Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Larix larcinia

I had a dream the other night that the larch trees in the park started sprouting fresh, green needles. They were so vibrant and bright! In reality though, they are still bare and needleless. Though I'm not officially observing the larch trees for my tree year, I can't help but keep an eye on this little stand and admire them.

Larches are quite unique, in that, unlike other conifers in the family, their needle-like leaves turn yellow and drop every fall, leaving a very striking silhouette during the winter months. Often, the cones stay on adding an interesting texture to the bare branches, and making them fairly easy to identify from a distance.

There are about a dozen different species of larch. The ones in my park are likely Larix laricina, also known as Tamarack or American larch.

Folklore and myth surround these trees, particularly in Europe and Siberia. Larch bark was thought to protect from the evil eye and the smoke from burning larch bark was used to drive away evil spirits. In Siberia, shamans believe their souls are formed in a sacred larch tree, and poles of the tree are used in rituals.

Medicinally the bark and needles are used to treat a number of ailments. The King's American Dispensatory states that "a decoction of the bark of this tree is said to be laxative, tonic, diuretic, and alterative, and is recommended in obstructions of the liver, rheumatism, jaundice, and some cutaneous diseases; a decoction of the leaves has been employed in piles, hemoptysis, menorrhagia, diarrhoea, and dysentery, and externally in cutaneous diseases, ulcers, burns, etc. In dropsy, combined with spearmint, juniper berries, and horseradish, it has proved valuable. Dose of the decoction, from 2 to 4 fluid ounces, 2 to 4 times a day."

Maude Grieves writes about the European larch, and lists its uses as a "stimulant, diuretic, astringent, balsamic and expectorant. As an external application it has been found useful in chronic eczema and psoriasis. Its chief official use is as a stimulant expectorant in chronic bronchitis, with much secretion. Its action is that of oil of turpentine. It has also been given internally in haemorrhage and cystitis.
The turpentine is used in veterinary practice. It has been suggested for combating poisoning by cyanide or opium, and as a disinfectant in hospital gangrene."

According to Wikipedia, Siberians harvested young needles in the spring, preserved them by fermentation and used them in salads in the winter. I'm definitely adding this project to my list!

What a sweet and pretty tree!

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