January 3, 2024 1:25 pm

Evergreens – medicines you’ll find on a winter walk.

Most plants are in winter slumber mode, however there are a few medicinal herbs dwelling in our forests that are available for harvest year-round. In addition to the familiar evergreen trees, the evergreen herbs are found closer to the earth; which, depending on ice and snow cover, may require a little digging to reveal their greenery.

Pine (white)

They grace our forests with their majestic height and branches that sing with the wind; they are the tallest growing conifer in eastern Canada, the bottom 2/3 of the tree is often branchless. The needles are long, soft and slender, grouped in clusters of five. They sometimes drop their needles for regenerative purposes, with new needles quickly replacing the old.
I like to add pine needles to fire cider – a spicey cider vinegar preparation used to clear respiratory congestion, made with ginger, garlic, chillies and other spices. Pine needles are high in vitamin C, rush them and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Balsam Fir

Identified by the raised resinous blisters found on the trunk of young trees. The needles are flat, and are white underneath with a green line running through the middle. Oft confused with its close relatives, the spruces, which have round needles, no sap blisters, but sometimes ooze a white sap, which as a child you may have chewed as “spruce gum”.
Fir has a pleasant and stimulating scent which is released upon rubbing the branches. The resinous sap from the blisters is very tasty and fragrant. Use the branch tips as a steam inhalation for respiratory congestion, or a blues busting foot bath.


An evergreen covering most forests in our region, the leaves are tough, dark green, sometimes burgundy in areas with full sun exposure.
The essential oil produced from the leaves is a popular flavouring for candies, gum and toothpaste; also used in topical preparations for sore muscles, joints, and sciatica. It has an uplifting flavour for occasional use in teas, but not used long-term due to potential irritation to the kidneys.


Usually found near wintergreen in mossy patches along forest pathways, it has a trailing stem, up to a meter-long, with sets of opposite leaves along the full length of the stem; the leaves are oval, dime-sized, with a whiteish line down the middle of each.
The leaves are a traditional medicine used by herbalists and midwives to support women in late-stage pregnancy, and to ease menstrual disorders.


Also known as trailing arbutus, the sweet-scented flower is sought after in the spring, but try finding it in the winter – look for a low growing, creeping branch system, with clusters of leaves, usually found along forest paths.
Mayflower leaves were used as a folk remedy for urinary ailments.


Typically found in mossy patches in the forest, with stems barely 5 cm tall, topped with three glossy leaves, each the size of a quarter. The golden, thread-like roots branch in many directions, not far below the earth’s surface.
Goldthread roots can be chewed to relieve canker sores in the mouth, or tinctured as a bitter remedy for indigestion, and for stomach flu.

I challenge you to get out for winter walks and identify all of these evergreens, found abundantly in forests and parks throughout our region. Or, join me on a winter herb walk at Point Pleasant Park on Sunday, February 11, 3:30-5pm and we’ll discover them together, and enjoy a hot cup of tea with the herbs we find.

Register via this link: