Evergreen refers to plants which retain their leaves year round as opposed to shedding them in the fall and donning new ones in the spring. There are many different kinds of plants that fall into this category and can be trees or shrubs. Most species of the conifers (Spruces, Pines, Firs, Hemlocks, Junipers) are evergreen as are Live Oaks and Holly trees. Also, trees which grow in warm climates such as Eucalyptus and trees from the rainforest are also evergreens. Instead of shedding their leaves all at once, evergreens continuously shed their leaves little by little as new leaves grow in.
Evergreen can metaphorically refer to something that is continuously renewed or is self-renewing. This week in honor of the holiday season, we will focus on three of the conifers: Pine, Fir and Spruce, common evergreen trees used as holiday trees.
Pine, Fir and Spruce are from the Pinaceae family. Conifers all contain vitamin C, an important nutrient Native Americans found helpful for keeping themselves healthy during the long winter months.
These evergreen trees are antiseptic, warming, expectorant, decongestant and aromatic.
Sap is often melted down and added to drawing salves, salves which are used for drawing out boils, splinters and other skin afflictions.
The inner bark can be made into a syrup which is soothing to respiratory ailments. It is also used as a tea for treating kidney and bladder problems as the bark is diuretic and demulcent.
Many parts of the trees are used: immature/green cones, sap, inner bark and leaves all have medicinal value.
Medicinally, Pine, Fir and Spruce:
~have an affinity for the respiratory, nervous and endocrine systems
~stimulate deep breathing, relieve coughing and soothe irritated bronchial passages
~washes cleanse and disinfect wounds, cuts, scratches, scrapes, etc.
~infusions draw splinters out of fingers and toes
~boosts the immune system during a cold and decreases the time needed for healing
~works well to relieve muscle soreness and stiffness when used as an infused oil or an infusion in the bath
~can be helpful for clearing up sinus congestion in a steam inhalation
From left to right: Douglas Fir, Norway Spruce, White Pine
Go over the information about Evergreens. Have a plant or fresh branches handy to show the kids. If you have any evergreens growing nearby, take them outside and let them see the trees. Try to make a comparison between the types of evergreens you have: the shape of the trees, the height, the types of leaves, etc. Snip or break off branches to pass around. Encourage them to smell the plant and nibble on the leaves. Ask them how they feel when they smell it (happy, sad, relaxed), how they feel when they taste it (does their mouth dry up or do they salivate? is it sour like lemons or sweet like strawberries?)
Review the uses for Evergreens.
Make some Evergreen Tea. This is a fun and easy project the kids will love to help with. Start by going outside to harvest some tips of your Evergreen tree (Spruce, Fir or Pine) with the kids if there are some growing nearby. (If not, try to locate some nearby at a park or neighbor’s house to have available for the kids to use.)
You will need:
Evergreen branch tips
Sharp knife or Ulu
Trim off the fascicles (sheath or caps) of the needles, discarding the section that grew from the tree. Trim enough needles to fill your pot 1/2 full. Chop the needles into small pieces.
Place them in the tea pot and pour the boiling water over them. Let them steep for about 20 minutes.
Strain and enjoy! If the kids prefer it sweetened, try adding a bit of infused honey or plain honey will do too.
Review what has been learned about Evergreens. Talk about what the tea can be used for (boosting the immune system, giving a healthy dose of vitamin C, soothes, coughs, sore throats, congestion; externally can be used as a wound wash or to help draw out splinters).
Memorize or become familiar with this story and tell it. You can also listen to it being read aloud on my YouTube channel:
The Trees That Never Sleep
It was a time when bison and elk roamed freely over the prairies and high lands near the mountains. Winter had fallen on the people of the land and they were cold, hungry and malnourished. The snows forced the game animals away from the hunting grounds and the food stores were getting low. Children cried from hunger and disease. The elders of the people grieved to watch their children and grandchildren fall ill from a lack of vitamins.
One elder, Lone Elk, could bear it no more. He journeyed 4 days to the sacred rock and knelt down praying to the Great Spirit for help. He sang and danced and wept for an answer to the needs of his people for 7 days and 7 nights, stopping only to rest a few hours each night.
Each night, in his hours of sleep, he was visited by a Great Horned Owl who called to him in his sleep, waking him to begin his vigil again.
On the 7th night, he lay down on the rock and fell into a fitful sleep. The Great Horned Owl returned and spoke to him: “Go to the trees that never sleep, gather the tips and take them to your people. Boil them in the snow and drink the infusion and your people will be strong again.”
Lone Elk rose from his pallet on the rock, and found an owl feather resting next to him. He braided the feather into his hair, sprinkled tobacco and corn on the rock and began his journey home.
On his return journey, he stopped at the trees that never sleep and carefully gathered the tips of the tree, thanking the tree for its gift, leaving behind gifts of corn and tobacco and collecting some fallen cones to toss into the forest further down the path to help them sow their seeds.
When he arrived back among his people, he shared his visions and the tree tips he gathered. The elder women began gathering snow and set about making the infusion. Once it was ready, they began serving it to the children and then the adults until everyone had their fill.
Every day they continued drinking the healing infusion until everyone was well again. In the spring, when the animals, plants and warmth returned, the people gave thanks and planted more trees to give thanks. And every winter when the cold returned, the people drank their infusion of tree tips and never suffered from the wintertime illness again.
Retell or listen to the story “The Trees That Never Sleep.” Ask the kids to retell it with you.
What time of year was it in the story? (winter)
Why were the people becoming ill? (lack of vitamins, food sources becoming low, cold weather sending animals far away)
Where did Lone Elk go? (on a journey to the sacred rock)
How long did he stay? (7 days and 7 nights)
When did he finally dream? (on the 7th night)
Who came to him in his dream on the last night? (the wise old owl)
What did the owl tell him to do? (harvest the tips of the trees that never sleep and make tea for the people to drink)
What did he leave behind when he collected the tips and why? (gifts of corn and tobacco; to give thanks for the trees’ gift)
What did the people do in the spring when they were well again (plant more evergreens to grow all over the land)
Remind them of the evergreens’ medicinal uses:
~soothing to bronchial tubes and coughs
~stimulates deep breathing
~helps to get splinters out
~cleanses and disinfects wounds, cuts, scratches
~relieves muscle soreness and stiffness
Teach them a song about evergreens (if you are just focusing on 1 of the evergreen trees, you can interchange the name of Pine, Spruce, and Fir with the pertinent one):
This Old Tree
(sung to the tune of This Old Man)
This old Pine,
He healed one,
He healed one with his sticky gum,
With some Pine sap, inner bark, needles and pine cones,
This old pine grows near my home.
This old Spruce,
He healed two,
He healed two with his green cones too,
With some Spruce sap, inner bark, needles and Spruce cones,
This old Spruce grows near my home.
This old Fir,
He healed three,
He healed three with the bark of his tree,
With some Fir sap, inner bark, needles and Fir cones,
This old Fir grows near my home.
This old ‘green,
He healed four,
He healed four with needles galore,
With some green sap, inner bark, needles and green cones,
This old ‘green grows near my home.
Sing the song about Evergreens.
Review what you’ve learned about Evergreens this week. Make some pinecone bird feeders to hang outside for the birds to eat.
Pinecone Bird Feeder
You will need:
2 ft. yarn or twine
2 Tbsp. Peanut butter per pine cone
2 Tbsp. lard or butter per pine cone
Plate or pie pan
Make a slipknot in the end of the yarn and attach it to the top of the pinecone.
Mix the peanut butter and lard or shortening together and smear over the surface of the pinecone.
Pour the birdseed on the plate or pie pan. Roll the pinecone in the seed to fully coat.
Place the pinecones in the freezer for about an hour to firm up the mixture. Hang in a tree outside for the birds to enjoy!
Excerpts are taken from Issue 11 – Pondering Pine. You can find the fully revised issue here.
If you get a cut tree for your holiday celebration, check out this previous article on things you can do with it once you take it down.