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When we think of herbal remedies, we don’t often think of the trees right outside our door. There is one tree that grows almost everywhere in North America and provides easy-to-use medicine all year long: the mighty White Pine. Learn about 6 White Pine remedies for your home, including one of our family favorites—delicious Pine Needle Tea—aka a free cup of Vitamin C!
About the Mighty White Pine
The needles of the White Pine—a tree right outside in our parks and neighborhoods—are completely edible and its health benefits have been prized for thousands of years. A stately evergreen and the tallest tree in the Northeast, White Pine (Pinus Strobus) can reach at least 180 feet in height. They commonly reach 200 years in age but can grow to be well over 450 years old. I love the idea that these trees we drive or walk by every day might have watched generations come and go.
White Pine Needles as Nourishing Medicine
Specifically here in North America, Native peoples such as the Ojibwa and Chippewa, revered this mighty tree and honored her through the many ways they used her medicine. The Eastern White Pine, like so many evergreens, provided important food and medicine in the winter time when many other plants and foods are not available. They would use the inner bark, the twigs, the needles, the pollen as well as the pine pitch/resin.
Now in the modern age, as convenience culture has creeped into our homes, we’ve been taught to look to the local pharmacy for an answer in a plastic bottle when we have a cold or flu, rather than to our neighborhood trees. Perhaps it can be both. The connection to the bountiful medicine of the trees can bring such a comfort and magic to our kitchen and our lives.
Imagine a steaming pot of White Pine twigs and needles on the kitchen, the scent of fragrant pine wafting into the air. You sip the tea with a little honey and perhaps breathe in as you lean over the pot to allow the steam to be pulled into the lungs. No plastic bottle needed. That steeped tea can then be poured into the bath to allow further connection to this medicine. Perhaps the cells in our body rejoice when we awaken this connection to the trees.
Identifying the White Pine
Half the fun of making pine needle tea is venturing outdoors to find some pine needles. One of my favorite places to find White Pine trees are at our local parks. Over the years, I have made note of where the mighty White Pine trees are located. One of the many benefits of using wild foods such as White Pine is the connection it brings to our local natural spaces. Being outside with the trees becomes part of our lifestyle, which is a benefit to our physical and emotional health. This connection is part of the medicine. When we are connected to our wild spaces, we honor and protect them because they take on a deeper value for us.
Needle Size: Her needles are thin and long—approximately 3 to 5 inches.
Needle Shape: The White Pine grows in clusters of 5 needles each. A good mnemonic device for ID is there are 5 letters in the word “white” and 5 needles per bundle. They start from the base with a whitish appearance that increases into a green to bluish-green hue at the tip.
Bark: The texture of the trunk gets smoother as you go up the tree. Branch bark is fairly smooth.
Branches: White Pines can grow very tall and they grow quickly. the branches are long and sweeping—unlike some other conifers.
Pine cones: They grow pine cones that can be quite large—4 to 7 inches long—and are often covered in resin.
WARNING: It is very important that you harvest from the correct tree. Pine trees (from the Pinaceae family) should not be confused with the Yew or Cypress conifers, which are toxic, as are Ponderosa Pines and Norfolk Pines (which are not technically pines). I recommend having a regional plant guide to cross reference anything you read online, including this article. When you are first getting to know a tree or wild food or medicine, you really want to triple check with multiple references.
The Medicine of White Pine Needles
White Pine needles can be collected any time of year, which is another beautiful benefit of this iconic tree. She offers medicine all seasons of the year.
The parts of the mighty White Pine with a history of use for medicine include: needles, resin/pitch, inner bark, twigs and pollen. For the purposes of this article, we will focus just on the needles.
When you pluck a needle, you will notice the strong aromatic scent that is indicative to pine as you bring it to your nose. That strong uplifting scent tells us the needles are full of essential oils, which tells us this plant’s immune system is strong. Those essential oils are part of the White Pine’s immune system, which when we take this medicine into our own bodies, gets shared with us.
Expectorant: The needles help to expel mucus. If you have someone in your home with a rattling cough, you might look to her needles.
Circulatory Stimulant: The needles also support the circulatory system, in particular the blood vessels.
A Mild Diuretic: The needles stimulate the kidneys, moving toxins out through your urine or sweat. White Pine needles help to remove waste and stagnation in the body.
Congestion: The needles support the respiratory tract and bronchial system, aiding with breathing, coughing, and chest congestion.
Antiseptic: White Pine has antiseptic qualities to help the body fight infections.
Vitamin C: Pine needle teas and concoctions offer a high content of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, and stimulates the immune system.
Vitamin A: Pine needles also contain vitamin A, which helps with the eyes, skin, and hair.
Mental Health: This medicine has even been known to help with grief support—taken internally or used as an external aroma. Pine needles also contain α-pinene, which may help with mood stabilization.
Notes: Don’t use this or other herbal products without first consulting your health practitioner. Pine needles can cause kidney irritation with long term use or in strong doses or with sensitive individuals. Also, do not consume pine needles if you are pregnant or nursing.
Harvesting White Pine Needles
It’s easy! Gather a small bag of pine needles from young White Pines. It’s easy to pluck off the clusters of needles, but you could also use scissors or shears to snip them off. Double check the needles are 3 to 5 inches long and grow in bundles of 5!
As mentioned, you can harvest any time of year. Basically, if the needles are richly green, they are okay to harvest. If you can harvest away from a roadway, that will ensure there is minimal car exhaust fumes interacting with those needles. However, foraging along a neighborhood street is much better than not foraging at all, in my opinion.
Harvest only what you need or intend to use. This is a great rule of thumb for wild foraging in general. You don’t want to overstress the tree. In fact, if you can find a newly fallen branch with pine needles, that would be great. If not, use sharp clean shears to cut the ends of a few small branches.
When gathering needles, don’t take them all from one branch—try to balance your harvest across multiple branches and trees so that you’re not leaving one particular spot bare. Harvesting a few handfuls of needles won’t harm the trees as long as they are healthy and established.
Ways to Use White Pine Needles
White Pine Needle Tea: A simply tea of needles steeped in hot water is helpful to promote expectoration and removal and thinning of mucous from the lungs. This remedy is suitable for both wet and dry coughs but when there’s dryness, I like to combine it with moistening herbs like Marshmallow root or Calendula. Use for coughs, colds, bronchitis, laryngitis and croup. See full recipe below.
Bath Soak: You can add snipped-up White Pine needles to your bath, helping you soak her medicine in through your skin and blood stream and also through your bronchial system. Add about 2 cups to your bath. (Use a strainer cup for your drain.) You can also make a tea of the needles and then pour this into the bath. A final option is to mix equal amounts of epsom salts with pine needles in a jar and leave for a few days before using; it will store long-term.
Face Steam: You can use White Pine needles in a face steam to support the bronchial and immune system and break up mucus. Bring your water up to a simmer and add your needles. Place a lid on the pot and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Hold your face over the steam once the lid is taken off (making sure to be mindful not to burn your face). I like to use a towel, draped over my head and the steaming pot. Breath in deeply for 5-10 minutes to receive the medicine deep into the lungs.
Infused Vinegar: You can make a White Pine infused vinegar, which is one of my favorite ways to bring this medicine into my life. Fill any size jar loosely with White Pine needles that have been chopped. Pour over your apple cider vinegar and place your lid on the jar, making sure your vinegar completely covers the needles. I use a piece of parchment paper to place between the lid and the jar, which protects the lid from corroding. Allow the needles to steep in the vinegar for four weeks and then strain. I will use this vinegar to cook with or to pour into a hot bath.
Infused Honey: You can make a White Pine infused honey by cutting your needles into small pieces and simply pouring over honey and allow to infuse for 4 to 6 weeks. Optional: Strain the honey or use it with the needles still inside the honey. What you have left is a White Pine honey.
Pine Needle Tea Recipe
White Pine Needle Tea not only boosts your immune system but also has a lovely, light piney, somewhat citrus flavor. You simply need two ingredients: two cups (16 ounces) of water and one-third cup of fresh pine needles.
Remove any brown ends of the pine needles. Then chop and bruise a good handful of young green pine needles into half-inch pieces. (See harvesting notes above.) Chopping releases the medicinal compounds.
Bring water to a boil in a glass, ceramic, or stainless tea pot.
Add chopped needles to a cup or mug and pour in 2 cups of boiling water.
Cover the cup with a lid or plate and steep 10 to 15 minutes. You’ll see a change in color and the needles will sink to the bottom. As an optional step, you can strain the needles. (I often just add the needles to my tea pot and then use a strainer.)
Some folks add a teaspoon or two of lemon or honey.
All these herbal remedies just a sampling ways to use the pine needles in your home. When we are able to forage a medicine, we not only connect to the tree and our area, we also save money! And when we purchase a remedy from the store, we are paying for more than just the remedy, but also the packaging and all the costs associated with selling a product. This wild medicine is free and only costs your time. What better way to use your time than to be outside with the trees with the sun on your skin and wind in your hair?
The mighty White Pines have been here long before us and many will be here after us. They have much wisdom to offer along with their potent medicine.