The redbud trees (Cercis canadensis var. texensis) are in bloom this week around Pecan Springs, and everybody is out there, snapping photos of those pretty lavender-pink flowers. Green leaves will replace the flowers in another week or two, and by the end of summer the tree will be hung with purple-brown fruits, pods four inches long, flat and leathery. These trees are a sight for sore eyes at a time of year when most other trees are still thinking about putting out their first leaves. But loveliness only one of the many virtues of this little North American native.
The Medicinal Redbud
Dried and powdered, the inner bark was an important medicine. Indian healers used it to staunch bleeding, ease skin irritations and poison ivy rash, and treat sores and tumors. Bark tea was drunk to treat diarrhea and dysentery and used (like quinine) to reduce malarial fevers and ease joint and muscle pain and headaches. The flowers were also steeped as a tea and drunk to prevent scurvy, treat kidney and bladder infections, and ease urinary ailments.
The Edible Redbud
The buds can be pickled: Cover with a pickling brine of 1 quart cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 6 cloves, 1 2” cinnamon stick, and 1/2 teaspoon each allspice and celery seed; ready in about 2 weeks. Toss the flowers in salads to add tartness and color. Or saute the buds, flowers, and tender young pods for 10 minutes in butter and serve them as a vegetable. Native Americans roasted the ripe pods in ashes before eating the seeds.
The Pliable Redbud
The supple young sprouts, peeled and stripped, can be used in the construction of baskets. Some Indian tribes used the white inner bark or the red outer bark as decorative elements in very sophisticated work. The bark was also used as cordage and coarse twine, and the roots were used in sewing animal skins.
However you look at it, the redbud is worth a place of honor in the yard.
Read more about redbud: Gather Ye Wild Things: A Forager's Year, by Susan Tyler Hitchcock