Words on Wellness: Lilac
The beauty of a jewel-toned sea and clear spring skies is accentuated by the purple-blue blossoms of California lilac. Not a true lilac, Ceanothus goes by other common names like Tick bush, Deerbrush, Red root and Blue blossom, yet its small dark-green leathery leaves and clumps of tiny aromatic flowers are hallmark of this California native. Ceanothus is an important food for bees because the timing of its blooms provides steady nourishment during unpredictable spring weather. It’s a hardy bloomer and has long-lasting beauty that makes it a garden favorite with many varieties available at nurseries. The over 30 native species of the Pacific Northwest also serve as a powerful herbal medicine.
You don’t have to have allergies for your nose and throat to be putting out extra mucus this time of year. As nature’s sap is running, so too goes ours, in response to changes in temperature and the quickening of the season. Tea of Ceanothus leaves make a nice lymph tonic for spring-time sniffles whereas the robust red root is used to move deep lymph surrounding organs like the liver and spleen, which often get clogged this time of year. Mature roots resemble manzanita trunks with their smooth red bark. They are harvested late summer through winter and require immediate processing since they dry quickly and get hard as stone. The red color of the root indicates that it helps with blood conditions and the tincture of the root is worth keeping on hand for heavy bleeding. It has long been used as a folk remedy for nose bleeds, heavy menses, hemorrhoids and can help heal broken capillaries of the skin. Because of its astringency, simmered root tea makes a wonderful gargle for sore throats and a mouthwash for periodontal disease. It is commonly added to other more antimicrobial herbs to deal with tonsillitis, swollen lymph nodes, hepatitis and mononucleosis.
Still, you never even have to use the plant as internal medicine to feel the medicinal effects of its vibrant nature when you walk by. Whether you witness the rare piercing purple of the smallest coastal bluff variety or the many shades of larger ones, this plant is like an ever-grinning spring tonic for the spirit.