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Apple

various Malus spp.

Is it really worth describing the apple tree? Real quick, they're not too big... 8 to 20 feet would be average.  You might find some up to 50 feet, but that'd be an exception.  In spring they're all a-blossom, ranging in colors from white and pink to purplish red.  The leaves are generally oval, and darker green on top than underneath.  Apple wood is reasonably hard, and used to be used in making handles for tools.  The trees often have an abundance of dead lower limbs still attached, and these make great kindling and fire wood, as they stay dry up off the ground and break off pretty easily.  The fruits... you know what the fruits look like... Though there are almost infinite varieties of apples, for our purposes, we needn't distinguish.  Rather, a taste will reveal the degree of potency.

The leaves and bark of the apple tree possess astringent properties that make it useful in a number of conditions.  The inner bark has been used as a folk medicine to treat hyperacidity and heartburn.  Herbalist Tommie Bass tells us, "Make a tea or syrup from the bark (or leaves in the summer) for a sour stomach or if the stomach burns.  It settles your stomach".  Apple bark is an ideal remedy in treating this malady, as it not only acts as an antacid, but its astringency also restores strength and tone to the sphincter that separates the harsh stomach acids from the esophagus, thereby acting in a curative, as well as palliative, manner.  A tea will likewise be of benefit during bouts of diarrhea, or to address chronic loose stools.  It is anti-inflammatory, and its mild bitterness will also promote more efficient digestion.

Herbalist David Winston told me about a rather obscure use of apple bark: "One of my early teachers, the late William Le Sassier used (and I use) Apple tree bark as a lymphatic and Spleen tonic.  It enhances lymphatic circulation, helps to shrink an enlarged spleen.  It is usually mixed with other Lymph/Spleen herbs.  It is specifically indicated for splenic congestion, with a slightly enlarged spleen, tender to the touch, with diarrhea. Gather the bark spring or autumn."  The only other reference I've seen for Apple being use for the spleen is from colonial herbalists John Sauer, who wrote, "Cider pressed from very ripe sweet apples and freshly fermented may be boiled to a syrup with loaf sugar.  When several spoonfuls of this are taken at a time, the syrup is quite useful against splenetic disorders, for strengthening the heart, and for dispelling faintings or palpitations, as well as melancholies caused by grief and hard times."

Apple Bark used to be used in treating fever as well, though it's not on my list of things I'd start with... mainly because, at the moment, I really don't get its mode of action.  Nonetheless, Felter and Lloyd share the following, (which is useful to know, since apples are likely more common in the homes of fever-stricken friends and family than yarrow and elder blossoms): "An apple tea may be made for fever patients, by boiling a tart apple in 1/2 pint of water, and sweetening with sugar."

Apple leaves may be used similarly to the bark, though they are milder in action.  They make an excellent topical application, and may be chewed and applied as a poultice to inflamed swellings, boils or infected bites, which they relieve by virtue of both their astringent and antiseptic qualities.  These would be excellent first aid applications for bug bites and thorn scratches, and the other common maladies that can occur during a good days hike.  Apple leaves could be put into a mason jar with water and left out in the sun for a while to make a gentle astringent toner for the skin, similar to Witch Hazel extract.  A weak tea can be swished in the mouth to tone weak and easily bleeding gums.

Apple cider, produced prolifically throughout the Great Lakes bioregion, also yields medicinal merit (and few things taste better).  Grieve's Modern Herbal says, "It is stated on medical authority that in countries where unsweetened cider is used as a common beverage, stone or calculus is unknown, and a series of inquiries made of doctors in Normandy, where cider is the principal drink, brought to light the fact that not a single case of stone had been met with during forty years."  I find this likely to be an exaggeration, though probably not without some truth beneath it.  Felter and Lloyd share that "A strong decoction or syrup of the sweet apple tree bark has been employed with success in some cases of gravel".  Cider is also decidedly diuretic, as anyone who's too greedily hoarded a jug of fresh Cider well knows.

Cider is also a tasty medium for infusing herbs.  King's American Dispensatory makes reference to infusing parsley or horseradish in cider to treat dropsy.  I've steeped Chamomile in hot Cider (referring to this drink alternately as "Applemile" and "Cham-apple" cider), and find it an excellent calming beverage to take the "anti-nap fight" out of overtired children... for overtired adults, steep the Chamomile in some hard Cider (or add a squirt or two of the tincture) for a little extra "kick".

And, as referred to in that ever-popular rhyme, even apples themselves offer remedial benefits.  Tommie Bass tells us, "apples good for constipation, dry apples good for diarrhea."  John King wrote that "Cooked apples form an excellent local application in ophthalmic inflammation, …inflammations, sore and swelled throat…, ulcers, etc."  Maude Grieve shares "Ripe, juicy apples eaten at bedtime every night will cure some of the worst forms of constipation. Sour apples are the best for this purpose."  John Sauer offers a couple recipes for Apple poultices: "Apples that have turned mealy, pared and with the seeds and cores removed, may be browned in fresh, drawn butter.  After they are browned, lay them between a double folded cloth and place this on sores of the breast.  This reduces the swelling or else causes the sores to head up and break.  Once they have opened, daub them with a little honey, which will cleanse them and cause them to heal up quickly".  Another, which he suggests for pleurisy and also backache, cooks past-their-prime apples in an infused oil of chamomile with a bit of saffron, applied is hot to the chest or back... does that not sound exquisite?

It must be stated that Apple leaves, bark and seeds all contain hydrocyanic acid - "cyanide" - and that this means some sensible, informed caution needs to be exerted in using preparations of Apple.  Hydrocyanic acid is widespread in the plant kingdom, found in peaches, almonds, apricots and many other fruit trees.  It is itself partially responsible for the medicinal virtues of herbs that contain it.  In herbal medicine, Wild Cherry Bark, which contains hydrocyanic acid, is a popular and admirably safe remedy by which the use of apple may be put into perspective.  Apple probably existed in early herbal medicine as a substitute or alternative to Cherry Bark.  I've used a tincture of fresh Peach leaves and twigs for years, as much because it tastes so good as that it's good for me.  The hydrocyanic acid is most concentrated in the seeds, and these should not be used, though they're commonly consumed by "juicers".

Personally, I don't feel that Apple preparations are dangerous, but be sensible and make them with a light hand... after all, taking responsibility for your health means you also have to take responsibility for learning about the things you use to sustain it.  King's American Dispensatory states, "Apple tree bark (tea) may be given in doses of 1 to 4 fluid ounces, 3 times a day." Small doses of the tincture, from 5-1O drops, would be preferable to larger doses, and this much would likely be sufficient to handle run of the mill heartburn (Apple's cousin Peach is also very good for this).  Despite my opinions about its safety, it makes sense to be informed about the symptoms of hydrocyanic acid poisoning: anxiety, confusion, dizziness, headache and vomiting are initial indicators, and warrant a call to your local poison control center.

Because its far too nebulous a topic, and I don't know a lick about it, I'm not going to cover apple cider vinegar, with the exception of an interesting formula by Tommie Bass for Poison Ivy: 2 cups oak bark (apple bark would probably do, too), 1 quart apple cider vinegar, & 1 quart water.  Slow boil for 25 minutes, strain and apply liberally.

I've made a nice kinnickkinnick (smoking mixture) from a blend of Tobacco, Apple leaves and bark, and Chamomile...  mmm.

jim mcdonald

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