(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Historical references tout the nutritional and medicinal benefits of pine needle tea, each claiming a different cure.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.
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.
Brewing perfect pine needle tea!
Here's to our improved health! Bottoms up!
The information provided in this article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.
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
Episode 92: The Pine Tree, Pinus 10:00 min. EatTheWeeds