When the garden has been put to bed and the squirrels have hidden the last of the tree nuts, what species should one look to for a nutritious treat during the cold, Winter months? Pinus strobus, the mighty Eastern White Pine! One may harvest needles any time during the year. When the temperature drops along with the leaves of deciduous trees, a warming infusion of White Pine needles makes an aromatic brew to lift the spirits and ward off coughs, colds, and influenza.
Native Americans of at least thirteen tribes have recognized the potent healing value of the White Pine since their arrival in northeastern North America. Emissaries from the Haudenosaunee confederacy introduced White Pine medicine to the the crew of a stranded English colony ship as a remedy for scurvy. Full of vitamins A and C, the needles help boost the immune system and can be brewed into a festive drink.
Correct identification of a plant is extremely important. The first rule of foraging is never, ever, eat anything you are not 100 percent sure of. This applies whether you are picking in the wild or in your own back yard. All pines are evergreens, but not all evergreens are pines. Most conifers are safe to prepare infusions with, but there are three poisonous pines one must avoid! They are: Yew (Taxus sp.), Norfolk Island Pine (Araucana heterophylla), and Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa, in which needles occur in bundles of 2 or 3). Yew is scarce in our forests, Norfolk Island Pine is not native this side of the Pacific Ocean, and Ponderosa Pine is not native east of the Rocky Mountains.
White pine is easily identified by its 5 needle bundles. To help you remember that that is the number of needles to look for: there are 5 letters in the word WHITE. Give yourself a high-FIVE for remembering to look for FIVE-needle bundles and go put the kettle on!
Caution: Some herbalists recommend that women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant, and those with pine allergies should not consume pine needle brews in general.
TO MAKE A PINE NEEDLE INFUSION:
* Harvest the newest needles at the branch tips
* Remove any brown ends and chop needles into smaller pieces, bruising to release essential oils
* Bring water to a boil.
* Depending on how strong you would like your infusion, you may:
– Pour boiling water over needles in a cup to steep for 10 minutes
– Add the needles to boiling water and boil, covered, for 5-20 minutes
– Boil needles for 20 minutes, cover and let sit overnight to extract essential oils for a potent brew!
* Drink as is, hot or cold and experiment! Make different strengths until you find your favorite! Be creative! Add cinnamon, lemon juice, orange peel, almond milk and/or honey! Make the recipe your own and take delight in drinking something delicious and healing!