Pacific Northwest local red-barked beauty Pacific Madrone, aka Arbutus Menziesii, is a sight to behold for sure. The rich hue and dramatically peeling bark, the curve of its sturdy branches and sheen of its verdant waxy leaves are all peak hiking aesthetic, but did you know this tree has long been a multipurpose source of healing tincture and tea?
Various tribes of the west coast, ranging from California up through British Columbia, make use of Madrone bark and berries. Extracted as a tincture or bundled and bruised for a poultice, this plant can be used topically to treat minor wounds and sores. Brewed as a tea, the light-bodied brew has notes of cinnamon, foresty fungus and wood smoke and is used to help a stomachache or as a cold medicine.
This tree serves as a very renewable source of bark, leaf and berry and can be harvested without damaging the tree. Madrones will naturally shed their leaf every two years and their bark each summer. When you approach a Madrone in midsummer and see a blanket of scarlet bark and leaves, grab a basket and gather 'em up!
Flowers will crop up throughout the spring in large showy bell groups ranging from pale yellow to pink. These are edible as well, as are the bumpy red fruit that comes ripe all during the fall.
Any part of the tree can be ingested safely fresh, dried or cooked. Some certainly taste better prepared certain ways over others. We recommend:
- Madrone bark: dried and brewed as a tea for 3-5 minutes
- Berries: partially dry to bring out sweetness, then use in grain dishes, on salads or in oatmeal like dried cranberries
- Flowers: eaten fresh by the handful or sprinkled on green salad
- Leaves: dried and cut, sprinkled on roast meats and veggies as a seasoning herb.
Next time you are wandering the coast, deep in the redwoods or out in the chaparral, keep an eye out for this crimson beauty and see if there's a snack or sip invitation extended from the tree to you!