It is the last Friday of the month… our ‘Five Things Friday’ AND, it is Arbor Day! So today we want to celebrate by sharing five of our favorite Pacific Northwest native trees to include (or keep) in your landscape, and why we love them. Read on, some of their uses may surprise you!
All of these trees have medicinal properties but we aren’t going to go into great detail on preparations, precautions, and administration. It is important to seek out the advice of an experienced herbalist and your healthcare provider. Do your research! See below for a link to our favorite resource.
1 – Madrona (Arbutus menziesii), aka Madrone or Pacific Madrone
- unique shape and beautiful color
- draws in the birds
- edible and medicinal
- hard wood
Our landscape is scattered with the beautiful twisted trunks and broad glossy leaves of the madronas. My favorites are the two that tower on the hillside right out front. The evening sun lights up the peeling ochre trunks with golden light and they are stunning, especially after a rain.
In spring, the canopies are full of clusters of cream-colored blossoms that the Band-Taled Pigeons just adore. The flocks come every year to enjoy the sweet nectar of these flowers.
Native Americans would eat the uncooked fruit of these trees, which are said to be anywhere between sweet and bleh, and full of seeds. Maybe they would make a nice jam.
The leaves of the madrona tree have been used medicinally to treat acute bladder infections caused by binging and the consumption of foods that turn the urine alkaline. Another medicinal use is as a sitz bath for postpartum mothers and also vaginitis, bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infection.
2 – Red Alder (Alnus rubra) and Alder in general (Alnus spp.)
- nitrogen fixer
- deciduous color
- mushroom logs
- erosion control
Alder is a pioneer species that many around here almost consider a weed. You have no idea how many times I have been asked when I am taking down the alder that resides on the edge of our garden. I’m not taking it down! Years ago, when we worked for the Washington Conservation Corps, we would go out and collect cones from the fallen alder trees with resulting bags full of the seed to scatter on disturbed hillsides for soil building and erosion control.
Digging through the garden I can recognize the roots from the alder tree because of the clusters of nitrogen nodules. Free fertilizer! Like many other nitrogen fixing plants, alder has a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that has the ability to pull nitrogen from the air. The nitrogen is fixed underground on the plant’s roots as clusters of tiny round nodules for the tree, and then succession plants, to use. Alders can produce between 120 and 290 pounds of nitrogen per acre annually, according to Wikipedia.
They don’t give a ton of fall color, but they do provide a beautiful flush of bright green to our coniferous landscape in the spring that I appreciate.
They are also great for mushroom farming. A few springs ago, we harvested alder from our woodlot to be inoculated with three varieties of shiitake mushrooms. We’ve been enjoying those mushrooms for a couple years now and will continue to do so for years to come.
We have not yet used alder medicinally, but according to Michael Moore in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific Northwest, it can be used to improve food absorption and fat metabolism.
3 – Willow (Salix spp.)
- rooting aid
- erosion control
- easy to grow
This is another native tree that we first became familiar with while working for the Washington Conservation Corps.
New growth shoots of this tree would be harvested and cut into 12-18 inch sections for two purposes. The sections can be used as stakes in hillsides, sometimes by themselves, sometimes to hold down other materials. They easily take root to grow a new tree/shrub and help with erosion control. The same constituent that allows them to root so easily is the reason that we would use them to make a rooting tea to help in transplanting other native plants. Fill a five-gallon bucket with sections of willow, add water and allow to steep for twenty-four hours or so. We would then use the resulting ‘tea’ when transplanting other plants in the landscape to give them a boost in establishing their root system.
Willow bark is a natural, and some say more gentle, alternative to aspirin. The dried bark is used to make a pain relieving tea that may be a bit bitter to drink but reportedly works best topically anyway by soaking a cloth in the tea and applying it to the area in need of pain relief.
There are many decorative varieties of willow. We have a corkscrew willow in our landscape that we are able to coppice each year (cut nearly to the ground). The twisty branches are used in bouquets, wreaths, and whatever else inspires. To propagate, all you need to do is cut a branch in early spring and stick it in moist ground. Before long the buds will swell, the plant will begin to grow, and voila, you have a new tree! These are easy to grow and would make a nice gift for a gardening friend.
4 – Wild Cherry, aka Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
- edible fruit
- seasonal beauty
- draws in wildlife
During our time living in Montana, we would harvest the chokecherries, which were wild and plentiful, and preserve them as syrup for our pancakes, waffles, and ice cream, yum!
Now we have a beautiful purple chokecherry in our garden to enjoy. The leaves come out bright green in the spring and mature to a beautiful deep purple as the season progresses. The show doesn’t stop there. Fall brings out a bright orange in the leaves, making this shrub an almost year-round interest.
The clusters of white flowers turn to beautiful dark chokecherries that we can harvest and use, if we beat the birds to them, that is. Either way, whether we get to enjoy the fruit, or the wildlife that it draws in, this tree makes an enjoyable and easy to grow addition to the edible landscape.
Medicinally, wild cherry can be used as a respiratory sedative for acute conditions.
We’ve saved our most favorite for last,
5 – Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)
- cultural history
- fibrous bark
- natural insect repellant
- building material
We couldn’t put together a list of our favorite trees without including the Western Red Cedar. With its antifungal and antibacterial properties, its ability to stimulate innate immunity scavenging, and being naturally insect repellant and rot resistant, our native cedar tree has many uses.
This magnificent tree was central to the indigenous cultures of this area. It not only had religious meaning to them, they used it for many of their basic needs. The wood of the western red cedar was used for canoes and carvings, its bark for basketry and clothing, its various parts for medicine, and so much more. I remember sitting in Washington State history class in school, learning how the bark would be twisted into a strong rope after being peeled off the trunk in long strips.
This last winter was the first time we really started working with cedar medicinally. We used a small amount of the collected tips, along with a selection of garden-grown herbs, in a wonderfully bright PNW ‘Winter Day’ herbal tea blend. Very pleasant, and nice to have on hand for the gloomy Pacific Northwest winter days, especially when there are cold and flu viruses going around due to its antibacterial and immunostimulant properties.
Our first ever batch of home-distilled essential oil was using Western Red Cedar tips. The resulting essential oil and hydrosol has a surprisingly floral scent, quite different than the scent of the aromatic wood. We are using the hydrosol as a spray for a room disinfectant and freshener, and sampling the essential oil in various aromatherapy blends.
This spring, we are putting some nice cedars from our woodlot to use in the construction of split rail arbor gates for around the farm. The rot resistant wood is long-lasting and definitely a material of choice in the wet Pacific Northwest. Not only for fence posts, the wood is widely used for deck material and roofing shingles as well.
If you have the room, reserve some space for a few western red cedars around your place. You may not be able to use them as building material in your lifetime, but they will be valuable to future generations. And with their historical significance, they merit a place in your landscape.
Get out there and plant a tree!
Whether it is an apple tree or a magnificent cedar, planting a tree is investing in future generations. It is a way of saying that you have faith and hope in what is to come. In many cases, the tree you plant will be around long after you are gone. The trees you plant may be harvested by your grandchildren, or maybe by someone you will never know, either way, they are sure to be grateful for your forethought.
About the Medicinal Qualities of these Trees
For more information on each of these trees, and how they can be used medicinally, check out Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. This is an affiliate link, please see the full disclosure down below.
This is not a sponsored post, but it does contain affiliate links. Why? Because we actually use this stuff and think you will find it useful too.
How it works…
If you click on the link and make a resulting purchase, we get a small percentage which is one way to support this blog and keep the info coming! (The price you pay is not increased.) In this case, we recommend this book because it is on our bookshelf and one that we value and use regularly. We will never promote an item that we do not use ourselves and fully support. This is one way we are compensated for the time it takes to put this blog together. The other is just the good feeling of helping out and connecting with like-minded folks. Otherwise, I would be out there gardening. 😉
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PNW from Scratch is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
Now that that is over with… back to the fun stuff.
We would love to hear from you!
Are you planting a tree this Arbor Day? What kind, and why did you choose it? Were you surprised by any of the uses of these native trees?