Late Winter means tree time around here. It’s Maple-tapping time for some, though I’m missing out this year. And collecting bark for others! So here’s the thing about bark: it seems to intimidate people, but it’s pretty darn easy. It’s like falling off a log. Here is what you do:
Go outside. That’s the hard part for some, I know. But try it.
Find a tree. I use a fair number of different barks medicinally: Alder, Cottonwood, Aspen, Peach, Pine, Tuliptree, Willow, Birch, Black Walnut, Wild Cherry. Just a few examples. Use what you have.
It is handy to have a field guide, so you know what the heck you are collecting.
The you either cut the tree down, find downed bits or politely prune the tree. I don’t usually suggest going nuts cutting trees down because hey, trees are nice to have around. But– There are valid reasons to cut trees down–clearing land, thinning to manage a woodlot, firewood, it’s growing into powerless, it won’t stop taunting you.
So anyway, I sometimes hear “Oh, no, I couldn’t cut down a tree.”
Of course you can. Pretend it’s 1850 and wield a saw. You can.
But often you won’t have to get quite so burly, and can just pick up what the wind blew over.
I generally drag my booty back home, but you can de-bark it outside if you want to. Here it is great to be outside if you keep moving but not exactly balmy so I tend to drag my tree or branches home.
So then you take off the bark or chop up the twigs. With most trees I don’t get way into de-barking very small twigs, I just Felco them up. I throw all the buds in, too. It’s a great way to test out your medicine too because it exacerbates every hand-pain you’ve ever had.
I’m just going to insert a few photos here so you can get the idea. I used to use this crappy little Wusthof knife with a broken tip that I’d inherited when cleaning out my dear late great-aunt Bertha’s apartment but honestly it’s a piece of crap so I just invested in a great mini-drawknife. But fancy tools aren’t the main thing. The main thing is you. And the tree.
And then I like to tincture the fresh material, or make an infused oil. You can dry it for later use too. This will totally depend on what bark you’ve gathered and what your goal is.
What I am working on this week is Sweet Birch, aka Black Birch (Betula lenta) and I make a tincture in grain alcohol, an elixir with honey in Brandy and an infused oil which I may or may not then turn into a salve. This is a joy to rub on after a de-barking session, or after any workout. Tired feet rejoice in a Birch rub too. And if you’re into foot soaks, or any bath-taking, try Birch. It tastes and smells delightful, and it mixes nicely with other barks such as Aspen, Alder, Willow and Cottonwood.