Harvest Medicinal Trees in Your Backyard

Look up to find healing remedies in the canopy overhead.

The harvest from one yellow birch branch.

As a child, I spent many afternoons scaling the white pines my father had planted in our backyard. Decades later, when I bought my first home, my dad set to planting trees right away, including a weeping willow by the creek in our front yard. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree: My daughter spent her youngest years learning to climb in the low branches of that willow. Those white pines and that willow are now towering giants. Watching a tiny sapling grow into a massive being is deeply satisfying.

When we think of healing plants, our minds gravitate toward the plants growing at our feet — the garden herbs, weeds, and woodland plants of the forest floor — but there’s a veritable treasure trove of healing remedies towering above. Humans have been harvesting and using medicine from trees for millennia, and medicinal trees and shrubs probably already grow near where you live. Perhaps you’re already able to identify the trees in your midst, and you merely need to learn their medicinal qualities and how to harvest them.

With a pruning saw, harvest limbs that are 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Harvesting Tree Medicine

Ethically gathering medicine from trees has its advantages — with their larger stature, it’s easier to collect a sizable amount of medicine from trees without hurting them. Be sure you have permission or the legal right to harvest. Avoid roadways, railways, power lines, and any other areas that may have been sprayed with herbicide. Only harvest from tree species that are both locally abundant and widely distributed. Be 100 percent sure of your identification before harvesting! There are poisonous shrubs and trees. Two examples are yew (Taxus spp.) and oleander (Nerium oleander). Be sure to use scientific names, as common names can be misleading. For example, desert willow (Chilopsis spp.) is not a true willow (Salix spp.) — the two trees are unrelated and possess different medicinal uses.

Saw off side branches into workable sections.

7/21/2019 9:36:28 PM

When harvesting fallen limbs you should also consider collecting the lichens attached to the limb as well. You most likely will encounter Usnea, a useful medicinal in its own right.



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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