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Uses for the Tamarack, Larch Trees in Alaska

C. Jeff Dyrek, Webmaster at the Kenai Peninsula Alaska. Oct 2006
This Tamarack tree is located near the Matanusra Glacier State Recreation Site on Alaska Highway 1 west of Glenallen Alaska.  Here are some medical, food and construction uses for the Tamarack Tree found usually in swamps and bogs but also in higher and dryer areas.

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Tamarak Trees near Meekins Radhouse on Alaska Highway 1

  Photo by C. Jeff Dyrek 


I'm not truly sure if this a Tamarack tree or a Larch, but after looking at the picture I do believe it is a Tamarack.  Not like other Conifers which hold their needles all year round, the Tamarack and Larch trees are deciduous  and lose their needles in the winter.

The Latin name for Tamarack is Larix laricina.  The Chippewa word for the tamarack is "Muckigwatig" which means "Swamp Tree."  The Tamarack tree usually grows in swamps and bogs but these trees were growing on a hillside that was relatively dry.

These are Tamarack Trees near the Matanusra Glacier State Recreation Site on Alaska Highway 1 about two thirds the way from Glenallen to Palmer Alaska.  This is an absolutely fantastic drive, one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen.  To the left and looking back toward the South you can see the Matanusra Glacier.   After looking at the pictures on Google Earth, The Matanusra Glacier is one place that I wanted to stop to see. 

The Tamarak Tree was one that I have never heard of before.  The tree looks like any other evergreen tree, but it turned yellow and lost it's needles in the fall.  I have seen these before in the city of Khatanga in Northern Siberia, but they didn't have any leaves at all and I never put the connection together until I saw these trees.  Click Here to see the Tamarack Trees in Northern Siberia.

The Natives use the tamarack tree wood for snowshoes. It commonly grows in swamps and sphagnum bogs but also grows in upland soils.  In the spring, the tender shoots are nutritious and can be eaten after they are boiled.  The inner bark, called the cambium layer, can be scraped and dried then ground into a meal used to be mixed with other flours.  Also the gummy sap seeping from the tree has a very good flavor that is sweet as maple sugar and can be chewed.

The Tamarack tree can also be used as a medicine.  A tea which is made from the tamarack bark can be used as a laxative, tonic, rheumatism, a diuretic for jaundice and skin ailments.  It can also be gargled for sore throats.  For sores, swellings and burns the inner bark and leaves can be applied as a poultice.  Also the gum from a Tamarack tree can be chewed for indigestion. 

Because of its astringent and gently stimulating qualities the inner bark is especially useful for melancholy, often caused by the enlarged, sluggish, hardened, condition of the liver and spleen with inactivates various other functions of the metabolism.

It can also be used for use in emergencies, or long-standing bleeding of any kind, in lungs, stomach, bowels, or profuse menstruation.

Also for diarrhea, rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma and poisonous insect bites. Also recommended is the weak tea as an eye wash and the warm tea dropped in the ear to relieve earache. A decoction of the bark, combined with Spearmint (Mentha veridis), Juniper (Juniperus communis), Horse radish (Cochlearia armoracia), and taken in a wine glass dose has proven valuable in dropsy.

The recommended tea is made from one teaspoon of the inner bark boiled and steeped for thirty minutes in a cup of water.

For burns, the inner bark is finely chopped and applied directly to the burn in the morning and lightly washed off at night, then reapplied on the next morning.

The outer bark of the tamarack tree can be used for tanning hides of animals. 

The tamarack or hackmatack has been an excellent timber much used for ships. It is practically indestructible under water and stands very well even where exposed. It is used to be the colonial substitute for the ‘compass timber’ of English oak used in the ships of the Royal Navy, it’s roots furnishing the natural knees and other curved pieces so precious to the early shipbuilders. Unfortunately the tamarack as a commercial timber is no more, for some years ago an insect pest swept the country and destroyed all the trees of any size. Their gaunt skeletons, bare, grey and dry as tinder, may still be seen standing in northern bogs and muskegs, a tribute to the species durability. Fortunately new growth is rapidly coming on. (Lower, A. 1938)

The roots to the Tamarack tree can be used to make woven bags.  The roots are stripped of their bark and then boiled making them pliable.  Larger tamarack rots are stripped of their bark and are used to sew the edges of canoes.


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