The mighty larch tree — growing up to 180 feet tall — has a long history of use as a medicinal plant in Native American cultures. Its bark and leaves have been used for centuries to treat various ailments, from cuts and bruises to gastrointestinal issues.
Although traditional indigenous medicine is based on observation, empirical evidence, and folk beliefs passed down through generations, scientific research is beginning to explain why Larch was a popular medicinal plant for Native Americans. Several studies have shown that the polysaccharide, arabinogalactan (larch gum), found in the woody parts of Larch, may support immune and gut health.
There is still more research to be done, but Larch shows promise as a plant that may provide important health benefits.*
A Unique Conifer With Potential Healing Properties
The Larix (larch) genus belongs to the Pinaceae (pine) family, which includes spruce, fir, hemlock, pine, and cedar. Larix occidentalis, the Western Larch, is one of about ten species of larch trees and is considered the best source of Larch arabinogalactan. This active compound makes Larch a potentially effective plant for supporting health.
Western Larch is commonly found in colder regions of the Northern Hemisphere and is native to parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, and British Columbia, Canada. It is unique because, as a conifer, it’s deciduous, shedding its needles annually like other deciduous trees and producing cones like other coniferous trees. The oldest Western Larch tree, in Montana, is estimated to be 1,000 years old. REF#1629
Different Native American tribes used Larch for different purposes. Some created poultices from larch gum to heal wounds, burns, and bruises. Others chewed larch gum or made teas from larch bark and/or leaves to treat colds, coughs, and sore throats. One tribe is thought to have used steam from the bark to soothe aching muscles.
Potential Health Benefits of Larch Arabinogalactan
We don’t have scientific evidence of the health benefits of Larch. However, lab and clinical studies have been done on its primary active compound, arabinogalactan, that suggest Native Americans had good reason to use it as a traditional folk medicine.
Larch arabinogalactan (larch gum) is a polysaccharide (long chain of sugar molecules) consisting of arabinose and galactose. It is extracted from the woody parts of the larch tree and is a good source of dietary fiber.
A few potential but not proven benefits include:
- Defense against common cold infection: In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial with 199 healthy individuals who had self-reported three cold infections in a six-month period, the group that took Larch arabinogalactan had significantly fewer colds than the group that took the placebo. REF#1630 Eating habits, which can affect health, were similar for both groups throughout the study. The study indicated that larch supplementation may help support the immune system by protecting the body against pathogens. While it also suggested Larch arabinogalactans are safe, more research is needed to understand its mode of action.
- Gastrointestinal health support: As a dietary fiber, Larch arabinogalactan may be an effective prebiotic, contributing to gut health. It resists being digested by enzymes in the upper GI tract and reaches the colon, where gastrointestinal microflora cause it to slowly ferment, prompting the growth of the beneficial microbial species Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. More research may confirm if Larch can help when you’re suffering from bloating, gas, and constipation.
Side Effects and Counterindications of Larch
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Larch arabinogalactan to be added to food as an emulsifier and stabilizer. REF#1631 It is considered a safe supplement with few known side effects. However, since it is a dietary fiber, it may cause some bloating, gas, flatulence, and other mild symptoms in the gut.
If you have an autoimmune disorder such as lupus, Crohn's disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, you should not take Larch because of its potential as an immune-stimulating agent. You should also avoid Larch if you are pregnant or nursing, since no studies have been done to ensure its safety during pregnancy or lactation.
How to Use Larch
Larch gum is generally dried and ground into a fine powder. It has a slightly sweet taste with a faint odor of pine. It is very water soluble, so you can dissolve it easily in water, juice, a smoothie, or even food. Typically you can take one to three tablespoons of Larch powder a day.
Before trying Larch, talk to your healthcare provider to discuss whether it would be a good supplement for your health. This is especially critical if you have existing health conditions or take medications.
Learn More About Supporting Immune Health
Since we lack sufficient scientific evidence of Larch’s health benefits, you may want to consider other natural ways to support your immune and gut health. Check out a few of Gaia Herbs’ other articles to help you enjoy the spring and summer seasons in great health.
- 1. Laura Hodge, "Gus - World's Largest Larch Tree | Seeley Lake, Montana", Crown of the Continent National Geographic. https://crownofthecontinent.net/entries/gus-worlds-largest-larch-tree-seeley-lake-montana/7589f2e8-37dd-4a92-a35b-6ab6ad5627ef 1 1. Laura Hodge, "Gus - World's Largest Larch Tree | Seeley Lake, Montana", Crown of the Continent National Geographic. https://crownofthecontinent.net/entries/gus-worlds-largest-larch-tree-seeley-lake-montana/7589f2e8-37dd-4a92-a35b-6ab6ad5627ef
- 2. L. Riede, B. Grube & J. Gruenwald, "Larch arabinogalactan effects on reducing incidence of upper respiratory infections", Current Medical Research and Opinion Volume 29, 2013 - Issue 3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1185/03007995.2013.765837 2 2. L. Riede, B. Grube & J. Gruenwald, "Larch arabinogalactan effects on reducing incidence of upper respiratory infections", Current Medical Research and Opinion Volume 29, 2013 - Issue 3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1185/03007995.2013.765837
- 3. US Food and Drug Administration, "CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21", FDA Home > Medical Devices > Databases. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=172.610 3 3. US Food and Drug Administration, "CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21", FDA Home > Medical Devices > Databases. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=172.610