For more info on how to create a Materia Medica, check out my post.

Medicinal Trees and How to Use Them

how to use alder tree medicinally

1. Alder

Alder tea can be used to wash wounds. It is astringent and will help pull the edge of a wound together.

The leaves and bark can be made into a tea that will benefit tonsillitis and fever.

The leaves are also used in poultices to dry up breast milk.

Fresh alder sap can be applied to any area to relieve itching.

how to use apple trees medicinally

2. Apple

The bark of the root of apple trees is used for fevers. Apples are rich in magnesium, iron, potassium, and Vitamins C, B and B2.

When peeled, they relieve diarrhea. Stewed unpeeled apples are a laxative.

Eating apples regularly promotes restful sleep.

Baked apples can be applied warm as a poultice for sore throats and fevers.

Apple cider is important in this time of antibiotics, which destroy the intestinal flora.

Raw, unpasteurized apple cider will restore the correct bacteria to the bowels after a course of antibiotics.

Apples reduce acidity in the stomach and help to clean the liver.

Add garlic and horseradish to apple cider to clear the skin. Use the mixture as a wash externally and take it internally as a drink.

how to use ash trees medicinally

3. Ash

Ash is a tall tree whose compound leaves are composed of five to nine, or seven to eleven leaflets.

Its bark is very tightly and regularly furrowed, and its winged, canoe-paddle-shaped seeds, called keys, hang in clusters until they are brown and drop off in the fall.

The tender new spring growth of the twig tips and leaves can be simmered to make a laxative tea that will benefit gout, jaundice, and rheumatism.

4. Beech

Beech trees have a distinctive, smooth gray bark that resembles the skin of an elephant.

The bark is used as a tea for lung problems, including tuberculosis.

It is also cleansing to the blood, through pregnant women should avoid it.

Beech bark tea make a good wash for poison ivy.

Beech leaves are used in poultices for burns and for frostbite.

how to use birch tress medicinally

5. Birch

Birch trees have thin papery bark that peels easily — so easily that birds actually use it to build their nests.

It can range in color from chalky white and reddish brown to golden gray and yellow.

The sweet birch {black birch} and yellow birch both have a nice wintergreen flavor in their twigs and bark.

Birch leaf or twig tea is a laxative, and healing to mouth sores, kidney and bladder sediments, and gout.

The tea also help rheumatic pains.

Make a strong decoction of the twigs, bark and leaves and add it to the bath for relief of eczema, psoriasis, and other moist skin eruptions.

Modern medicine has recently confirmed that betulinic acid, formed in birch sap, has anti-tumor properties that help fight cancer.

Botany & Wildcrafting Course by Herbal Academy

6. Cedar

The northern white cedar is an evergreen with a branched trunk, conical shape, and flat scale-like leaves. It has reddish brown bark that hangs in hairy shreds.

Another name for the tree is Arborvitae, or “tree of life,” a name given to it by the French explorer Jacques Cartier after it saved his crew from scurvy.

A tea is made from the leaves and twigs, and is very high in Vitamin C.

Among the Algonquin it is considered a sacred tree, and they will not perform a ceremony without it.

Its branches are used on the floor of sweat lodges, and it is dried and burned as an incense because it harmonizes the emotions and put one in the proper state of mind for prayer.

The tea of the twigs and branches is simmered until the water in the pot begins to turn brown.

It is then used for fevers, rheumatic complaints, chest colds and flu.

how to use elder tree medicinally

7. Elder

Elder trees (sambucus nigra) are quite small.

They have clusters of white flowers in spring and black or deep purple berries in fall.

They thrive in damp, moist areas.

Elderberries are used to make preserves, pies, and wine.

Taken as a tea, either fresh or dried, the berries benefit the lungs and nourish the blood.

Elderberry syrup has been proven to prevent and shorten the length of the common cold and flu.

Check out my post for step-by-step instructions on how to make your own elderberry syrup.

Elder trees played an important role in traditional medicine as contested by the myth and folklore about elder trees, which speaks to their importance in human culture.

The young leaves of elder are used in salves and poultices for skin healing due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

A root bark tea clears congestion, eases headaches, and is used in poultices for mastitis.

A tincture of the flowers lowers fever by promoting perspiration.

Elderflowers water is a traditional remedy for skin blemishes and sunburn.

Cold elderflower tea is placed on the eyes as a soothing compress for inflammation.

Elderflower oil makes a soothing balm for sore nipples of nursing mothers.

8. Slippery Elm

Slippery elm is a medium-sized tree with grayish bark, usually found near streams.

Unlike the American elm its crown does not droop.

Its leaves are also larger than the American elm’s with coarsely toothed margins.

The inner bark of the slippery elm, which is sticky and fragrant when fresh, is used medicinally.

Slippery Elm bark is available in dried and powdered forms from herbalists.

It is made into paste with water and then applied as a poultice to injuries of flesh and bone, on gunshot wounds, ulcers, tumors, swellings, chilblains, and on the abdomen to draw fever out.

Slippery elm is very high in calcium, and a pudding or tea of the bark can be ingested to help speed bone healing.

The powdered bark in water makes a jelly that soothes bowel and urinary problems, sore throats, and diarrhea.

It makes a perfect substitute milk for babies who are allergic to cow’s milk.

Try adding a little lemon and honey for flavor.

how to forage hawthorn for medicinal use

9. Hawthorn

Hawthorn is a small, broad, round, and dense tree with thorns and edible red fruits.

The fall berries and spring new leaves and flowers make a cardiac tonic that benefits virtually all heart conditions.

Be aware, however: prolonged used does cause the blood pressure to drop.

Use it for a few weeks and then take a week off to prevent a precipitous decrease in blood pressure.

Use caution when combining this herb with other heart medications to prevent a sudden drop in blood pressure.

For maximum benefit eat fresh raw garlic as you undergo a hawthorn regime.

10. Hazel

Is a small tree with small rounded nuts that grow two to four in a cluster.

Hazel twigs are traditionally used by dowers to find hidden sources of water.

Hazel nuts are said to benefit the kidneys.

Indigenous peoples use hazel in many traditional uses.

Huron herbalists used the bark in poultices for tumors and ulcers.

The Iroquois mixed the nut oil with bear’s grease to make mosquito repellent.

The Chippewa used a decoction of hazel root, white oak root, chokecherry bark, and the heartwood of ironwood for bleeding from the lungs.

11. Holly

Mountain Holly is a small tree with oval, fine saw-toothed leaves and large orange berries.

The buds were twigs that were used by native peoples herbalists in decoctions and as an external wash for ulcers, herpetic eruptions, jaundice, fever and diarrhea.

The leaves alone were used as beverage tea. English holly of European holly is a familiar evergreen usually seen as decoration at Yuletide.

It has spiny, elliptical leaves and shiny red berries.

The leaves can be used as a tea substitute and in infusions for coughs, colds and flu.

Be aware: the berries of all holly varieties are strongly purgative.

12. Linden and Basswood

Linden is a large tree found in moist, rich soils near other hardwoods.

It has a heart-shaped leaves with toothed margins.

The bark is dark gray, and its fruit is nut-like, downy, and pea-sized.

It has clusters of yellowish-white fragrant flowers in the spring.

Basswood, or American linden, is a close relative.

Linden flower tea is a popular beverage in Europe for nervous headaches and upset digestion, hysteria, nervous vomiting, and heart palpitations.

Linden flower tea can also be added to baths to calm the nerves.

Linden flower honey is prized for medicinal use.

Native American herbalists used the roots and bark of basswood for burns and the flower tea for epilepsy, headache, spasm, spasmodic cough, and general pain.

The buds were eaten as famine food, and the bark was pounded and added to soups.

13. Maple

Maples are large trees with deeply lobed, toothed leaves.

The bark of the younger tress is gray and smooth, on older trees it breaks into ridges and fissures.

Maples have winged seeds that hang in cluster of two.

The Ojibwa and the Cherokee made a decoration of the inner bark or red maple to use as a wash for sore eyes.

The leaves of striped maple were used to poultice sour breasts.

A decoration of inner bark of sugar maple was used for diarrhea.

Native Americans used striped maple bark in poultices for swollen limbs, and as a tea for kidney infections, coughs, colds, and bronchitis.

Young maple leaves can be made into massage oil that will be soothing to sore muscles.

14. Oak

Oaks are large trees with lobed leaves and acorns topped by bowl-shaped caps.

The best oak for internal use is white oak, though all oaks are valuable as external washes.

The tannins in oak bark and leaves are helpful in pulling the edges of a wound together and is antiseptic and antiviral.

White oak bark tea is used for chronic diarrhea, chronic mucus discharges, and piles.

It makes a nice gargle for sore throats and wash for skin problems such as poison ivy, burn and wounds.

The tea of the leaf of the bark may be used by women as a douche for vaginitis.

Use caution: Prolonged ingestion of oak is potentially harmful.

15. Pine

All pines are evergreens, with needles that grow in soft, flexible clusters.

Pine trees are revered worldwide as healing agents.

Any pine, or other evergreen such as spruce, larch, and cedar, will have antiseptic properties useful as a wound wash.

The most palatable pine for internal use is the white pine.

Its needles and twigs are simmered into a tea that is rich in Vitamin C.

The tea is used for sore throats, coughs, and colds.

Chinese herbalists boil the knot of the wood because of the concentrated resins found there.

Pine baths aid kidney ailments, improve circulation, and are relaxing to sore muscles.

The aroma of pine is soothing to the nerves and lungs.

Pine tea make a wonderful foot bath.

16. Poplar

Poplars are distinguished by their drooping catkins and rounded leaves with pointed tips.

Balsam poplar was used by Native American herbalists who scored the bark and applied the resinous gum to toothaches and swellings.

The sticky spring buds were gathered in May and used in salves for skin problems, sprains, sore muscles, wounds, headaches, tumors, eczema, bruises, gout, and on the chest for lung ailments and coughs.

The buds were decocted and used internally for phlegm, kidney and bladder ailments, coughs, scurvy, and rheumatic pains.

The root was combined with the root of white poplar in a decoction to stop premature bleeding in pregnancy.

The warmed juice of white poplar was dropped into sore ears.

Poplar barks are high in salicin, making them useful in treating deep wounds, gangrene, eczema, cancer, burns, and strong body odor.

The inner bark of a young poplar tree is edible in the spring and can be simmered into a tea for liver and kidney ailments.

17. Rowan, or Mountain Ash

The American mountain ash and the European mountain ash have identical uses.

The former has bunches of orange berries that look like tiny apples, and the latter one has red ones.

Both are small, sturdy trees with compound leaves of nine to seventeen leaflets.

Their clusters of white flowers, composed of five petals each, appear in spring.

Rowan berries are bitter, astringent, and very high in Vitamin C.

They should be picked just after the first frost when their color has deepened.

The fresh juice of the berries is added to sore throat gargles, and jelly is made from the berries will treat diarrhea in adults and children.

Rowan berries are added to ales and cordials.

In ancient Scotland, a syrup for coughs and colds was made from rowan berries, apples, and honey.

18. Walnut

Walnut trees are tall and have compound, alternative leaflets.

Their spring flowers are drooping green catkins that mature into large, round nuts covered in green, spongy husks that stain the hands brown when cut open with a knife.

Walnut husks are medicinally active. They are anti-fungal and rich in manganese, a skin-healing agent.

Gather them when fresh, and rub directly onto ringworm.

The tea of the hull may be used as a douche for vaginitis.

For stubborn old ulcers apply the dried, powdered leaf, and then poultice with fresh green leaves.

Do this for about twenty days, daily.

The leaf tea increases circulation, digestion, and energy.

The fresh bark may be applied to the temples for headache or to teeth to relieve pain.

The dried and powdered bark, or pounded fresh bark, can be applied to wounds to stop swelling and to hasten healing.

For more information on the medicinal benefits of Black Walnut trees, check out my post.

how to use willow medicinally

19. Willow

Willow (salix spp) are a prolific, water-loving tree.

In early spring, willows bloom with golden catkins that mature into small seed capsules in late summer.

All willow barks have salicylic acid, which is a natural form of aspirin.

Harvest the bark in the Spring, just as the leaf buds begin to form, from branches that are 1-3 inches in diameter.

Willow bark tea treats muscle pain and inflammation, diarrhea, fever, arthritic pain, and headache.

Used externally it makes a wash for cuts, ulcers, and poison ivy.

The ancient Greeks used to soak their arthritic joints in willow oil.

Willow bark tea was used by the Cherokee as an anti-diarrheal.

20. Witch Hazel

Native to the Eastern United States, witch hazel is one of the best trees to start foraging.

In November, when all of the other deciduous trees lose their leaves, witch hazel blooms bright yellow, stringy flowers.

In the Spring and Summer, you can identify witch hazel by it’s grayish-brown bark and hazel-like oval-shaped, scalloped leaves.

The bark from young branches and the leaves collected in autumn are used.

Witch hazel is antiseptic, hemostatic, anti-inflammatory and a tonic.

Internally it is used in hemorrhage from the lungs, bowels, uterus, etc. and topically in hemorrhoids, varicose veins, bruises, sprains. etc.

Now that you know how to identify medicinal trees around you and how to ethically harvest natural remedies from them, check out Herbal Academy’s Introductory Herbalism course to take your herbal medicine knowledge to the next level!

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7 Comments

  1. Great article! I would suggest adding Magnolia to this list. That is a great medicinal tree that will help many if/when things go bad. Especially for those with anxiety. Respectfully, The Break Away Homesteader.

  2. I enjoyed this very much when you mentioned the herbal academy that made me more interested most of the trees you mentioned surprised me I knew about pines and willow but that was it great work

  3. Thank you for this. I’ve just had a lovely hour going through your list with my daughter. She is into foraging and we wild school. She is 9 years old and will be using a lot of this information for her ongoing story about a group of wolves who live in North America. Thank you so much. Best wishes from UK.

    1. Yes! I love pulling up sassafras saplings and chewing on them while I walk around the farm or on a hike!

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