Autumn winds through December bringing the holiday season to our doors. Pine and Juniper boughs decorate our hearths leaving the smell of the forest mingling with the aromas of holiday baking. Doesn’t the scent bring you back to childhood or a time when we used fresh boughs more frequently? It does for me. Did you know that Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea for electric Christmas tree lights in 1882? Prior to these inventions, candles were used to light up the trees. The combination of candlelight and dry needles posed for a serious fire hazard. They began mass production of them in 1890.
White Pine, Pinus strobus, is often used and thought of as the “Christmas Tree.”
White pine has a rich and noble history that predates the arrival of European settlers.
The Iroquois Confederacy began hundreds of years before 1492. This Confederacy culminated in the joining of Five North Eastern American Tribes into a peaceful union. Weapons were buried beneath the White Pine tree or planted at the bottom of the hole of a new planting to symbolize the laying down of arms. The Confederacy sought to negotiate a peaceful outcome with and for all tribes. The Iroquois Nation offered this symbol to the new arrivals in order to develop diplomacy. Thus the White Pine is a powerful symbolic and healing plant for the Iroquois nation.
Did you know that when the first Europeans arrived in North America, they noticed large swaths of bark peeled from the trees? Many NE Tribes used the inner barks of trees for food and medicine.
White Pine: Pinus strobus
Where Found: Eastern US; Evergreen, tall, grows to about 50-80′; native and common to eastern half US; needles- 5 inches; the needle count of 5 is a distinguishing characteristic. This tree is considered the most valuable hardwood in North America used for trim work, delicate cabinetry, etc.
Wildlife and birds feed on the seeds and soft needles. Deer and Porcupine seem to like the inner bark for winter feed.
Bald eagles will build nests at the main branch located below the crown top.
Parts Used: Twigs, bark, leaves, and pitch;
Pine needles used for sewing; basket making; tea; good to chew on to freshen breath; strong tea can be used as a hair, face or body wash; High in Vitamin C, pine needle tea helped the early settlers relieve symptoms of scurvy. This is an easy tea to make when out camping overnight. During a wilderness class I participated in several years ago, we made pine needle tea at our campsite. One less item to carry; needles readily available in our forest setting.(See recipe below)
Resins (pine pitch) used as cement to seal the seams in canoes; also chewed for a sore throat; they would dry, powder, and apply the dried resin to sore throats; resin added to a salve is supposed to be great for taking out a splinter or bringing a boil to a head;
Inner bark: used with other herbs or inner barks e.g. wild cherry bark, to make a cough syrup for colds; chronic indigestion, flu, kidney troubles. The inner barks and small twigs as a tea helped as an expectorant;
Essential oil: antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial, deodorant, diuretic; refreshing, stimulating qualities; can also bring relief in a body oil for muscular pain.
Whiffing the soft fragrant essential oil can help alleviate a dark mood as it has an uplifting, enlivening quality. Essential oil of pine can be added to bath or skin oils in very small amounts as it can be irritating to the skin for some people. You will find pine oil used in combination with other essential oils for this reason.
Inhalation of the oil is good for colds, sinusitis, and sore throats and can be mixed with eucalyptus or tea tree oil. Placing several drops of pine oil in a pot of water and leaving on a wood-stove can permeate the room with a delightful forest fragrance.
Caution: Do not use: Dwarf pine oil: Pinus pussilio or Pinus mugo. These oils are hazardous to health.
I like drops of essential oil of pine sprinkled in a pot of warm water on my wood stove. The essential oil comes in handy too for any sniffle. As December takes us into the midst of the holiday season, remember white pine. Sprinkle a few drops on your decorations and bring the scent of the forest into your home.