In an effort to let more light into and around my house, I am cutting down several trees that are starting to encroach. Notably there is a semi-circle of Mimosa Trees that surround it. I immediately read this as a good sign -- a medicine I use right at my doorstep, literally cradling my home. They say that plant medicine will show up in your surroundings, that what you need most is there waiting for you... if you are paying attention.
Most would dismiss these trees as an invasive to be cut down right away. In Southern Appalachia, Mimosa (Albizia julibirissin, aka Silk Tree or Silky Acacia) can be found along highways, forest edges and anywhere land has been disturbed. Originally from China, it was first introduced to the states as an ornamental in 1745, no doubt due to its delightful pink puffball flowers, delicate leaves and beautiful, almost architectural limbs.
While I don't contest that the tree is invasive, it appears to be less so than tenacious plants such as kudzu or bittersweet. It certainly is easier to manage. You can prune it and effortlessly pull up the seedlings that pop up in surrounding areas.
However, the North Carolina Native Plant Society classifies it as a 'Rank 1 - Severe Threat' -- see their full list of invasives here. I am not advocating that people plant this tree in their yards -- please don't! But if you happen across it, know that you can help manage the population by harvesting the blossoms and bark, and preventing further spread of the plant population through proper management and/or removal.
The reality is that our landscape is constantly changing and invasive plants aren't going away. It is important to be informed. It is also worth investigating how these invasive plants can be used to our benefit as they are likely here to stay. I tread lightly on this subject as I have been attacked by native plant advocates for even suggesting that these plants have purpose in our ecosystem. However I remain in a position of exploration, curiosity and discernment -- continually questioning and investigating what we know to be true, especially when it comes to nature. I am equally interested in understanding how to protect and preserve the native plants of this region as I am learning of the uses and benefits of invasives. Our role within this tender, dynamic ecosystem is discussed in the collection of essays titled The Virtues of Ignorance, and more specifically in the fascinating though at times controversial book Invasive Plant Medicine.
Onto harvesting the medicinal inner bark of the mimosa tree. I don't intend to write much about the virtues of Mimosa in this post, other than to say it is incredibly powerful ally for levity, uplifting moods, confronting depression and grief, and soothing insomnia and anxiety -- there is a reason it is called the Collective Happiness Tree! The flowers can also be harvested to make flower essences and tinctures -- "they tend to have more uplifting and mood enhancing properties, whereas the bark is more sedative and anchors the heart and the spirit when there is grief, sorrow, insomnia and anxiety." - Jon Keyes
STEP 1: Gather a few branches, taking only as much as you think you will need. For this harvest, I ended up with about 12oz of dried bark from two lead branches taken from small seedling trees.
STEP 2: While the branches are green and fresh, remove the bark using a sharp knife. I prefer to use a Morakniv Woodcarving Knife due to its sharp, precise blade and comfortable handle. But truly any small utility or pocket knife will do the trick. An affordable all-purpose knife we recommend is the Opinel Garden Knife.
See the below video for a demonstration. Note that the medicinal properties are found in the inner bark (the cream colored underside of the outer bark.
STEP 3: Cut the strips of bark into smaller pieces (approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch square) using scissors or pruners.
The below video demonstrates the cutting process.
STEP 4: Allow the bark to dry, giving it plenty of air circulation. Mimosa bark should dry quickly, within one to three days depending on your environment. Store in an air tight jar in a cool dark place. The next step would be to infuse the herbs to create a tincture. You can also take mimosa bark as a decocted herbal tea - simply allow the bark (a teaspoon per cup) to simmer in hot water for about 15-20 minutes - strain and enjoy!
This last video gives you a sense of how much bark I was able to harvest from two five-foot branches.
According to Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, toxic build-up can eventually manifest as a health disorder. And as we grow older, the body's mechanisms for eliminating impurities tend to be less efficient, making it even more important to cleanse every season.