The History and Modern Uses of Bark

tree-barkSimilar to skin, bark is the outer covering of a tree. It adapts to protect the living tree from the environment, and protects delicate tissues from diseases and insect attack. It is composed of non living tissue on the outside and living tissue on the inside. From cork to canoes, bark can be used to create a variety of practical objects

Bark is most commonly used to make baskets. For hundreds of years, people of the Amazon basin have harvested the fibers from tree bark. Bark was originally prepared by air drying and pounding it with a mallet on a smooth stone until it became supple. After it hardened, it was split into pliable long strips. The strips were then woven together to create baskets, containers, and an assortment of other objects.

Bark was also used to create magnificent canoes and corks. Canoes have been in use for over 3000 years. The first Canadian canoes were made with paper birch bark. The canoes took many hours of manual labor to complete, and they proved to be incredibly durable. The process of cork making was much easier. First, the outer bark was removed without any tree damage. Next, the cork was boiled, stacked and left outside to flatten for three weeks.

Many people are surprised to learn that there was a deep spiritual movement involving bark. Years ago, people believed that spring and summer were the best months to remove bark from red and yellow cedar trees. They believed that the yellow trees were superior to the red trees because they had greater strength. Before they stripped the bark, they began praying to the tree asking for its “dress” to transform into fiber for baskets or clothing. In Australia, shelters made out of bark were covered in spiritual paintings for sacred purposes.

Few people realize that in certain areas of the world, bark has been used for years to create extravagant clothing. South America, Africa, Japan and South East Asia were all pioneers in the creation of bark clothing. Bark was made into belts, headdresses and caps. Similar to the Amazonians, cloth was produced and manufactured into capes, blankets, masks, and other articles of clothing. Wearing bark clothing was a sign of wealth, and it was strictly worn by the elite upper class.

Currently, the uses of bark are both endless and pragmatic. There is an enormous amount of research being conducted in the medical field to determine the benefits of bark. Researchers recently declared that anti inflammatory compounds called phenolics found in the bark of Scotch pine may prove effective in fighting arthritis. Scotch pine is the number one selling Christmas tree. Researchers also believe that the pine bark extract can treat other various health problems. The pine bark extract may potentially treat high blood pressure, asthma and heart disease.

In Europe, the willow bark extract is currently being prescribed to treat lower back pain. A popular anesthetic, tubocurarine, is extracted from bark. A few cancer drugs are also extracted from bark. For example, the South African cape bush willow supplies treatments for lung and ovarian cancer. An interesting fact about bark is that the main ingredient in aspirin, salicylic acid, is obtained from poplar and willow bark.

Bark has become a necessity in the production of clothing and recreational objects. It is woven into capes, blankets, rain ponchos, baskets and mats. Canoes are now being produced using a synthetic equivalent of birch bark, and birch bark is still widely used in the production of souvenirs in Europe.

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