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It's Spring! Pine-Needle Tea

April 23, 2013

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After staggering, stumbling, and appearing prematurely a couple of times, spring finally arrived around here.

Birdsong, dozens of chubby robins on the lawn, spring peepers in full voice, grass, young dandelions, fat buds on trees and shrubs, an occasional night above freezing.

Spring cleaning anyone?

Not me, unless you count sweeping away the mental cobwebs and reaming the sludge from sluggish muscles. When spring arrives, I head outside.

Wandering down the dirt road into a nearby gravel pit, I found pussy willows on a small alder and didn’t feel bad about clipping some for my kitchen table, since the little tree was clearly in the path of the giant shovel.

I also gathered a small bag of white pine needles from young seedling trees. I always enjoy a big pot of conifer-needle tea in the spring.* The inner bark and needles of our region’s conifers have a long history of medicinal use among the Native Americans. White-pine needle tea is especially rich in vitamins C and A, contains numerous other plant compounds with medicinal value, and may have saved the lives of early European explorers

Along the edges of my big vegetable garden in the now-bare field behind my house, I found young dandelion greens and hastened back to the house for my vintage dandelion fork to dig some. The tiny ones take a lot of tedious cleaning, but I love their mildly bitter, delicate flavor. I added a few to the evening’s spicy soup.

The electric line-clearing crews came by as invited and dropped off two huge truckloads of chipped trimmings they’d otherwise have had to haul to their chipyard miles away. We use the chips as a long-lasting mulch to mark the rows between our garden beds and for other landscaping applications,

I spent the better part of the afternoon making two onion quiches and a couple of maple-pumpkin (squash) pies. A lot of last season’s onions had sprouted in the root cellar, and I still had half a dozen winter squash to use up. The hens have begun laying well again, and the guys who tap our maple trees had just delivered a gallon of new syrup.

Monday morning

I brewed that pot of pine-needle tea* and settled into a comfortable chair to watch the Boston Marathon on TV, an annual rite of spring for me.

Though I’ve never run that race, I've often played hooky to watch it. I knew that many of my old training and racing partners would be either running or working as race officials in and around the finish line.

After the top few wheelchair athletes and runners finished, I headed for my computer and poked around in Twitter for a while. That’s where I first caught word of the explosions.

I ran back to the TV and saw the awful images. My first thought when the news sank in: Back in my running days, if I were among the runners, I’d have been approaching or crossing that finish line about 4:09:43, the time of the first explosion.

I’ve since learned that I my friends, and the other local runners and workers shaken, but uninjured.

By the time this post gets published, the forsythia in the yard and along the roadside will have bloomed, brightening the world, even on the grayest day. Along with most other Americans, I’ll be processing the events of this spring for a long, long time.

*Pine needle tea

Chop and bruise a good handful of young white pine needles and twigs, then place in a glass, ceramic, or stainless tea pot. Pour two cups of boiling water over the needles, cover the pot, and allow to steep for a few minutes. The tea will turn a pale green with a light, piney smell. It’s delicious. Some people like to add a squirt of lemon, or blend with another favorite tea.

As with any wild-collected herb, don’t use unless you are certain you’ve identified the plant correctly. Don’t use this or other herbal products without first consulting your health practitioner if you are pregnant, seriously ill, or taking prescribed medicines.

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.


Will this 'tea' recipe work

By Garys

Will this 'tea' recipe work for Southern Slash pine?--I live in Fl. and have many large slash pines with needles everywhere.(use them for mulch for the Blueberries)

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