Learning About Medicinal Trees

Anne Stobart
Wednesday, 6th March 2019

Anne Stobart, a medicinal herbalist, started Holt Wood Herbs to teach people that our herbs don't need to be imported. She has several courses available for learning about growing and harvesting medicinal herbs in a forest garden.

In Devon an innovative project is exploring ways to sustainably cultivate and harvest medicinal trees and shrubs. Anne Stobart is a consultant medical herbalist who has always wanted to grow more of the plants used in her practice. One of her aims is to show that many herbs do not have to be imported from other countries as they can be grown in the UK. Holt Wood Herbs is the resulting project started by Anne and her partner some 15 years ago. This year they are offering courses to pass on some of their experience in designing with and using medicinal trees and shrubs. They have found that using a tree coppice approach can produce a bonanza of medicinal supplies! 

Coppice and pollard techniques

In a forthcoming article in Permaculture Magazine, Anne describes how they have been experimenting with coppice and pollard techniques at Holt Wood Herbs to produce medicinal tree supplies. Coppicing is very productive since many trees readily resprout when cut back to ground level. Pollarding too is an ancient practice which involves cutting back at higher levels of a tree - it has been used for centuries to produce woody items, from tree hay to clogs.

Traditionally, tree coppice has been based on a variety of species from alder and ash to hazel and holly. In Devon, at Holt Wood Herbs, these approaches are being used in a new way with medicinal woody plants. Anne is finding that there is an abundant supply of material including medicinal bark, fruit and leaves. For example, Guelder rose or cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) can be readily coppiced and the bark is harvested for an antispasmodic remedy ideal for many complaints including period pains. Another example is the bark of wild cherry (Prunus avium) which is harvested for a traditional dry cough syrup. Other medicinal tree species include buckthorn (Frangula alnus), elder (Sambucus nigra) and willow (Salix daphnoides).

Transformation from a conifer plantation

Holt Wood is also interesting as a project which shows how a redundant conifer plantation can be transformed into a forest garden using permaculture design principles. The site is just over two acres in size and slopes down towards the River Torridge, offering a number of different planting environments from poor soil to soggy bottom. It was established in 2005, with planting over 1000 trees in sections designed to provide many edges as well as opportunities to coppice trees and shrubs. In addition to foods and fuel, a wide range of plants are grown and harvested for use in herbal remedies and body care products. The use of coppicing and pollarding is beneficial in other ways, as it offers advantages from prolonging the life of trees to enabling a diversity of ground level vegetation and wildlife.

Book on the medicinal forest garden

Anne is currently writing a book on establishing a medicinal forest garden which will incorporate much of the experience gained at Holt Wood Herbs. She is keen to promote the possibilities of growing more medicinal trees and shrubs, and to show how they can be included in a wide range of planting projects.

Holt Wood Courses

Holt Wood Herbs are offering courses in design and harvest in the medicinal forest garden in May and June 2019. Each course is based on a small group so that detailed practical advice is possible, cost including refreshments is £68. Full details and online booking are at www.holtwoodherbs.com/product-category/courses 

Designing the Medicinal Forest Garden: Thur 23 May 2019 or Fri 14 June. Discover the uses of medicinal trees and shrubs and how you can grow them in small or large gardens.

Harvesting from a Medicinal Forest Garden: Thur 30 May 2019 or Sat 15 June 2019. Learn about harvesting and preparing herbal remedies from medicinal trees and shrubs.

Useful Links

The off-grid medicinal herb farm

Medicinal herbs: an antidote to modern medicine

How to design and build a forest garden: part 1 - surveying