Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis

Family: Pinaceae, the Pine Family

Description: Native evergreen tree. Flat needle-like leaves, blunt-tipped, 2 white lines on needles underside, short petiole, seed cones pendant at ends of twigs

Abundance: Occasional on Mt. Desert Island

Habitat: Cool, wet sites—shade tolerant

Plant Parts Used: Leaves, bark

Food: Tea, flour

Medicine: Vitamin C—scurvy, immune-supporting, arthritis, rheumatism

Other: Outdoor shelter

Hemlock has almost interchangeable properties with balsam fir. The needles are high in vitamin C and have also been used to treat scurvy. The Mi’kmaq, however, used the inner bark for treating scurvy. Some sources say that the bark and leaves of hemlock or spruce, not cedar, was the plant that cured Jacques Cartier’s men of scurvy. The Iroquois, Abnaki, Algonquin and the Native Americans of Delaware and Oklahoma have all been reported to use hemlock branches, applied externally or taken internally, for treating rheumatism and arthritis.

John uses hemlock as food, medicine, and shelter-building. The inner bark can be rinsed, dried, and ground to make a flour. The boughs are good for use in outdoor shelters. They provide soft, insulating bedding and a rain-shedding roof, assuming the boughs are placed right side up—as they are oriented on the tree.

Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.


  • Hunter, G., and J. Tuba. “Notes on Rose Hips and Evergreens as Sources of Vitamin C.” Canadian Medical Association Journal1 (1943): 30-32. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.
  • Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
  • Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
  • Moerman, Daniel. “Native American Ethnobotany: A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants.” UM-Dearborn College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://herb.umd.umich.edu/&gt;.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. Print.