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Trees and Natural Healing

If you are specifically interested in Natural Healing in relation to trees,
I've extracted the relevant sections from each tree article
and put them together into this single document.

We give the usual caveat that we have no medical training whatsoever and the
following information is given for its intrinsic interest, not as suggestions for treatment.
If you are considering any treatment, consult a qualified practitioner.

Nicholas Culpeper

Nicholas Culpeper (1616 to 1654)

I make frequent reference to Culpeper's Herbal in this document and also in the individual articles on specific trees, so it is worth saying something about the man himself.

Nicholas Culpeper was born in Surrey, the son of a vicar who encouraged Nicholas in his career throughout his life. He did wel at school and subsequently at Cambridge and was expected to excel in a career either in the church or medicine. However, tragedy struck.

He fell hopelessly in love, and borrowed 200 from his mother to elope with his sweetheart who he was to meet under an Oak tree near Lewes in East Sussex. He rode through a wild, stormy night from Cambridge to meet her, the thunder and lightning frightening his horse as he struggled to keep control. As I've mention in the article on oak trees, the oak has an unfortunate habit of attracting lightning. When he arrived the tree had been hit and his love lay dead at the foot of the tree.

Shattered and near suicidal, Nicholas gave up on his studies and cutting a long story short, eventally his parents secured an apothecary position for him in Bishopsgate in London for 50. He began his own practice in Red Lion Street, Spitalfields in 1640. The Royal College of Physicians was a closed, exclusive organisation and its services were expensive. Culpeper put a great deal of his efforts into bringing medical help within the reach of the poor.

He tranlated medical works from Latin to English to make them accessible and eventually in 1653 published his own work with Peter Cole, a herbal entitled The English Physician. This has remained in print ever since, running to forty editions.

In the introduction to the edition mentioned in the acknowledgements below, the authors point out that Culpeper wrote - obviously - in very Shakespearian English because he lived in the seventeenth century, but that it is worth spending a little time to get used to his style of English, and to get in tune with it.

Galen (AD131 to AD201)

Claudius Galenus of Pergamum, usually known simply as Galen, is also mentioned several times in these articles. He was an ancient Greek physician whose views dominated European medicine for over a thousand years. He is supposed to have said: "I have done as much for medicine as Trajan did for the Roman Empire when he built the bridges and roads through Italy. It is I, and I alone, who have revealed the true path of medicine. It must be admitted that Hippocrates already staked out this path...He prepared the way, but I have made it possible." Evidently modesty was not one of his strong points.


The apple's uses in healing include the vitamins and minerals it contains, especially E and A, which tend to be most concentrated in the skin. It also contains antioxidants and helps the body to detox. It is beneficial to the bowels, liver and brain. Apple with honey has been a remedy for heart problems since ancient times.

English proverbs:

An apple a day keeps the doctor away
To eat an apple without rubbing it first is to challenge the Devil
A bad woman can't make a good apple sauce (it goes mushy)

Culpeper gives several recipes for apple based poultices for various purposes. These include a poultice of roasted sweet apples with powder of frankincense to remove pain from the side and another of the same apples boiled in plantain and mixed with milk which removes fresh marks of gunpowder from the skin, just in case you have a gunpowder problem. The pulp of boiled or rotten apples applied as a poultice is good for inflamed eyes, either applied neat or in milk., rose or fennel waters.

Culpeper also gives various recommendations for the consumption of apples, including roated apples for the asthmatic, for the consumptive and for inflammation of the breasts and lungs. They are very proper for hot and bilious stomachs but not for the cold, moist and flatulent. The more ripe ones move the belly a little whereas the unripe ones have the contrary effect. Boiled or roasted apples eaten with rose water and sugar, or with a little butter, is a pleasant and cooling diet for feverish complaints.


The ash has been praised in European medical texts since the fourth century BC. Hippocrates (460 to 377BC) used an infusion for gout and rheumatism. This strategy is also employed in classical homeopathy. A tea can be made from the leaves collected in spring or early summer, which has a diuretic and laxative effect. It promotes the flow of urine and the excretion of uric acid which helps to detoxify the body.

According to Culpeper, "It is governed by the sun; and the young tender tops, with the leaves, taken inwardly, and some of them outwardly applied, are sigularly good against the biting of viper, adder or any other venemous beast." He goes on to add that the water distilled therefrom helps with dropsy and obesity. A decoction of the leaves in white wine "helpeth to break the stone (gallstones?) and cureth the jaundice. the ashes of the bark can be used to cure heads which are "leprous, scabby or scald". Finally he adds that the ashen keys (the kernels within the husks) "prevail against stitches and pains in hte sides, proceeding of wind and voideth away the stone (again, gallstones?) by provoking the urine.


The key words for the spiritual qualities of the beech, according to Tree Yoga (see acknowledgements below), are: concentration, preservation, alignment and discipline.

Culpeper states that the leaves of the beech tree are "cooling and binding and therefore good to be applied to hot swellings". The water found accumulated in the hollows in the trunk and branches, he says, cures both man and beast of "of any scurf, scab or running tetters, if they be washed therewith". The leaves may be boiled and made into a poultice or ointment.


Both in Russia and Scandinavia, birch twigs are used to beat the body during a sauna to stimulate circulation and improve skin vitality. Similar techniques were used by the tribes of North America. The Ojibwa tribe cover the floor of their tipis with birch twigs.

Externally, the sap is an excellent scalp tonic and may be used in conjunction with tea-tree oil. The tar oil is used externally to treat eczema and gout. In classical homeopathy, the tree essence of silver birch enhances the ability to appreciate beauty and remain calm - just as the tree itself brings beauty and colour to a sombre landscape. Everything is interconnected; beauty itself can have not only an effect on the mind but can also bring real benefits to one's physical condition. There can be few things as unselfconsciously beautiful as a stand of silver birches.

This is the the tree of Venus, according to Culpeper. He says that the Juice of the young leaves, or the water that comes from the tree when bored with an auger, when distilled, and drunk for several consecutive days, breaks kidney and bladder stones and is also good for washing a sore mouth.


Horse Chestnut helps with various respiratory problems including loosening and expelling lung congestion. This alleviates bronchitis, respiratory catarrh and coughs. Culpeper recommends drying the kernels, grinding them to a powder and mixing with honey as a remedy for "coughs and the spitting of blood".

Horse Chestnut also improves the circulatory system by strengthening capillary walls and dilating blood vessels. This helps to relieve varicose veins, phlebitis, swollen ankles and local oedema. The herb is also said to reduce blood clots and hardening of the arteries. This may help to prevent strokes and heart attacks. Culpeper's comment on this is that, as the chestnut is ruled by Jupiter, "the fruit must needs breed good blood, and yield commendable nourishment to the body; yet, if eaten over-much, they make the blood thick, procure head-ache, and bind the body".

We give the usual caveat: don't take our word for it, we are not medically qualified. Consult a doctor.


Infusions from the inner root bark have long been used to treat colds and coughs, diarrhoea, internal bleeding and fever, both by Europeans and by native North Americans. The same infusion is also applied externally on wounds. Culpeper states that the elm is a cold, Saturnine plant and that the leaves, bruised and applied, heal "green wounds". He also says that the leaves or bark used with vinegar "cureth scurf and leprosy very effectively", while the water found in the bladders of the leaves is very effectual in cleansing the skin.

The Choctaw and Iroquois tribes drink elm infusions in order to soothe menstrual problems. The tree essence balances the heart and energises the mind. Modern herbal medicine mostly uses the slippery elm (ulmus fulva) as this contains the highest mucilage content. This makes it more soothing to irritated mucous membranes.

Culpeper credits the elm with a furthur range of treatments from curing balkdness to healing broken bones. A poultice made from the bark ground with brine and pickle is, he says, effective against gout.


The Hazel is, according to astrologers and Culpeper, under the influence of Mercury.

The tannin content of Hazel leaves gives them an astringent action. Hazel nuts are a good source of vitamin E, protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They contain at least 50% oil which can be used as a massage oil or imbibed, for instance as a constituent in a salad dressing.

Culpeper recommends the milk drawn from the kernels of hazel nuts, mixed with mead or honeyed water, to soothe an old cough. The died husks and shells, and much more effectually the red skin which covers the kernel, taken in red wine are useful in dealing with "womens' courses". Parched kernels, with a little pepper added, and taken in a drink is good, according to Culpeper, for "digesting the distillations of rheum from the head".


The Bach Flower Remedy of holly dissipates anger and releases jealousy and envy. The tree essence also calms these symptoms, bringing peace of mind without blocking assertiveness. A tea-like beverage can be made from the leaves of some hollies, however, our usual caveat that medical advice should always be sought, is even more important as the berries and other parts of the plant are poisonous. The berries are also emetic and purgative.

The bark of the Gray Holly was used extensively as an emetic (causing vomiting) by the Iroquois tribe of North America. They also used it to treat psychological problems. The Tslagi use a leaf infusion as an emetic, and also as an hallucinogenic.

Said by Culpeper to be a Saturnine plant, "the berries expel wind, and therefore are held to be profitable in the colic". he recommends eating a dozen of the berries in the morning to "purge the body of gross and clammy phlegm" but drying the berries and beating them into a powder "they bind the body and stop fluxes, bloody fluxes and the terms in women". The bark and the leaves, he says, are "excellent good, being used in fomentations for broken bones, and such members a are out of joint".


The Lime is the tree of healing and in herbal lore, no other tree has such a wide spectrum of applications. The leaves, flowers, roots and bark are all used to promote well-being. Asclepius, the founder of Western medicine, reputedly gained his knowledge from the centaur Chiron, son of Phylira who was the original spirit of the lime.

The lime has a long history in Europe of being used for soothing tension and irritability and as a heart tonic. In fact, the German word for "to soothe" is "lindern". A tea made from the flowers reduces cholesterol and high blood pressure. Sweetened with honey, it calms agitation and promotes peaceful sleep in children. The hot tea is good for reducing diarrhoea and clearing congested sinuses. The flower tea applied externally soothes inflammation on the skin. In the middle ages, lime trees were planted by royal decree along many roads to ensure that the harvest of its flowers was plentiful, because they were used for the curative properties, while sitting under lime tree was said to cure epilepsy and other nervous illnesses.

Linden blossom hydrosol (i.e., in distilled water) has a soothing and draining effect on the skin and can be used as a facial tonic. It can also be used in an aqueous cream for hypersensitive skins. It is a tissues relaxant the and if applied in a night cream, the skin feels refreshed in the morning.


A tree of Jupiter, Culpeper recommends the leaves, bark and acorn cups which "do bind and dry very much" to restrain "the spitting of blood, and the body flux", as well as bleeding at the mouth. The acorn in powder, he says, "provketh urine and resisteth the poison of venomous creatures". A decoction of the acorns "resisteth the force of poisonous herbs and medicines". Inflammations can be reduced with the distilled water of the oaken buds before they break out into leaves. "the same is singularly good in pestilential and hot burning fevers, for it resisteth the force of the infection and allayeth the heat."

Culpeper also says that "the water that is found in the hollow places of old oaks, is very effectual against any foul or spreading scabs".

Hippocrates used the fumes of oak leaves for women who were troubled with the strangling of the mother; Galen applied them, bruised, to cure green wounds.

Common Oak bark is strongly astringent because of its high tannin content. For this reason it is a traditional treatment for diarrhoea and dysentery, and used externally for haemorrhoids, inflamed gums, wounds and eczema. A concoction of acorns and oak bark was traditionally used as an antidote to poisoning but as we've said elsewhere, don't rely on any of this, consult a doctor. The tree essence is said to boost energy levels and the ability to reach our goals.


The soft fruit is useful in convalescence and is rich in vitamins, especially A, B and C, and in trace elements and minerals such as iron, magnesium and calcium. If you are "dark under the eyes" from late nights and riotous indulgence but are otherwise healthy, you are probably lacking potassium. Pears are a good source of potassium as are bananas. In traditional Chinese medicine pears are cool, sour and sweet and they stimulate the liver and stomach meridians. Pears tone Yin and regulate the heart. They are beneficial in treating chesty coughs and urinary and digestive problems. In Ayurveda, they are astringent, cooling and sweet they increase Vata and reduce pitta and kapha.

Culpeper's advice mostly relates to the pear's effect on the digestive system and he says that"all the sweet and luscious sorts ... help to move the belly downwards, more or less" while "those that are hard and sour do the contrary".

Schola Salerni advises to "drink much wine after pears, or else (they say) they are as bad as poison".


The bitter red berries are not poisonous but the parasorbic acid in them can cause stomach irritation. This acid is rendered harmless by gently cooking, which will preserve the vitamin C content. Rowan berries contain more vitamin C than citrus fruits.


Hawthorn tea

The berries are harvested in autumn and dried on baskets or wicker screens, ensuring they are well aerated. They may also be dried over several hours in an oven on its lowest setting. To make tea, cover spoons of the dried berries with boiling water in a cup. Allow to steep for 15 to 20 minutes. It is recommended that the tea be drunk three times daily over a long period.

Medicinal Uses of Hawthorn

We give the usual caveat that we have no medical training whatsoever and the following information is given for its intrinsic interest, not as suggestions for treatment. If you are considering any treatment, consult a qualified practitioner.

Although any of the species may be used for medicinal purposes, the official species for this purpose is Cratageus oxyacantha. Traditionally, hawthorn berries have been used as a heart tonic. They are tonic and hypotensive in action, work gently and have no toxicity or cumulative effect. They normalise heart action without putting a strain on the cardiovascular system. They may also be used in the treatment of angina and arteriosclerosis. The berries are harvested in autumn and dried on baskets or wicker screens, ensuring they are well aerated. They may also be dried over several hours in an oven on its lowest setting. A tincture can be made either from fresh berries when harvested or from dried berries. 10 to 30 drops of tincture are taken three times daily. Recent research suggests that hawthorn preparations can start to take effect within one minute of consumption, reinforcing its traditional use as a quick-acting tonic. Medicinal Uses of Blackthorn

The fruits are rich in vitamin C and tannin and were used in pre-industrial Europe for inflammation of the mouth and throat. The leaves and flowers are diuretic. The tree essence stabilises emotions and promotes hope and joy.


White Willow, or saille, Bark can be used in the treatment of various aliments. It is a bitter, astringent, cooling herb which reduces fever. It also increases perspiration and so helps to cools the body, making it useful in the treatment of minor feverish illnesses, chills, colds, etc. It is also an anti-inflammatory and it can be used to relieve the painful inflammation and joint pain associated with neuralgia, gout, rheumatism, rheumatoid- and osteo- arthritis, osteroporitic and lower back pain and the inflammatory stages of autoimmune diseases. It is especially useful as an alternative for people who cannot tolerate non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs.

It is also an antiseptic. The salicin in the herb is converted into salicylic acid and other related compounds by the liver and is excreted as such in the urine, which makes it helpful for treating kidney, urethra, bladder and other urinary tract irritations. It has also been used as a remedy for diarrhoea, dysentery and minor infections.

The use of willow bark dates back to the time of Hippocrates (400 BC) when patients were advised to chew on the bark to reduce fever. However, its use predates even Hippocrates. The leaves and bark of the willow tree have been mentioned in ancient texts from Assyria, Sumer and Egypt as a remedy for aches and fever.

Used externally, White Willow Bark's antiseptic properties extend to its help in treating cuts, burns, wounds, sores, sweaty feet, dandruff and as a mouthwash to ease tonsillitis, sore mouth and sore gums. It is also high in tannin content, and it is believed to help with gastrointestinal disorders, such as sour stomach and heartburn. Reinforcing this, Culpeper recommends the leaves, bark and seeds for staunching bleeding, especially of the mouth and gums. He also recommends a decoction of the leaves, bark and seeds in wine to inhibit vomiting.

Culpeper goes on to state thet "the leaves bruised or boiled in wine, and drank, stays the heat of lust in man or woman". I leave it to you own judgement whether this particular effect is something you would regard as an asset or an impediment!

According to Galen, the flowers have "an admirable faculty for drying up humours, being a medicine without any sharpness or corrosion". He adds that the bark has the same effect and that the tree always has bark upon it but it does not always have flowers. He goes on to say that the burnt ashes of the bark mixed with vinegar destroy warts, corns and "superfluous flesh" when directly applied. Scurf and dandruff can be treated using a decoction of hte leaves in wine.

Several European countries have approved the medical use of willow bark for pain and inflammatory disorders.

  • The German Commission E has approved willow bark for fever, rheumatic ailments, and headaches.
  • The British Herbal Compendium indicates that willow bark can be used for rheumatic and arthritic conditions, and fever associated with cold and influenza.
  • In France, willow bark has been approved as an analgesic to treat headache and toothache pain, as well as painful articular (joint) conditions, tendonitis and sprains.
  • The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) has approved willow bark extract for the treatment of fever, pain, and mild rheumatic complaints.


The Yew simply does not figure in natural healing. Virtually every part of the Yew is poisonous owing to the presence of toxicantin and consuming as little as 50 to 100 grams of chopped leaves would be fatal to an adult. Culpeper simply cautions against the tree's use under any circumstances. Even in the few instances where the plant could be useful medicinally, he points out that there are safer alternatives.

However in the early 1980s it was discovered that a substance derived from the tree, paclitaxel, is a powerful anti-cancer drug. This is now partly synthetically produced. A homoeopathic tincture is also made from young shoots and the berry flesh to treat a variety of ailments including cystitis, headache and neuralgia.

Once again, I would remind you that personally I have no medical training whatsoever and would not recommend following any of the treatments mentioned in these articles without consulting a qualified pratitioner. These comments are presented for their intrinsic interest only.

Acknowledgements and further reading:

The Oxford Companion to English LiteratureSir Paul HarveyOUP
Tree Yoga - A WorkbookSatya Singh & Fred HagenederEarthdancer
Celtic Myths and LegendsGeddes and GrossetGeddes and Grosset
The Meaning of TreesFred HagenederChronicle Books
The Celtic Book of Seasonal MeditationsClaire HamiltonRed Wheel
A - Z of SuperstitionsCarole PotterChancellor Press
The Complete HerbalThomas CulpeperGreenwich Editions

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Ken James 2008