All-Purpose Pine

Add common pine to your winter medicine cabinet and enjoy its ability to soothe coughs, congestion, muscle pains, and more.

| November/December 2018

  • Pine needles are diuretic and contain both vitamins A and C.
    Photo by Dreamstime/Bogdan Sonyachny
  • Along with the many medicinal uses for its needles, bark, and resin, pine is a source of lumber, food, essential oil, and incense.
    Photo by Getty/Madeleine_Steinbach
  • To accurately identify pine, look for the characteristic 2 to 5 needles growing together in a bundle, coupled with familiar pine cones.
    Photo by Adobe/Mark Ross
  • Fresh, springtime pine needles are more pleasant-tasting than older needles, but you can harvest pine anytime.
    Photo by Stocksy/Kitty Kleyn
  • Globally, there are more than 100 species of pine, and many have medicinal uses.
  • When you go on hikes or camp, look for freshly dried, amber-hued pine resin to harvest.
    Photo by Adobe/yanikap

My kindergarten school picture is the first documented evidence of my lifelong love affair with trees, and with pine in particular. My dad once planted a little grove of white pine trees (Pinus strobus) in our backyard. I spent my afternoons playing in their whorled branches, unwittingly collecting resin in my locks while leaning my head against their sturdy trunks. My mom cut out the sticky parts, resulting in a hairstyle that could only be rivaled by the likes of Pippi Longstocking. 

There are more than 100 pine species worldwide, and most have recorded medicinal uses. Cultures around the globe have used the needles, inner bark, and resin to treat various ailments. Internally, pine is a traditional remedy for coughs, colds, allergies, and even urinary tract infections. Topically, pine is used to address skin infections and to lessen joint inflammation in arthritic conditions.

Along with its myriad medicinal applications, pine is a source of lumber, food, essential oil, and incense. A few species of pine in North America and a handful in Eurasia yield the familiar edible pine nuts. Pine is indispensable commercially for its lumber and its pulp, which is used to make paper and related products. Many species of pine are considered cornerstone species, playing a central role in their ecological community. Finally, many species are planted ornamentally for their evergreen foliage and winter beauty.

Medicinal Use of Pines

Pine needles: Fresh pine needles and buds, picked in springtime, are sometimes referred to as “pine tops.” These needles are diuretic and contain both vitamins A and C. When boiled in water, the resulting tea can be consumed to treat fevers, coughs, and colds. Pine needle tea is one of the most important historical medicines of the southeastern United States, especially given pines’ abundance in the region. Renowned Alabama herbalist Tommie Bass reported that “the country people used to drink pine top tea every spring and fall to prevent colds.” Bass also used the needles in a steam inhalation to break up tenacious phlegm in the lungs. I combine pine needles with sprigs of fresh thyme (Thymus spp.) and bee balm (Monarda spp.) for this purpose.

I enjoy the needles — fresh or dry — as a fragrant and warming wintertime tea. They pair well with cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum) and cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). Pine offers relief in sinus and lung congestion through its stimulating expectorant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory qualities.

Pine bark: The inner bark of the pine tree contains more resin and is more astringent than the needles. Historically, it has been used as an antimicrobial poultice and infused in bathwater for muscle aches and pains. It’s also commonly boiled in water and ingested as a remedy for coughs and colds. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the knotty wood from several species of pine is infused in wine and used for joint pain. I try to reserve the bark for topical applications, since the needles are easy to harvest and more pleasant in taste.

3/5/2019 8:47:23 AM

I have been a pine lover since my childhood. Not only because it smells so clean, fresh, and even exhilarating but I love to chew on the pine needles. It all started when I ventured into cigarette smoking and didn't want my parents smelling the smoke on my breath. So I chewed a few pine needles. lol. Also, my heritage is part Native American Indian and I had read numerous advantages of pine~ even for gluing their boats together. There were 2 fellows who needing rescuing and they made a balloon out a ripstop nylon jacket and pine pitch. Sure enough, when sent up as a plane flew over head it was spotted and luckily someone reported it. I have a pneumonia salve with several different pine resins in it along with menthol that I just would never do without as I often tip the scales from a cold to bronchitis to pneumonia in a heartbeat. PIne is one of my most favorite natures gift.

1/3/2019 10:49:46 AM

If I boil the pine, would that diminish the amount of Vitamin C?

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