(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 25, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
I learned about pine needle tea a few months ago from a friend who claimed the tea helped him recuperate from a serious illness. It is a fact that the tea extracted from pine needles is very high in vitamin C, helped keep the early settlers alive through their first winter in America, and to this day, is regularly used by natives, hunters, and explorers in nearly every region around the globe.
Historical references tout the nutritional and medicinal benefits of pine needle tea, each claiming a different cure. I could easily accept claims for a few similar cures, but such diverse treatments sounded a bit unbelievable. While researching the best method to extract the tea from the needles, I found that various parts of the pine tree could be used for specific ailments, which may explain the broad claims about the tea! That turned out not to be the case.
What's so special about pine needles and water?
First, the amount of vitamin C is reported to be five times the amount found in a lemon, which is 83.2 mg, according to NutritionData web site. That means a cup of pine needles would yield more than 400 mg per cup of brew. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and an immune system booster. It also improves cardiovascular system functions, improves skin and eye health, which alone accounts for many of the positive results from using the tea, such as a cure for scurvy.
Second, pine needle tea is high in fat-soluble vitamin A, an antioxidant beta-carotene, which is needed for healthy vision (especially in low light situations), skin and hair regeneration, and red blood cell production! The vitamin A explains a few more of the nutrition and health claims, but certainly not all of them. There is more to the tea than just vitamins A and C. There are many components to consider with swallowing a cup of pine needle broth!
Scientists are exploring the health and nutrition claims for pine tree foods that have been consumed for hundreds of years, such as the needles, bark, nuts (seeds), pollen, and resin (sap). So far, they have found enough information to back up the medicinal claims with the potential for more uses. The following list is only a sampling of the research being examined.
- Documents contained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, section PubMed.gov., pertaining to pine needle extract, or tea, and the research being done:
- Chemical composition of essential oils from needles and twigs of balkan pine (Pinus peuce grisebach) grown in Northern Greece. An investigation finds many components in the oil extracted from twigs and needles.
- Comparison of methods for proanthocyanidin extraction from pine (densiflora) needles and biological activities of the extract. Proanthocyanidins are flavonoids with fantastic properties: antioxidant, antidepressant, antibacterial, antiviral, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, immune system-boosting, cardiovascular-protecting, triglyceride-reducing, and more. This report may confirm all the claims that pine needle tea can help ease, if not cure, most anything.
- Flavor compounds of pine sprout tea and pine needle tea. A report found 55 flavor compounds in pine sprout tea, and 29 flavor compounds in pine needle tea.
- Plasma triglyceride-decreasing components of pine needles. Components extracted from pine needles using a vinegar solution are believed to reduce triglycerides.
- Effect of new polyprenol drug ropren on anxiety-depressive-like behavior in rats with experimental Alzheimer disease. An extract from spruce and pine needles has potential as a treatment for depression, anxiety, and dementia.
- Efficacy of anise oil, dwarf-pine oil, and chamomile oil against thymidine-kinase-positive and thymidine-kinase-negative herpesviruses. The three essential oils listed were highly effective against herpesviruses!
- Antioxidant, antimutagenic, and antitumor effects of pine needles (Pinus desiflora) This study found that pine needle extract could potentially be used for cancer prevention!
- Documents contained by J-Stage (Japan Science and Technology Information Aggregator, Electronic)
- Effects of Pine Needle Extract on Differentiation of 3T3-L1 Preadipocytes and Obesity in High-Fat Diet Fed Rats. Pine needle extract could help control obesity.
- Article from the Kennebec Journal: Maine Today Media
- White pine needles help fight disease. A batch of pine needle tea yields shikimic acid which is the basis for "Tamiflu," one of the drugs recommended by the CDC to fight the flu.
Don't pick poisonous pines!
Most conifers are safe to experiment with tea preparations, but there are three you must avoid! They may be used by the pharmaceutical industry to create safe levels of extracts for drug manufacturing, but individual brewing could be hazardous.
Caution: Women who are pregnant, or who could become pregnant, are advised NOT to drink pine needle tea in general for fear it could cause abortion.
This beauty grows from a shrub to small tree. It contains a toxic alkaloid called taxine that is highly toxic to humans and animals!
Additional plant info: USDA, or PlantFiles
Photo info: Wiki Commons; click to see larger original image. Norfolk Island Pine (Araucana heterophylla), Australian Pine
The same frilly, pretty, little tree sold as an indoor Christmas tree is poisonous to many house pets such as: cats, dogs, and birds.
Additional plant info: PlantFiles
Photo info: Wiki Commons; click to see larger original image. Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), yellow pine
The twigs and needles of the ponderosa pine will abort a fetus in cattle and other farm animals, and is regarded as unsafe for human consumption, too.
Additional plant info: USDA or PlantFiles
Photo info: Wiki Commons; click to see larger original image.
Brewing perfect pine needle tea!
The perfect cup of pine needle tea is a very enjoyable and nutritious experience, and available any time of the year. Some like the taste of one pine over another, and some of us cannot tell the difference between them. Be sure to collect your needles from trees growing well away from road sides where they may be subject to constant vehicle exhaust, road salts, maintenance chemicals and weed sprays. Also, keep away from possible dump sites and dangerous locations.
- Gather a good handful of fresh young pine needles.
- Rinse the needles with water if you like.
- Chop the brown ends off and the rest of needles into small pieces, then bruise with a spoon for more flavor.
- Place the chopped pine pieces in a cup.
- Bring 8 to 10 ounces of water to a boil, and then promptly remove from heat.
- Pour the hot water over the needles in the cup.
- The bright green needles will float to the surface of the water.
- You can cover the cup with a saucer if you wish. This will hold in more of the essential oils, but take longer to cool.
- Allow the tea to steep until the needles turn a dull green and sink to the bottom of the cup, or overnight.
- The photos show a cup of white pine needle tea from start to finish.
- Depending on the type of pine needles used, your tea can be clear, or a light golden brown to reddish brown.
- Add sweetener of your choice, cream, or lemon, to your liking.
- You can add dried orange peels and/or spices for a more exotic flavor!
Here's to our improved health! Bottoms up!
NutritionData.com. Lemon, raw, with peel.
Botanical.com. A Modern Herbal. Mrs. M. Grieve. Pine, White.
Who says so?
Well-known foragers, herbalists, and healers all agree that there is a lot of nourishment and medicine in a cup of pine needle tea.
In his book Stalking the Healthful Herbs, naturalist and forager Euell Gibbons said of pine needle tea, "With a squeeze of lemon and a little sugar it was almost enjoyable, and it gives a great feeling of virtue to know that as you drink it you are fortifying your body with two essential vitamins in which most modern diets are deficient."
Modern day forager "Wildman" Steve Brill includes a couple informative pages on using pine trees for food, nutrition, and remedies in his book Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants.
The white pine, balsam fir, cypress, hemlock tree (not the poison hemlock plant), juniper, spruce, tamarack (or larch), were listed under Medicinal Trees category in Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss, a popular herbalist and food scientist of the early 1900s.
The white pine (Pinus strobus), is easily identified by its five-needle bundles, widely available, and the safest choice for foraging beginners.
Herbalist Susun Weed favors the white pine for many medicinal uses, as did many Native American tribes. Her article, Great Tree Of Peace, includes much useful and interesting information about this generous tree.
In Mrs. Maude Grieve's A Modern Herbal, pine needle tea is used as an expectorant for coughs and to help relieve chest congestion; demulcent that reduces pain and inflammation of membranes (good for sore throats); diuretic to relieve fluid retention, and has a helpful effect on the bladder and kidneys.
Prophet, healer, and herbalist Edgar Cayce used pine needle oil in many of his remedies to ailing patients.
Medicinal Teas-Pine Needle Tea 7:32 min. BushcraftOnFire
How to make pine needle tea.
Episode 92: The Pine Tree, Pinus 10:00 min. EatTheWeeds
Everything you might want to know about pines.