Autumn winds through December bringing the holiday season to our doors. Pine and Juniper boughs decorate our hearths leaving the smell of the forest that mingles with the aromas of holiday baking and good conversation. This month’s Wild Edibles is devoted to the White Pine, Pinus strobus. Often used and thought of as the “Christmas Tree”, the 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 5 North Eastern American Tribes into a peaceful union. Weapons were buried beneath of the White Pine tree or planted at the bottom of the hole of a new planting to symbolize the laying down of arms in an attempt to negotiate a peaceful outcome. The Iroquois Nation offered this symbol to the new arrivals in order to develop diplomacy. Thus the white Pine is a powerful healing plant for the Iroquois.
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.
Where Found: Eastern US; Evergreen, tall to at least 150’; needles 5; native and common to eastern half US; the needle count of 5 is a distinguishing characteristic,
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 a main branch located below crown top. This tree is considered the most valuable hardwood in North America used for trim work, delicate cabinetry, etc.
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; Hi 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. (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, antibactericial, 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; the essential oil 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 woodstove 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.