Listening to trees

It was a sunny winter’s day, I sat down on the soft forest floor enjoying the way the light came through the gaps in the trees and rested on a clump of young hazelnut shoots lighting them up like stars within the darkness, and I let my pen write…Image

“Listening to oneself beyond the boundaries of what we call reality. Inner listening aligned with one’s true self, the natural one who is part of all and where all resides. Trees are our masters, don’t look any further you have found the guides you have been looking for all your life. They do not come in human form but are all embracing shadows of the truth. They will lead you at all times to your inner being, they will shine the light so that you see more clearly – they are part of you, yes, hazelnut, ash, oak, beech, pine, birch, hawthorn they are all part of you and they come from where you come from ».

When I was learning to be a herbalist, identifying plants and learning their properties, I found it easier to look down and concentrate on the plants and herbs that grew near the ground rather than look up and somehow integrate the strength and energy that came from the trees all around me. Even back then, a part of me recognised that although I loved trees I had to be ready to begin to understand their medicine and feel their force, I had some more growing to do first. Through my passion, herbal study and deepening relationship with the plants, little by little I began to look upwards and slowly one day alone in the woods, a pine tree (Pinus slyvestris) showed me a doorway.Image

Neither parent, friend nor lover had ever been able to get through the invisible barriers of fear that I had so carefully constructed between myself and other, it was pine that got through on that memorable day in the woods. It was so natural, no longing, no forcing, no thoughts about anything just pure being, pine and myself. Enveloped, I felt so supported, gently and lovingly held in this physical reality…for the first time I felt nurtured on all levels subtle, emotional and physical.


(What is so great about tree allays is that once the connection has been made, the communication has been established it is constant and always there…unlike us fickle mortals, the ego does not interfere.) The search for that feeling of being loved and supported was over, I had found it, it is what pine knows, does and exudes, it is always here, I just have to call on pine.

This subtle but very real relationship helped me understand the ‘soul’ of pine and how I can work together with it in my work as a herbalist. I have always admired pine’s capacity to re-trigger tired adrenals, boosting them with energy to help them get back into action. In feeling the way pine can hold and give of its tender, supportive force energetically helped me understand this physical action in a deeper way. Pine’s force is nurturing, reinitiating the two fountains of energy from the adrenal glands that give us the physical motivation we need to function fully here on earth. Pine also bears the weight of the physical structure that holds us up, having both an anti-inflammatory action on rheumatic and arthritic conditions and a re-mineralising action on the bones. Dr Bach used pine for those people that are constantly putting themselves down, feeling guilty and never good enough, pine’s nurturing energy can get through the self hate and help the person feel loved and thus learn to love him/herself.

Wilhelm Pelikan’s reflection about pine being full of ‘etheric oils (essences) and balsamic resins, which are an intervention of a luminous and calorific process in the cold areas of the earth, where the pine originates from”, sums it up well, when one is feeling cold and in need of support, call on pine.

I tend to use pine as an essential oil as it grows abundantly in the area where I live and is therefore distilled by our local distiller. For depleted adrenals, I advice a drop of the oil rubbed quite vigorously into the kidney area every morning for between 3-7 days, three days is often enough to re-stimulate as we are not looking for pine to bear the job of the adrenals rather just to get them fully going again.

For its use in cases of generative joint disease, rheumatic inflammations and osteoporosis, I tend to make a gemmotherapy preparation with the buds, glycerine or agave syrup and alcohol. This type of preparation is very good at draining the organism, not just detoxifying but transforming, eliminating, and mentally and emotionally integrating the process making it possible to modify the terrain of the patient.

The next tree allay that comes to mind is the silver birch (Betula pendula), I befriended this tree on a one level of knowing many, many years ago when as a young girl I was interested in runes and their meanings. The rune Berkana is the rune of the birch tree, re-birth, renewal, regeneration, sanctuary, and motherhood, but it wasn’t until I started collecting birch sap from a wood in the hills many years later that I began to truly understand the symbolism behind the rune. Alone amongst the white skinned birch trees, where the signs of spring are still only a pulsation from inside the earth, a pulsation to which the birch responds by calling the sweet mineralised waters up through her slender, luminous trunk with a force that triggers the awakening of spring and enables us to feel this seasonal re-birthing of life’s vital force. The first sips, straight form the tree of the sweet sap are still a moment when symbolically the seasons have turned and physically the groggy body fluids of a static winter can be renewed with the flowing waters of spring. The birch like the pine prefers the colder regions of this planet, noticed for their resistance, the birch is very well adapted to the extreme conditions of Northern Europe. Its protective role covers not only the daily needs of the northern people (housing, clothing, food, medicine) but a link between the visible and invisible. The birch brings the liquids of the earth up through its trunk and the celestial forces down to the earth. The doorway that the birch opens is one that facilitates our communication with our natural surroundings and nature’s spirits. The link between the sky and the earth is very feminine and ‘watery’ in the birch, even the celestial energies that it helps earth are fluid, a form of water that is not wet.

The parallel between the subtle, energetic messages of birch and its traditional medicinal uses are very close. The movement of fluids is echoed in its draining action, a draining that unblocks stagnant articulations, moving and evacuating the uric acid crystals that accumulate. This draining action purifies and detoxifies the organism, helping cure skin disorders and urinary infections for example. One of the major constituents in birch is methyl salicylate, which alongside the draining and depurative action will ease muscular and rheumatism pain. Birch gets things moving and leaves way for renewal, cleansing and transformation of matter and energy.Image

Birch sap is great medicine but difficult to keep for any amount of time, it is at its best of course when drank straight form the tree, however not everyone is in a position to do this. It keeps for 3-4 days in a refrigerator before fermenting, some companies here in Europe pasteurize or freeze it for commercializing, both these methods will change the inherent make-up of the sap, (which according to Dr Tétau (1) contain among other things two glycosides that liberate methyl salicylate through enzymatic hydrolysis, thus giving the sap its analgesic, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties) and I prefer personally to keep well away from this type of product. The best way I have found to stabilize the sap is by making it into a tincture, the alcohol should end up at as near to 12° as possible, this way the sap can be preserved with as little dilution as possible. It can then be used alone, added to other tinctures or gemmotherpay preparations.

Robert Frost seems to have felt the way birch links what is above with what is below and it’s feeling of constant rejuvenation in his poem;

“I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree~
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

And then there is oak (Quercus petraea), oak took me a lot longer to get to know, I think maybe because my preconceived ideas about what oak is about got in the way. Oak seems so strong, powerful and regal that I wasn’t expecting to perceive it as I did. Oak is teaching me a lot about what ‘strength’ really is, oak is teaching me that true, authentic strength is soft and loving, expansive and gentle. Oak’s energy fills space with a tender, mellow all expansive, very reassuring resonance. I call on oak when I need to feel safe, when I am working with a toxic plant for example and I need to be sure that I won’t get myself into difficulty I ask for the presence of oak to keep things within secure boundaries. Oak is like an age-old teacher, whose mere presence is enough. Dr. Bach used oak for very strong people who fight against illness and adversity but never seem to get beyond their difficulties; this makes sense to me in relation to oak’s message about what strength really is. The ‘fighter’ often has this unrealistic view of real strength, that has rigidity and ‘pressure’ to it and oak teaches and brings to the situation a calm gentleness of authentic strength coupled with a sense of timelessness, oaks grow slowly and surely to become a majestic keeper of the surrounding lands.

1238207_238547549627442_769160199_nMedicinally oak has always been regarded as being a powerful toning astringent due to its high tannin content, although here in Europe, it is hardly used now internally, its tannins being considered too strong for most purposes. External use of the bark as an antiseptic astringent is more commonly used in cases such as wounds that are taking a long time to heal, anal fissures and hemorrhoids and as a gargle for mouth ulcers and weak gums. I use the buds in gemmotherapy preparations as I find they mirror the essential energy of the oak supporting the spirit and mental strength of the patient, especially in cases where the vital life force is dwindling. The buds stimulate both the physical and psychological aspects and help bring the person back to a place where healing can begin…a place of robust, calm, connectedness with the whole.

The last tree that I am going to talk about is hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), contrary to oak, hawthorn stays relatively small, and its strength is definitely not in its size or majestic aspect. However it has a deep, inner, sacred strength, a mystical, wise, underground type of knowing. Hawthorns often grow in communities, in hedges or glades and the spirit of hawthorn reflects this sense of an ancient, healing and magical community, one that you don’t just walk into willy-nilly, a community that demands a form of initiation to enter. Hawthorns are the guardians of other realms, some may refer to as fairy realms and I see as sacred, knowing realms. This secrecy that hawthorn emanates is reflected in the fact that in Europe, up to the 19th century, it went more or less unnoticed, mentioned occasionally for the odd banal property linked to its astringency. Its physicality also echoes the ability to ‘close’ things off, entrance is difficult, the wood is hard and gnarled with spikey thorns, the density of its branches and leaves make a great protection against the wind and the intrusion of animals and humans.

At the same time hawthorn has the ability to encourage life, it provides a secure home for many birds and insects and in the month of May it lights up the hedges with its abundance of white flowers. Here in France these pure white flowers that seem to appear from nowhere and just as quickly disappear have always been a symbol of innocence and virginity linked to wedding ceremonies and the Virgin Mary. I see them as a symbol of the magic and underworld that hawthorn is linked to, these flowers that seem like foreigners to this forbidding tree covered with thorns represent the purity of the real knowing that is hidden deep down in its roots. They manifest once a year at springtime to remind us that things are not always as they seem and that in the depths of our souls lays the light of our being…in the darkness of the forest live the spirits of nature. Hawthorn seems to be a doorkeeper for the two worlds, and lives in both simultaneously.

254767_128623110619887_861331322_nHawthorn’s main use today is in relation to our rhythmic system, the opening of the heart, physically, energetically and spiritually. Physically, it is restorative to the heart, often referred to here in France as the “valerian of the heart”, a powerful cardio-tonic, it regularizes circulation of the blood by acting simultaneously on the cardiac muscle and vessels by the intermediary of the nervous system. It also has the capacity to dilate the coronary arteries helping with the dissolution of arterial deposits without raising blood pressure or increasing the beat. At the beginning of my life as a herbalist, being English but living and studying in France, I was always a little confused about hawthorn preparations, this was because most of the English written material referred to the use of the buds and the material I read in French on the flowers. I decided therefore to make tinctures in springtime from the flowers and in autumn from the berries and often I blended the two. Since then however I have discovered that it is the flowers that act on the heart’s rhythm and blood pressure and the berries on the actual heart muscle… I now tend to keep the tinctures separate.

As a tree essence I find it useful when working on ‘closed’ and ‘damaged’ hearts, as it seems to help rid the heart of negativity and recover from past harms. Its capacity to protect is seen here in the form of self-protection from harm thus creating space and safety for love, trust and forgiveness to develop, forgiveness of the self being a major aspect.

Connecting with trees, feeling and listening to their messages has helped me to create a more stable structure around my work with plants, they were the missing element. Their size, woodiness, age and vibration give a scale to the plant world. Trees live alongside us, they are a common feature of our lives but so many of us forget to enter into communication with them and therefore miss the lessons of some of the best teachers we have on this earth. Once the connection has been made, my soul recognizes the tree that has always been part of me and welcomes it home.

Thank-you trees for knocking on the door of my heart.


References: (1) Dr Tetau was a French homeopath who developed the work of Dr Pol Henry on tree buds, naming it gemmotherapy.

Bibliography: Traité de gemmothérapie by Phillipe Andrianne                                                                                      Le Bouleau by Bernard Bertrand                                                                                                                                      Précis de phytothérapie by Christian Escriva


Photo of hawthorn barrier, thank to Davina Wynne Jones of herbs for healing, England.