The boreal forest holds many gifts, mysteries and is deeply rooted in First Nation tradition. It is the world’s largest land biome housing a diverse collection of animals, insects, plants, fungi and bacteria, all of which contribute to the maintenance and survival of this forest that in turn, is so important to our survival.
The boreal forest, also known as the taiga, spreads 270 million hectares from coast to coast (Alaska to St. Johns) and east from Europe to western Asia (Norway to western Russia).
Our boreal forest is important for many reasons. It is culturally significant to Canada’s Indigenous peoples, deeply rooted in their tradition, culture and communities. It absorbs and stores carbon dioxide which is a main contributor to climate change and global warming. It purifies our air, water, and regulates our climate on a large scale thereby contributing to the health of our entire planet.
From a Herbalist’s perspective, there is SO many amazing plants to talk about, but let’s focus on 3 in particular that anyone can spot while out in the forest.
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
If you follow me, you’ve absolutely heard me talk about this incredibly useful and highly medicinal plant. Traditionally, Bearberry was used by Indigenous cultures by combining the leaves with tobacco. The smoke from Bearberry would also be blown into an infected ear to relieve the infection. Leaves were made into poultices for burns and blemishes.
Today, Bearberry is commonly used for UTIs as it is highly anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and an effective diuretic. It is also very astringent and can be used to tone the bladder for incontinence and bed wetting.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Horsetail is another one of my favourites. You’ve probably heard me speak of this pre-historic plant being used for its high silica content to strengthen hair, nails and connective tissue in the body.
In Western Herbalism we use this to increase bone density, help heal sprains and fractures, rheumatic conditions, bleeding or inflamed gums, haemorrhage, normalizing menstruation, bacterial infections of the bladder, benign enlargement of the prostate and much more!
Not only is it a highly diverse medicinal plant, it also serves an important food for caribou, moose and bears. Us humans can also use the young shoots as a nutritious wild food, although you do need to be careful you don’t overdo it with these because of its high silica content.
Saskatoon Berry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Picture provided by https://www.ediblewildfood.com/saskatoon.aspx
Yes, these are yummy, well known berries to Saskatonians, but did you know that the leaves, inner bark and berries can be used as medicine?
Eating just a few of these berries not only gives you a massive hit of antioxidants, they are also anti-inflammatory and can help with upset stomach and diarrhea. The leaves are astringent which means they tone tissues so they can also be used for diarrhea, leaky gut, cuts, scrapes and bladder issues.
The plant extract has also been studied by the University of British Columbia for its
First Nations have a long history of using the whole plant as an important food and medicine. The berries were boiled to relieve stomach upset and digestive issues. The inner bark would be used to prevent miscarriages, stop excess menstrual bleeding, cramping and aid in the transition into menopause. The inner bark and juice of the berry was also used for post-birth pain and as an effective eye and ear drop for infections.
There is a caution here, both the berry pit and leaves contain cyanide compounds so eating large amounts of fresh berries can actually cause stomach upset. But, good news, cooking destroys this compound, so bring on the Saskatoon berry pies and decoctions!
So there you have it, 3 medicinal plants native to Canada. But the boreal forest if full of medicine and highly nutritious wild foods. I urge you to look into what the boreal has to offer, how you can protect it and how you can feed not only your immune system and nutritional needs but your soul as well.
I invite you to follow me at @ashandthornherbals to learn more about these plants, how you can prepare, ethically and sustainably harvest them and safely incorporate them into your daily health plan.
Thank you for reading,
Founder and Herbalist of Ash + Thorn Herbals
Uses of these plants have not been regulated by the FDA. Regardless of their long term traditional uses it is important to independently research a plant you are considering using for medicinal and nutritional purposes as each individual is different. Please ensure that if you are gathering plants from the wild that you correctly identify the plant before using.