Medicinal woody plants growing in the Washington Park Arboretum

December 30th, 2013 by Kathleen DeMaria, Arboretum Gardener
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Bark from the Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia

1) Taxus brevifolia (Pacific or Western Yew)

  • Native from southern Alaska to central California
  • Chemotherapy drug Taxol was derived from the bark
  • All parts of the plant are toxic except the fleshy red aril surrounding the little green cones

2) Salix (Willows)

  • Aspirin is derived from Salicylic acid (component of Willow-bark extract)
  • Medicinal use dates back to at least the 5th century BC when the Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed it to ease pain and reduce fevers.
  • Lewis and Clark used willow bark tea as a remedy for crew fevers

3) Hamamelis virginiana (Witch Hazel)       

  • Leaves and bark contain hamamelitannin believed to be responsible for astringent properties, hemostatic properties, and antioxidant activity
  • North American Indians distilled bark, leaves and twigs to make eyewash, treatment for hemorrhoids, internal hemorrhages, and gum inflammation.

photo4) Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree)

  • Considered a living fossil, Ginkgo  is native to China
  • Chinese people appreciate the dry-roasted nuts as a treatment for lung qi deficiency

5) Thuja occidentalis (Eastern arborvitae)

  • One of the four plants of the Ojibwe medicine wheel
  •  Rich in vitamin C, thought to have cured many bouts of scurvy in mariners

Source: Moerman, Native American Ethnobotany; Van Wyk and Wink, Medicinal Plants of the World; Schafer, The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm

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