The great forests of the planet hold the keys to life on land, sea, and air. Maintaining forests in all the wonder of their biodiversity is crucial to protecting the health of every living thing. It is why on this summer morning when the air holds a fine mist as I walk my circular allée of medicinal black walnut trees, instead of going inside, I enter the North American medicine walk to look into the red eyes of Clematis texensis ‘Princess Diana’ in full bloom. I Iook up at the arboretum all around me and ask for its help to get this right for you.
Lately something has gone wrong. Nature is reacting to undue pressures and the fallout is here now in the form of Covid-19. Although its exact origins are uncertain, the stresses resulting from lost native species and habitats, missing links on the food chain, particulate pollution, and other environmental factors related to human activity and climate change have surely helped create the atmosphere in which the virus is thriving and looking for human flesh as its host.
This invisible agent called a coronavirus is round, with a tight protein membrane like a football, so it has speed when aerosolized by a sneeze or cough. The glycoprotein tentacles give the virus its glue. Therefore, the separation of six feet you’re hearing about is important because a ball will travel only so far. These are the laws of physics. But there are other invisible agents that can help instead of harm us. The biodiversity of our forests brings us many of the medicines we use to cure what ails us. And forests emit some of these medicines in the form of a multitude of medicinal aerosols.
Go outside and find yourself a pine tree. The white pine, Pinus strobus, is the best for the east. Any native low growing pine is good for the western seaboard. The bigger pine, P. sabiniana, is the best. Take twenty minutes out of your life in the company of these evergreens at noontime. They produce three aerosol molecules called pinenes. Inhale deeply in the presence of one of these trees and the T-cells of your circulating blood will immediately increase, boosting your immune system for free. This effect of one visit will last for thirty days. This is true for men, women, and children. A strong immune system is always your secret weapon.
Get out into the sunshine. The sun and your skin are connected in ways that are extraordinary. The sun does a quantum trick, producing a UV-B wavelength, changing the precursor Vitamin D on your exposed skin into Vitamin D3. This vitamin helps to fight viral diseases. Look up and enjoy the feeling of warm sun on your body. And, don’t be too clean. especially now. Yes, wash your hands and don’t touch your face, but that daily shower washes the vitamin protection away.
There is a medicine that the medicine men of the Cree nation send to me. They live in the vast boreal forest that is the crown of the planet. This medicine is extracted from the bract, or winter covering apicle leaves, of the balsam poplar, Populus balsamifera, variety candicans. They call this tree their medicine stick. It is that important to them and their health. These are the trees of the taiga, what even President Putin calls “the ecological shield of the world.” The resins extracted contain prostacyclin that is used in the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension. The other aerosol medicines contained in the resin are the members of the prostaglandin family. One of which targets nasal vasal constriction. This shuts down the entry of viruses like Covid-19 into the nasal passages.
We know too little about the medicines in the trees we are cutting down at an alarming rate, too little about the medicines in the soil, in the lichens and fungi of our native forests. What we do know is that they can’t help us if we don’t help them. And as I make the rounds of my garden and arboretum taking in the sacred beauty of what it has to offer, I hope to share it with you, before it is too late. The morning mist has gone. It vanished with a smile.
Diana Beresford-Kroeger 2020