Plant profile – Pine
The waving of a pine tree on the top of a mountain – a magic wand in Nature’s hand – every devout mountaineer knows its power, but the marvelous beauty value of what the Scotch call a breckan in a still dell, what poet has sung this?
Pine is abundant in New England. A walk in the woods in midwinter will help you identify this evergreen tree. You can use all members of the Pinaceae interchangeably.
Pines were used for medicine, lumber, and paper production. My house, a 1760 cape, is made from pine trees. The slabs on my kitchen floor are 20 -22 inches wide. Today, you will probably have a hard time finding a pine old enough to be that large.
Botanical name: Pinus
What’s in a name: The modern English name Pine is derived from Latin pinus, which can be traced to “pit” or resin.
Botanical Family: Pinaceae
Identifying Pine: It is important that you learn to identify Pine before you use it. While many of the evergreen trees can be used as medicine and food, some like Yew are toxic.
Because Pine is an evergreen, winter is an excellent time to venture into the woods and find it. While many other trees stand bare, the needle of Pine will be green, making it easier to identify.
On a guided wood walk that I took many years ago (back in Israel), it was explained that if a fire ignites in a forest of mixed Pine and Oaks, Pine will ignite and burn much faster than the Oak trees. But it will also renew the forest with small Pine seedlings much faster than Oak.
Harvesting: The needles are best harvested in the spring and summer when they are still young and fresh. But you can still harvest needles in the fall and winter if they are green.
The summer needles are richer in aromatic resins, far more than the winter needles. It makes sense since the warmth of the sun during summer creates resins.
To ensure you are harvesting the needles without causing harm to the tree, cut the branch between the needle bundles so some needles will be left at the end of the branch. That will allow the tree to heal and renew itself.
Harvest the inner bark, preferably during spring, from a tree that needs thinning or a tree that had fallen in a storm. The outer bark is removed, and the inner bark is scraped off the tree.
The pitch (yellow resin) found on the trunk has healing properties. It is found where the tree had previous wounds. It is a protective and healing mechanism of the tree, much like the mucus and pas in our body. Please be mindful when you harvest the pitch. The pitch is runnier in the summertime. You can then gather loose liquid pitch.
A Tip: The pitch is very sticky. It is a good idea to grease your hands with olive oil before gathering pine pitch.
History and lore: The Iroquois nation made a pact of peace with other tribes under the white pine tree, burying their weapons under it, as instructed by The Great Peacemaker. The five needles of the White Pine became a symbol for the five Native American tribes.
Pine for the Lungs
Pine is truly medicine for the winter. It is used to relieve upper respiratory infection symptoms such as cough, sore throat, bronchitis, laryngitis, and croup, especially when thick green mucus is involved.
An infusion of the needles or a decoction of the needles with twigs works well to thin mucus and help expel it from the bronchi and lungs. Pine will work well for both dry and wet coughs. For wet cough, use in a blend with thyme and hyssop, for dry cough alongside demulcent (moistening or stimulating mucus production herbs), such as mullein, marshmallow, or licorice.
“I use White Pine needles for any upper respiratory infection, but it seems particularly useful when there is green phlegm. It is considered a tissue stimulant as it will stimulate the elimination of mucus by increasing oxygenation to depressed, bogged down, mucus entrenched membranes. It also relaxes by soothing, cooling and calming irritated and inflamed sinuses and lungs. It is great when the infection seems just ‘stuck’ and with thick, hardened phlegm. White Pine is a superb drawing agent and its resins act to draw out stagnant mucus by attaching to it and then stimulating its release. It will be effective when there is either dry viscous phlegm that needs to be drawn out, or when there is damp, loose phlegm that needs expectoration. Thereby it acts on both damp and dry conditions.”
~ Lisa Fazio,
Herbalist Maria Noel Groves suggested placing the resinous pitch on the smoldering charcoal to create incense that clears the room from negative energy.
Safety: Long-term use is not advised. Both Pine needles and Pine bark can cause kidney irritation with long-term use, in large dosage, or with sensitive people.
Avoid during pregnancy.
Resources that I used to write this blog:
Contributors to Wikimedia projects. (2021, December 16). Pine. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine
Fazio, L. (2013, November 19). Getting to know White Pine — the root circle. The Root Circle. https://therootcircle.com/blog/2018/4/28/getting-to-know-white-pine
Mace, J. A. (2018, January 22). White pine medicine — milk & honey herbs. Milk & Honey Herbs. https://www.milkandhoneyherbs.com/blog/2018/1/19/white-pine-medicine
Pine herbal monograph – natural herbal living. (2015, January 21). Natural Herbal Living. https://naturalherballiving.com/pine-herbal-monograph/
Tankred. (2021, January 24). How to make and use pine pitch salve. Weed, Kratom, Herbs. https://bearmedicineherbals.com/pine-pitch-salve/
Virtual herb walk – Wintergreen Botanicals & Maria Noel Groves ~ clinical herbalist, Herbal Clinic & Education Center. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://wintergreenbotanicals.com/virtualherbwalk/