Tamarack – Larix Laricina: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Sweet Gum of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, mu’ckigwa’tig, meaning “swamp tree”, tamarack is common in low, damp areas, treed bogs (especially fens) and shore banks. If you’ve read about other trees here on the Song of the Woods blog and you’re expecting a lot, you won’t be disappointed.

When I moved up north I was surprised to see an “evergreen” (it’s not an evergreen) conifer breaking the rules. Tamarack turns a showy bright yellow in late autumn, and then the needles make for a golden road through the bush where they fall. Our black bears will be heading to their dens around that point. It’s a softwood, but its wood is hard and heavy. And it grows where other trees won’t. I love a nonconformist.

Edible Uses of Tamarack

Tamarack - Larix Laricina
Tamarack – Larix Laricina

Tamarack gum tastes like candy. The sap contains a natural sugar with a flavor like bitter honey, called galactan.

The dried, powdered gum can be used as baking powder.

Tender young shoots can be cooked as a vegetable. And like most trees, the inner bark can be dried and ground for flour. And like most conifers, you can use the fresh needles for a tea. And like most conifers, it may be an acquired taste!

Earlier, in the spring, these cones look like purple roses.

Medicinal Uses of Tamarack

Tamarack is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Immune
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Alterative, Analgesic, Antiseptic, Diuretic, and Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the inner bark softened and used as a poultice on festering wounds, burns and frostbite – basswood bark is used similarly. The inner bark can also be stepped or boiled for a wash for all skin complaints. The gum may also be used.

The bark and twigs are used in tea for everything from constipation to flu and colds. There’s an immune system enhancer in larch bark called arabinogalactans that is commercially used now. In the known plant world tamarack has the highest concentration of arabinogalactans. They may even help your gut flora (according to WebMD).

Larch is also one of the conifers used to extract oil of turpentine, an analgesic, good for joint pain, arthritis, and other rheumatic conditions. It’s also an ingredient in Vicks Vaporub. Some pine and spruce are also sources of turpentine oil, but mainly pines.

Alternative Uses of Hackmatack

You can obtain a red dye from the bark.

The Bluenose ship was tamarack, and so are many of the railway ties across Canada, and many fence posts and telephone poles dotting our landscape. Old logs are a preferred source of fuel for smoking hides, and the flexible wood is used for arrow shafts, snowshoes and more. The roots can be used to weave bags. That water soluble gum is used for paint and ink.

Growing Larix Laricina

Except for shade and flooding larches are versatile to many conditions. They are easy to plant from seed or transplant. You may want to mix some peat into the soil where you wish to plant larch trees.

The roots protect the edges of wetlands. “The Haliburton Highlands has more than 20,000 wetlands but has lost 1000’s more. Every wetland we have left is important – let’s protect them.


The resin and sawdust can cause reactions for some people.

Use needles and tea in moderation.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies

Mi’kmaq Medicines (2nd edition): Remedies and Recollections

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

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