medicinal trees and their uses - red cedar

30 Northeastern Medicinal Trees and Their Uses

Discover the healing secrets of Northeastern medicinal trees and their uses, from Alder to Witch Hazel. This article unveils the rich heritage and uses of these natural remedies, deeply rooted in the traditions of the Nipmuck (my tribe) and other Indigenous peoples. 

We explore the diverse medicinal properties of these trees, highlighting how each part, from bark to leaf, plays a role in traditional health practices. Emphasizing sustainable and ethical foraging, we adhere to basic principles of harvesting to ensure these natural treasures continue to flourish for generations. 

medicinal trees and their uses

Ethical Principles of Harvesting Tree Medicine

In the forests of the Northeast, where each tree stands as a testament to nature’s resilience and wisdom, the practice of gathering medicinal trees and their uses is more than just a task; it’s a sacred interaction between us and the earth. As we step into the woods, it’s essential to move with a sense of respect and intention, mindful of the delicate balance we’re part of.

When we talk about harvesting bark from medicinal trees and their uses, it’s not just about what we take, but how we take it. It’s crucial to remember that we should never harm the tree by taking bark from its trunk. This can hurt the tree, much like a wound can hurt us, and in some cases, it can even be fatal for the tree. Instead, we look to the branches, specifically the lower ones, that we can reach and prune without causing harm. This way, we’re not just taking; we’re also helping the tree by encouraging new growth and removing any parts that might be damaged.

But it’s not just about the how; it’s also about the when. The rhythm of the seasons guides us, with early spring and late fall being the most potent times for harvesting. This is when the tree’s energy is most vibrant, and we can gather the bark and other tree parts in a way that’s in harmony with the tree’s natural cycles.

As we forage for medicinal trees and their uses, it’s more than just collecting; it’s about forming a relationship with the land. It’s about asking permission, not just assuming that we can take what we want. It’s about offering gratitude, acknowledging the gift we’re receiving. This deepens our connection to the land and the plants, reminding us that we’re not separate from nature but a part of it.

Knowledge is also key. Knowing which tree to harvest from, how to do it sustainably, and how to use what we gather responsibly ensures that we’re not just taking care of the trees but also of ourselves and our communities. Sharing this knowledge, and the bounty of our harvest, keeps the cycle of giving and receiving flowing, strengthening the bonds within our community and with the natural world.

In merging the art of ethical bark harvesting with the broader principles of foraging for medicinal trees and their uses, we’re not just gathering tree medicine; we’re engaging in a practice that nourishes both the land and our souls. It’s a journey of learning, of giving back, and of deepening our connection with the earth, ensuring that the ancient wisdom of the trees continues to be a source of healing and inspiration for all of us.

Related Content: 9 Basic Principles of Ethical Wildcrafting for Beginners

pine cleaning
Medicinal trees and their uses: Me gathering pine medicine

Guide to Medicinal Trees and Their Traditional Uses

In this guide, you’ll discover 30 medicinal trees and their traditional uses that thrive in the Northeast, each with its unique properties. I’ve also woven in a few special plants like elderberry, spicebush, mapleleaf viburnum, and witch hazel. While technically more shrub-like, these plants can stretch up high, resembling small trees with their woody structures. They’re included here for their potential in our natural apothecary.

Alder (Alnus spp.): Alder’s bark and leaves, rich in tannins, have been traditionally used in skin washes to soothe irritations and in gargles to ease sore throats. Additionally, alder bark decoctions have been utilized in treating lymphatic disorders and fevers.

Ash (Fraxinus spp.): Historically, ash has been valued for its diuretic and laxative properties. Infusions made from its leaves and bark were used to provide relief from joint pain and aid digestion, particularly in treating gout and rheumatism.

Basswood (Tilia americana): Known for its soothing qualities, basswood’s flowers and leaves are commonly brewed into teas that were traditionally used to reduce anxiety, promote sleep, and treat colds, coughs, and headaches.

Beech (Fagus grandifolia): Beech bark tea has been used to aid in lung conditions and soothe sore throats, while the oil from its nuts was applied to improve skin health, demonstrating the tree’s diverse uses.

Birch (Betula spp.): Birch is renowned for its traditional use in detoxifying and diuretic remedies. Leaf teas were used to address urinary tract infections and kidney stones, and birch sap, rich in minerals, served as a healthful tonic.

Cedar (Thuja spp.): Cedar leaves and bark have potent antiseptic properties. Leaf infusions have been used as an expectorant for coughs and as a wash for skin infections.

Dogwood (Cornus species): Dogwood’s bark has been traditionally used for its pain-relieving and fever-reducing qualities, with bark tea providing relief from aches and fevers.

American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis): Elderberry is celebrated for its immune-supportive properties. The berries have been used in syrups and teas to help prevent and treat colds and flu.

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra): The inner bark of slippery elm, known for its soothing properties, has been a key ingredient in throat lozenges and digestive aids, treating conditions like gastritis and ulcers.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.): As a cardiotonic, hawthorn’s berries, flowers, and leaves have been used in tonics and teas to support heart health, regulate blood pressure, and improve circulation.

Hazelnut (Corylus spp.): Hazelnut’s bark and oils have been used in skin care for their nourishing and toning effects. Bark decoctions have treated varicose veins and circulatory problems.

Hickory (Carya species): Hickory bark decoctions have been used to relieve arthritis and joint pain, showcasing its effectiveness in treating rheumatic conditions.

Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana): The bark of hop hornbeam, with its astringent properties, has been used in treatments for sore throats and diarrhea.

Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana): Ironwood’s bark has been utilized in traditional remedies for treating fevers, reducing inflammation, and applying topically for skin issues like rashes and ulcers.

Juniper (Juniperus communis): Juniper berries have been known for their diuretic and antiseptic properties, used in remedies for urinary tract infections and digestive issues.

Linden (Tilia spp.): Linden’s flowers and leaves have been used in teas to alleviate anxiety, hypertension, and flu symptoms, valued for their calming effects.

Maple (Acer spp.): Beyond its culinary value, maple sap has been used as a nutritive tonic, rich in minerals and antioxidants, promoting general health and vitality.

Maple Leaf Viburnum (Virburnum acerifolium): The leaves and bark of maple leaf viburnum have been used traditionally for their anti-spasmodic and astringent properties.

Oak (Quercus spp.): Oak’s tannin-rich bark has been used for its astringent and antiseptic qualities, beneficial for digestive disorders and skin health. Ground acorns have been used as a soothing skin agent.

Pine (Pinus spp.): Pine’s needles, bark, and resin have been used for their antiseptic and expectorant properties, making pine needle tea a traditional remedy for respiratory issues.

Poplar (Populus spp.): Poplar buds and bark, containing analgesic salicin, have been used in pain relief salves and teas.

Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana): Red cedar’s wood and berries possess antiseptic and diuretic properties, used in traditional treatments for respiratory and urinary tract infections.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin): Spicebush’s bark and berries have been used for their fever-reducing and anti-inflammatory properties, effective in treating colds, fevers, and inflammations.

Spruce (Picea species): Spruce tips, rich in Vitamin C, have been used in teas and syrups for their immune-boosting and expectorant properties.

Sumac (Rhus species): Sumac’s bark and leaves, known for their astringent properties, have been used in gargles for sore throats and in dyes for their rich color.

Tamarack (Larix laricina): Tamarack’s bark and resin have been used for their antiseptic and expectorant qualities, effective in treating skin infections and respiratory conditions.

Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides): Trembling aspen bark, containing pain-relieving salicin, has been used in traditional treatments for fevers, pain, and inflammation.

Walnut (Juglans spp.): Walnut leaves and husks, with antifungal and laxative effects, have been used in skin condition treatments and intestinal health decoctions.

Willow (Salix spp.): Willow bark, a source of salicin akin to aspirin, has been used in natural remedies for pain relief.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana): Renowned for its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, witch hazel has been extensively used in skincare and remedies for bruises and inflammation.

tree hugger
Medicinal trees and their uses: Trees offer spiritual medicine

Spiritual Medicine of Medicinal Trees

Medicinal trees and their uses extend beyond their physical healing properties, embodying deep spiritual significance within Indigenous communities, such as the Nipmuck tribe. These medicinal trees are not only valued for their health benefits but also revered for their spiritual medicine, intricately woven into the cultural fabric and traditions of Indigenous peoples.

These sacred trees are perceived as living entities, each with its own distinct character, energy, and wisdom, meriting deep respect and gratitude. In the worldview of Indigenous cultures, the bond between humans and trees is reciprocal and intertwined. Trees are esteemed as elders, mentors, and forebears, offering wisdom, direction, and healing to those who seek their counsel and blessings. The practice of gathering from medicinal trees and their uses is conducted with profound reverence, expressing gratitude and respect, and celebrating the hallowed connection between humanity and the natural realm.

By embracing the spiritual medicine of medicinal trees and their uses, we not only enrich our comprehension of Indigenous cultural heritage but also cultivate a deep appreciation for the unity of all life forms. In preserving these venerable traditions, we honor the legacy of our forebears and foster a more profound respect for the natural environment that supports and nurtures us all.

Medicinal trees and their uses: walnuts
what is witch hazel for
Medicinal trees and their uses: witch hazel

Concluding Thoughts: Medicinal Trees and their Uses

In closing, the exploration of medicinal trees and their uses reveals their profound healing potential and cultural significance. These natural treasures, cherished for generations, underscore the importance of ethical foraging practices to preserve their sustainability and honor Indigenous wisdom. Amidst our reliance on modern solutions, this journey reconnects us with the enduring power of nature, fostering a deeper appreciation for its remedies. Let us carry forward this knowledge and respect, integrating the healing properties of medicinal trees and their uses into our lives, while ensuring their preservation for future generations to explore and appreciate.


“NativeTech: Indigenous Plants & Native Uses in the Northeast.”, 2024, Accessed 7 Feb. 2024.

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New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Elias, Thomas S. and Peter A Dykeman
2009 Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods Outdoor Life Books: NY.

Foster, Steven and James A. Duke
2014 A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants; Eastern and Central North America.
Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston/New York.

Hutchens, Alma R.
1991 Indian Herbalogy of North America; The definitive guide to Native medicinal plants and their uses. Shambhala: Boston.Shambhala: Boston.


The Outdoor Apothecary website is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, it is the reader’s responsibility to ensure proper plant identification and usage.

Please be aware that some plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects. We are not health professionals, medical doctors, or nutritionists. It is essential to consult with qualified professionals for verification of nutritional information, health benefits, and any potential risks associated with edible and medicinal plants mentioned on this website.

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