Have you truly felt a Pine forest’s presence? It is other worldly. Not just because of it’s pungent uplifting Evergreen aroma…there is something ephemeral yet lasting to be experienced in the embrace of these trees.
Years ago, Skipper and I were trudging along the ridge above Peaceful Acres in a bitterly cold January storm, the cruel wind ripped at any exposed flesh and forced us to keep moving. Skipper, in his collie fur coat, led the way as we instinctively went for cover into the enclosure of a Pine forest. Almost the instant we stepped foot into the forest the howling winds seemed muted and the Pine needles in the crowns towering above stopped the freezing rain as if in it’s tracks. It felt surreal. The forest floor was cushioned with fallen dry conifer needles silencing our steps. I remember feeling safe and curious all at once.
Ever since that day I began actively befriending Pine and have been fascinated by it’s plethora of wild gifts for food, medicine, shelter and beauty. Allow me to introduce to you a giant in the plant kingdom that God has provided to empower you with it’s presence and it’s offerings.
The Scripture I have chosen to introduce you to Pine is Psalm 111:2-4
“Great are the works of the Lord, they are studied by all who delight in them.
Splendid and majestic are His ways,
He has made His wonders to be REMEMBERED!”
Pine is splendid and majestic and wonderful and memorable. Pour yourself a mug of hot Pine needle tea and let’s delight in this green friend together.
Who is Pine?
There are over 200 species of Pines, most are edible and all are useful. All Pines are evergreens, keeping their beautiful needled greenery all year round. They are also referred to as Conifers, because they are cone bearing. The family name is Pineacea. There are softwood pines and hardwood pines. The soft pines have needles that are found in groups of five on twigs. Their wood is low in density. Hard pines are more dense and have needles in groups of two or tree per bundle. White Pine, or Pinus strobis, is the tree I will be featuring in this blog, it is a soft pine and has five needles in each bundle along their twigs and they look like little brooms!
What does Pine Look Like?
Pine trees can grow to enormous heights of up to 250 feet and live up to 500 years. The branches grow around the trunk in a whorl and this can even be seen on the twigs whirling around each branch. In a pine forest many of the lower whorls break off as a tree grows taller, perhaps due to the lack of sunshine with the shading of the crowns in a tightly packed forest.
Pine Cones – The Pine cone contains the reproductive structures. Most conifers (or cone bearing trees) have female and male pine cones on the same tree, with the female cones up higher in the tree and the male cones lower. The armored scales of a woody female pine cone protect the ‘babies’ or the seeds inside. These armored scales will open on warm days just long enough to fertilize the seeds and then remain closed for up to two years until the seeds are mature and ready to fly on their papery wings far away from the parent plant to begin new life. Some species of Pine require intense heat to open up their tightly closed cones and some even wait for a forest fire to begin this process of rebirth. The heaviest cone grows on the Coulter Pine cone weighing up to 10 pounds each cone! The longest Pine cone is the Jeffrey Pine with a length of up to 2 feet. Both of these trees grow on the west coast of North America.
The male cones don’t really look like pine cones…they are not as woody as the female cones and they create an enormous amount of yellow pollen that gets released in the Spring rising in the wind in hopes to pollinate the female cones bearing the seed.
Needles – The needles of evergreen conifers are actually their leaves. Although, Evergreens are constantly shedding their needles to the forest floor, they keep regrowing them so they are everGREEN. Various species of Pines bundle their needles in fascicles of 2,3 or 5 needles per bundle with each bundle securely attached to the twig. Spruce needles and Fir needles grow individually from the twig. Their needles are easy to tell apart in that the Spruce needles are 4 sided and when you roll a Spruce needle between your fingers they spin easily. Fir needles are 2 sided and flat and will not roll between your fingers. Another clue is that Spruce needles tend to be sharp and pointy while Fir needles are a bit softer. Cedar is also an evergreen conifer and it’s ‘leaves’ look rather scaley when examined.
What is Pine’s origin and history?
“The pine tree is rooted in American history. The Eastern White Pine more than any other tree species had a profound effect on the course of events in the New World beginning four centuries ago. At one time the most sought after and valuable tree in the world, it’s wood built the fledgling United States. It was the driving engine of the early American economy and the foundation of it’s trade relationships. It’s place in American History in a tale not often told.” This story is absolutely fascinating and one you will want to watch to learn more. Here is the link: Eastern White Pine – The Tree Rooted in American History
By the 17th century Pine was the most sought after tree in the world.
What do You Do?
The whole Pine is edible from the roots to the needles. However Ponderosa Pine, Australian or the Norfolk Pine, the Lodgepole Pine and the Yew Pine are toxic to humans so always be sure to know what species you are dealing with before ingesting. Fortunately, most Pines are edible. If you live near a Pine forest you have an endless supply of food and medicine and useful offerings as well.
Needles – You can harvest Pine needles year round but I recently learned that green Pine needles are highest in vitamin C in the Winter so I’ve decided to collect and dry Pine as an annual Winter activity. After drying the needles store them in glass jars, never plastic. Pine needles are most commonly ‘eaten’ as Pine needle tea infused in hot water. These needles can be consumed fresh or dried with the latter being a more intense flavor. Boil the water first, fill a jar with cut pine needles (to expose cell walls for best absorption) and pour the boiling water over the filled jar, cap and steep for 10 minutes or more. (Be sure to put a metal knife or fork into the jar so the metal will conduct the heat and keep the mason jar from breaking when the boiling water is added) Some people simmer the needles in a pot of water and that is just as viable as long as you don’t boil the water with the needles in it thus deactivating the vitamin C. Using a sieve you can strain out the Pine infusion for a hot tea, add local honey for it’s medicinal value if you want a sweeter flavor. I like it plain. It has a refreshing flavor and knowing how high it is in vitamin C is a huge plus.
With the Pine infused water you can make Pine syrup, Pine popsicles, Pine Jelly, Pine fruit leather… Simply follow instructions for making any of these recipes using Pine water.
“Balsamic Vinegar” Another one of my favorite ways to get the benefits of the minerals and vitamins found in Pine is to infuse the needles in Apple Cider Vinegar (I use Braggs, be sure it has the ‘mother’ in it). Cap with a plastic lid and let it steep and infuse for 5,6 weeks, pour off and use this Balsamic Vinegar in salad dressing recipes.
Seeds – Pine seeds, or Pine nuts are edible but not all are tasty, the Pinon Pine are meaty and delicious and high in protein. They are wonderful in salads, pesto, and any way you would eat a nut. If harvesting from the wild, just take the papery helicopter wing off first.
Cones – The male cones (Catkins) are purportedly edible but I have never tried them. It is suggested that they be boiled and seasoned to make them palatable. They are high in nutrition so it is now on my bucket list to try them this Spring. My friend Susie Terp reports, “Last spring I collected the catkins. If you collect them early you can eat them and they’re tasty, I salted and roasted them. Later as they are close to “opening” to release the pollen if you pick them early and put them in a warm place, the heat will cause them to “open” and release the pollen. Be aware that once the catkins open they are not fit for eating, it’s like eating twigs.”
Pollen – Pine Pollen is a heavy yellow grain that profusely billows from Pine trees in the Spring. This ‘yellow gold’ is considered a Super Food being highly valued for it’s vitamin content and hormonally rich constituents. Natural testosterone! Put a sack or a pillow case over a pollen laden Pine branch and shake to collect. The pollen can be eaten in flour mixtures and batters or sprinkled in food to ‘up the nutrition’. My friend Karon keeps her stores of Pine pollen in pint jars in the freezer for she discovered that it molds quickly if not frozen. I am so looking forward to experimenting with Pine pollen this Spring!
Inner Bark – Cambium is classified as an emergency food. The cambium is where the trees nutrients are transported up from the roots and into the leaves, it is the living part of the tree packed with digestible starches, vitamins, minerals, sugars and some fibers. In between the outer thick protective bark and the inner wood is this thin living layer of Cambium only a few millimeters thick. Linda Runyon suggested, “The best time to collect Pine cambium is when the warmth hits the air, late Spring…..Truly very soft and EASY to peel out in the warm spring….Branches are very much easier then the big trunk…I actually brought bows into the cabin and warmed them up for easy peel out of the cambium, which needs heat to flow the sap”
Always honor the sustainable harvest by taking downed branches or if harvesting from a living Pine tree, remove only a small amount from under the outer bark on one side of the tree. Never girding the tree for girding all the way around is the death of any tree. BUT if there is a clear cutting nearby take advantage of the timber that is left behind. Keep your eyes open for bounty even in the midst of loss.
Dehydrate the strips of Cambium for use all year. Other trees that are generally safe to harvest cambium from are Birch, Willow, Spruce, Fir and Maple.
Cambium Inner bark can be dried and ground into a powder and used in making bread. During days of scarcity powdered Pine cambium was often mixed with oatmeal or added to wheat flour to extend stores for making bread. It has a piney flavor and makes a fairly passable flour. In general though when an herb is powdered it loses some of it’s power. I suggest keeping the dried cambium strips in a mason jar and then powdering into flour as needed using a food processor (vita mixer…) And always store dried things in a glass mason jar, never plastic.
Chewing Gum…Native Americans chewed on the Pine cambium so I had the inspiration of adding the sweet Pine syrup that I had made to these strips. I let them dry and now they are my favorite ‘chewing gum’.
Cambium Chips, season the fresh strips of cambium and fry in oil in an iron skillet. This I have not tried. It sounds suspect but knowing how high the Pine cambium is in nutrients and calories I intend to try it AND I’ve read of people using the Pine cambium as a substitute for ‘pulled pork’. I really can’t imagine that but I’ll try it and let you know…
As you can see, a Pine forest or just a Pine tree is an inexhaustible food source.
Pine is famous for it’s respiratory system support. Diffusing Pine essential oil will help congestion and aid in sleep as well. My husband is just recovering from a sinus infection and diffusing Pine next to our bed has been the turning point in his healing. A few drops of Pine essential oil in steam tent can also be a powerful healing tool.
‘Pine Brothers’ cough drops can still be purchased but they are easy to make yourself. The Pine resin is antiseptic and can be put directly on a wound or mixed with olive oil to make a healing salve. The Pine resin is also valuable for kidney and bladder health.
Adding Pine twigs to bath water will ease nervousness and ease muscle pain, you can make a Pine liniment for aching muscles as well.
Useful/ Practical/ Functional
Pine’s legendary usefulness makes it one of the most sought after trees in the world.
Pine wood – The lumber is used for construction, furniture, flooring, Pine coffins. The wood is soft, flexible and durable and easy to work with. When pioneers moved West, they would plant Pine on their land to use for building Pine boxes (coffins) which was much easier than the hardwoods. Rope from the inner bark. As a firewood, it is not preferable to burn indoors because the soot that it creates in chimneys is flammable but makes great fire wood for camp fires.
Pine needles – Pine needles are considered insecticidal and throughout history were useful for stuffing mattresses and pillows to keep lice and fleas away. Pine needles also make a great mulch particularly for plants that like acidic soil. I put it around the bases of my blueberry bushes. I don’t have chickens but if I did I have read that Pine needles make great bedding for barn animals. I use a plethora of nature scraps for packing material when I’m sending care packages to loved ones, Pine, Spruce or Fir needles all work great to cushion the contents and add that evergreen magical aroma! Dye made from the needles is tan or green and reddish yellow from the cones….
Pine sap – is used to make glue and caulking or boiled down to make turpentine and tar, it is even what rosin for violin bows is made out of. I have not experimented with the sap but found this really cool blog that shows practical uses for this, yet another, Pine offering. Check it out.
Pine needle baskets, wreathes, decorations made from the needles and the cones are so much fun to be creative with. Pine trees don’t drop cones every year so when they do be sure to gather them to repurpose them into something that brings you and others joy.
A Personal Pine Memory
In 1935, my grandparents, Otto and Helen Endres, started a boys camp in Northern Minnesota. Camp Chippewa is still operating today. Camp is nestled in a magnificent Pine forest between Cass Lake and Buck Lake. Pop as a naturalist, knew every plant and mushroom in “These Thy Woods” and avidly shared his passion for nature not only with the campers but with his grandchildren. Pop and Ahma’s cabin, Trail’s End, was on the far end of a pristine towering Red and White Pine forest. As a very little girl I would seek out Pop to show him my nature treasures with socks and pockets stuffed with acorns, pine cones, pebbles, and even live minnows. Wandering along the path to Trails End far below the magnificent Pine cathedral one could smell not only the Pines but the smells wafting from Ahma’s kitchen and the smell of smoke curling out of the chimney. Glimpses of the sparkling waters of Buck flashed blue in the distance and Ahma always filled any tree stump with her Pansies to brighten the path to her home. Every year for Paul Bunyan Day, the campers planted Pine saplings and upon returning as a camper each Summer would check on ‘their tree’ growth. Some of these trees are enormous today. Our family kept up this tradition and now my own granddaughters plant Pines and Firs each summer. I credit Pop with my love for nature and my passion to share it with others. I am blessed to be the steward of many of Pop’s nature books now that he is no longer with us. I think he would be amazed at how far this wild child of his has taken this passion!
Thank you for joining me as I bragged on my friend Pinus strobus. I hope you have an ever growing delight in this stately beautiful and generous tree. Continue your own Pine Bucket list and share with me your adventures and your stories with Pine.
“Great are the works of the Lord, they are studied by all who delight in them.
Splendid and majestic are His ways,
He has made His wonders to be REMEMBERED!” Psalm 111:2-4
Wild Blessings Abound!
I’ve provided a Pine Crossword Puzzle below as a fun way to help you remember but the best way to remember is by doing.