I have long had a love affair with the trees, and especially the medicine gifts that the trees offer us; fruits, nuts, bark, twigs, leaves, needles and resins. I have spent many years wandering around in forested landscapes looking for the little golden - amber sticky globules of pine resin. My favorites from the southwest are ponderosa, pinon and juniper, but all evergreen conifers (juniper, pine, fir, spruce) produce resin, and any evergreen resin can be used similarly (The biggest exception here is Yew tree, and then i’ve never seen it produce resin, but Yew (taxus brevifolia) is highly toxic. You’ll recognize it by its red arils (fruits) around the seeds.) Even trees from across the globe, boswellia and commiphora (better known as frankincense & myrrh) have long been revered for their fragrant healing resins.
This spring as I settled into my casita in the pinyon juniper woods, I wandered about, and then found myself hands and knees on the ground, picking up more beautiful golden blobs of pinon resin than I’d ever seen before (which is pretty normal for pinon pine- one of the pitchiest and drippiest of the pines producing resin.) Even now, 10 months later, I’m still tripping over golden chunks of resin on the ground, and little amber pearls of resin falling of the bark of the pines. And every time I still feel like a kid who just found the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. I won!
I can’t quite put my finger on why the resin is so special, since it is rather common, but perhaps it is the beautiful golden color, the way it sparkles in the sun, or the amazing aroma, or the fact that it is literally like the blood of the trees, that flows out of the bark when the tree is wounded to clean, seal up, & disinfect, protecting the tree from infection or damage.
Which is consequently, what it does for us too.
I think it was David Crow I heard speak on Tree Resins at an herb conference, though he was speaking of frankincense and myrrh, as the immune system of the tree, and when we tap into its immune powers, we can use them for our own healing, a true gift from our brothers and sisters the trees. Maybe this is why I feel its so special. I find these chunks and pearls of resin on the ground, where the tree has left it, no longer needing it, and giving to me. I always find them after I have sat with a particular tree and meditated, or left offerings during herb gathering. Often times I’m not out looking for resin, when the gifts arrive and I come home with my pockets sticky full with it. Just yesterday, wandering slowly in the trees, I came to a spot littered with a least 100 tiny round pearls of amber resin that had dropped from a high branch, and sitting down to gather them, it reminded me to count my blessings, to be grateful for each and every one. They are all as much of a gift as any treasure we can find, each day alive is a gift, each breath is a gift. Little tree treasures ...big life treasures.
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” Thornton Wilder
GATHERING TREE RESIN
I make it a personal rule not to take a tool like a knife to a tree, in order to remove resin. I feel that it would be easy to injure the tree with a sharp metal knife, and when the tree is ready to let go of its resin, and it is no longer needed, it comes off quite easily by hand. I often just pick up what I find under the trees, though often it can be full of dirt and needles. Soft resin often comes off the bark in blobs, leaving your hands all sticky. Depending on the kind of evergreen or pine you are gathering from, there may be more or less available around or on each tree.
It is wise to collect resin into a glass jar, rather than a bag or a pocket lest it sticks inside of it forever. (Ask me how many pockets are all sticky on the inside?). Never gouge a tree trunk or break a limb to extract resin. Only take what comes freely. Definitely keep hand sanitizer with alcohol or alcohol wipes handy for clean up- alcohol is the best way to clean resin from hands and clothes, though oil also works.
Now tree resin, and specifically pine, which is what I use the most of, (but mind you myrrh and frankincense are excellent to use as well, with similar properties, and a few extra) has a lot of benefits and a lot of ways we can use it, both internally and externally.
My favorite of the preparations is melting the sticky resin, cleaned of bark bits and needles, into olive or coconut oil, strained through a coffee filter (to catch the little bits that you couldn’t get to before, and there will be some!), and then mixed with just the right amount of beeswax for a salve. Pine resin salve (or juniper, or spruce or fir) is first off an excellent disinfectant for wounds, full of aromatic essential oils that combat infections. Not only does it keep the wound clean, it also provides a barrier layer to the skin to prevent dirt and other things from getting into the wound. By its very sticky nature it stays on the skin in a thick layer. You can use raw, soft, clean resin to pack a wound in a pinch, but I prefer the ease of the salve. Resin is also very warming and stimulating, and increases circulation to the skin where it is applied. It makes resin and resin salves an EXCELLENT drawing agent, to put out thorns and splinters, infections in a wound, insect venom, and anywhere you want to increase blood flow, immunity and healing. It can take a few days to a week to draw out something deeply embedded, but I have seen it work several times! its great for filling in cracks in your feet, addressing wind burn and chapped skin, or as a rub for cold feet. Or for wearing as a forest perfume, because, it does smell that good.
I also really love to use this warming, stimulating and sweet smelling resin salve as a chest rub for congested, damp, mucous stuck in the lungs. Please remember that tree resin is warming and drying, it is not a cough suppressant, and usually increases productivity of a cough, and it is not indicated when the cough is dry and irritated. By increasing blood flow and energy movement to the chest and lungs, while the aromatics help open the passageways, it can gently move damp lung conditions towards resolution. Best when paired with a hot water bottle or hot towel compress over the chest.
HOW TO MAKE TREE RESIN SALVE
2 oz clean pine resin (softer pieces work best)
6 oz olive oil, or coconut oil (mixed is fine) * .75 oz beeswax
(Resin is hard to clean off your tools. Designate a pan and tools for this job alone. Or you can use rubbing alcohol and a lot of elbow grease to clean up. But it is not easy.)
Small sauce pan
Chop Stick for stirring
Cheese cloth or coffee filter for straining
16 oz Glass jar or measuring cup
Small 4 oz canning jars or 1 or 2 oz metal tins (for salve storage)
Place cleaned resin and oil in a small sauce pan.
Turn heat on LOW.
Dissolve the resin into the warm oil for a few hours. You must stay and watch over it, do not let it burn or smoke. (You may need to take the pan off the heat from time to time.)
When most of the resin has dissolved into the oil, strain into a glass jar with metal strainer and cheese cloth or coffee filter. This catches all the bark bits and dirt you were not able to clean out beforehand. (any leftover resin that does not dissolve can be returned to the earth or used in incense.
Once you have made your oil, which you can store as is if you prefer, it is time to make salve.
Pour the infused oils into a small sauce pan with .75 oz chopped beeswax. (Standard ratio of oil to wax is 8 pts oil to 1 pt wax. If you have 16 oz oil, use 2 oz wax etc)
Let the wax and oil melt completely. Low heat.
Pour salve while still hot into tins or jars. Let fully solidify before placing lids or moving.
I also like to make syrups and tinctures with the fresh and soft, and clean as possible resin for respiratory illness. (If you go looking you’ll find sticky pieces you can’t even pick up that are clear and clean and old hard pieces that are covered in dirt and needles. I save the dirtiest ones for incense.) You can chew and swallow a small piece of resin to stimulate a cold, damp cough as above, or melt the resin into honey for sweet syrup, or just toss the clean resin into a jar with high proof alcohol. (AT LEAST 75% - or 151 proof but I prefer 95% grain alcohol. Lower proof alcohol doesn’t really work to dissolve the resin very well. Only use alcohol fit for human consumption- not isopropyl or rubbing alcohol). I usually weigh the resin, and then use 8-10 parts volume of alcohol to the weight of the resin. (I.E 1 oz resin, use 8- 10 oz high proof grain alcohol).
The easiest way I’ve made pine resin syrup, is by first making a tincture (1:8 with 95% alcohol), let all the resin dissolve (about a week) then strain it well through a coffee filter. Then adding twice as much honey as alcohol into a canning jar, mixing the honey and tincture well, until incorporated. This will keep indefinitely, and it strong effective medicine for those damp, thick, mucous ridden congested lung grunges. Easy to mix into a hot cup of tea as well.
And last, but certainly not least, I love to burn little bits of pine resin on charcoals or coals to fill the house with the smell of the forest. It is a wonderful smudge smoke, and fumigant. May also be used in sauna on hot rocks or sweat lodge, but the smoke is rather thick, use sparingly. I also crush up the harder pieces of resin not for medicine into a powder or small bits to mix with other herbs for smudge blends, like juniper needles and berries, sage, sweetgrass, palo santo, etc. Remembering always to say prayer of gratitude and thanks to the trees for their gifts and treasures, and for supporting our lives in so many ways.
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