For the Love of Conifers

Danica with a Western Redcedar tree
Getting to know a Western Redcedar at Hoyt Arboretum. Photo by Syren Nagakyrie.

I don’t have a gardening or wildcrafting background at all. In fact, I was pretty much clueless about trees and plants until I was in my 40s. Nonetheless, long before I knew what was going on, I developed an affectionate response to conifers.  In recent years I have taken a vow to get to know them better and serve them in my daily life, in ways that are intertwined with my contemplative monastic practice.

The first clue I had to this conifer affinity was the fact that I could get a bit of a “high” through deeply inhaling the scent of cedar, in ways that others around me did not. I started putting cedar shavings in little sachets around my house, buying cedarwood incense and essential oils, and so on. That led to wanting to learn more about pines, firs, and spruces. Especially spruces. I am a devotee of Skaði, and She seems to be very fond of spruce resin incense and other conifer goodies (there’s a Norway spruce cone on Her shrine at the moment, for example.) In 2016 I visited an arboretum where I met Red Spruce, and I had a visionary experience through inhaling the scent of fresh resin from the tree.

I’ve been inspired by the Swedish Vårdträd (guardian tree) tradition in which a home’s sacred Vårdträd is honored, cared for, protected, and given offerings.

I’ve also been starting to read a bit about eco-remediation and radical mycology, and my longstanding affection for mosses has earned me the nickname “the moss fondler” by my hiking friends.  Pretty decent for someone who has spent most of her life indoors in cities, and was mostly clueless about ecology until middle age.

For a couple of years now I’ve been making aromatic blends with conifer needles I gather from local trees (Doug Fir especially), simmering them in a mini crock pot at the Hermitage, and inhaling the steam in the morning as I am preparing my tea.  It boosts my mood immensely.

Conifer aromatherapy mists at the Hermitage

Conifer aromatherapy mists at the Hermitage

I also make (and buy, when time is short) air freshener mists with conifer essential oils, and add the oils into my hand-blended house cleaning mixes and an oil burner.


Black Pine, Incense Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Noble Fir are my favorites to mix in with fragrance-free hand soap, shampoo, and conditioner.  When I step out of the shower, my hair is faintly scented with reminders of the evergreen forest.  Grandpa’s Pine Tar bar soap is also a favorite.  And there is a Swedish tjärsalva (pine tar ointment) by Wilma Naturprodukter that is one of the most divine scents I’ve ever encountered.

Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm by Stephen BuhnerNext on my list is learning to make conifer-based salves and incense, once I have all the supplies I need. And interestingly enough, recently an anonymous supporter of the Hermitage sent me a copy of Stephen Buhner’s book Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, and I am overjoyed. I first read his book The Lost Language of Plants back in 2003; it really expanded my thinking at the time, and I’m looking forward to reading his newest book with an eye toward getting to know conifers quite a bit better.

In a paper on conifer oils, Peter Holmes writes….

“A large percentage of the earth’s ancient forests are made up of coniferous trees, i.e., evergreen trees in the temperate zone. Conifers bear cones and needles all year round, instead of flat leaves that come and go with the seasons. The coniferous forests are as important to the planet’s overall living ecology as the tropical rainforests, only they’ve received far less attention.”


Well, Mr. Holmes, I’m doing my best to lavish them with as much attention as I can, because they deserve it.  Evergreens provide blessings all year round.

I recommend Maria Popova’s musings on Peter Wohlleben’s new book The Hidden Life of Trees, and the video from PBS on how trees have sex!