Of the many types of conifers native to North America, pines are recognized by their thin, long needles that usually come in bundles of 2-5. But some, like the foxtail pine and bristlecone pine, have very short needles. The fallen needles that cover the ground beneath the trees are mainly used as mulch in gardens, especially where acidity is desired.
Pine nuts and the inner bark of pines are considered survival foods; many Indian tribes and even the early European settlers depended on these foods during the harsh winter months when other edibles were scarce. Many species of pines are known to have medicinal properties as well and have been used extensively by Indians for food and medicine. The needles also contributed to their nutrition.
Many conifers, such as spruce, fir, hemlock, and juniper, with nutritional and medicinal value, are often clubbed with pines, although they are not true pines. A typical example is Oregon pine which is also called Douglas fir. It is neither a pine nor a fir, but the young leaves are edible and greatly appreciated when they newly emerge in spring.
If you are into enjoying the bounties of nature, foraging for pine needles can open up many possibilities. Here are some very good reasons why you should give it a try.
1. Pine needles boost immunity
Pine needles are rich in Vitamin C, the vitamin that helps you ward off colds and flu and other seasonal ailments. A tea made from pine needles or spruce and hemlock leaves are excellent for improving general immunity. The needles from your Christmas trees may be quite handy, but they are likely to be sprayed with chemicals or colors. Hemlock is quite safe to use; it is not even remotely related to poison hemlock, which is a flowering shrub.
Making the tea is easy. Just cut up the green leaves and place them in a bowl. Pour boiling water over them and put the lid on. Strain out the infusion after 15-20 minutes for a warm, refreshing drink that will keep you healthy and strong.
2. Pine needles improve eyesight
Pine needles are a good source of Vitamin A and other carotenoids that promote eyesight. Drinking the tea regularly may help protect your eyes against macular degeneration and age-associated blindness. If it is not practical to make fresh pine needle tea often enough, a tincture with alcohol can be used.
To make the tincture, fill a glass jar half way with fresh or dried pine needles. Cover with the best quality alcohol you can get. 40% vodka is a good choice. Place the jar in a warm place for 4-6 weeks, shaking it at least once every day. Drain out the alcohol into clean glass bottles with stoppers. All the goodness of the pine needles will have been extracted into the alcohol so that you can use this for daily multivitamin supply. Take 10 to 15 drops in a cup of water or herbal tea.
3. Pine needles keep skin healthy
Pine needles have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Use the tea as a face wash to remove excess oil and prevent acne. Thanks to the astringent elements in them, the tea pulls the skin together, reducing pore size and fine wrinkles.
4. Pine needles promote healthy hair
Pine needle tea can be used to treat itchy scalp and dandruff. Wash the hair frequently with diluted tea. Another alternative is pine needle tincture. Add 5-10 drops to your shampoo or conditioner and wash off after a few minutes. For better results, use ten drops in a cup of water as a final hair rinse.
5. Pine needles relieve fatigue
Drinking a cup of tea made with Douglas fir or juniper stem tips can be invigorating when you’re fatigued by hard work. Gather a handful of tender stem tips and put them in a mason jar containing fresh water. Put the lid on and place the jar where it will get sunlight. Strain out this solar infusion after 3-4 hours. You can add lime juice and sugar or honey to taste. This refreshing drink has none of the astringency of pine tea made with boiling water.
6. Pine needles have anti-aging properties
The strong antioxidant action of the pine needle tea may help prevent premature aging due to UV radiation. Drinking the tea and applying the tincture on skin exposed to the sun may help reduce the damage to the skin tissue. The high vitamin C content helps in the production of collagen, the skin protein that helps keep the skin smooth and supple.
7. Pine needles keep your feet healthy
Pine needle tea is naturally antiseptic. It can be used to wash cuts and wounds to prevent infections. Prepare a warm tea with the needles and pour it into a large basin or footbath. Place the feet in the infusion for 20-30 minutes to protect against bacterial as well as fungal infections like athletes foot. It will also help relieve foot swelling and fatigue at the end of the day.
8. Pine needles improve blood circulation
Turpentine oil extracted from pine trees have a long history of being used topically for relieving pain and swelling due to arthritis and rheumatism. The volatile compounds in the oil improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation. The tincture of pine needles contain the same active ingredients that provide relief, but without the skin irritation associated with turpentine application.
9. Pine needles prevent anemia
Drinking pine needle tea can reportedly prevent and treat anemia. The active substances in the needles increase red blood cells besides improving blood circulation.
10. Pine needles relieve respiratory problems
Pine needle tea is excellent for treating respiratory problems, especially chest and sinus congestion due to the accumulation of phlegm. It acts as an expectorant, lightening the mucus and helping it to be coughed up. The tea is also soothing for an irritated mucous lining and helps relieve excessive coughing.
11. Pine needle tea is strongly antibacterial
Warm pine needle tea, or a few drops of tincture added to a cup of warm water, can be used as a throat gargle to protect against and treat a sore throat. Drinking the tea helps fight bacterial infections in the mouth and respiratory tract.
Caution: A few pines and other conifers are inedible or even toxic. Livestock and pets are particularly vulnerable to these toxins. Some pines to avoid are lodgepole pine (P.contorta), Monterey pine (P. radiata), and Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria spp.). Teas made from pine leaves, especially those of Ponderosa pine, should be avoided during pregnancy. The leaves are not toxic per se, but the potent chemicals in them can cause uterine contractions that may result in miscarriage. All parts of yew are poisonous, except for the bright red arils. Make sure that you know your pines well before bringing home boughs and needles.