Pine Trees: Vitamin C from your Backyard
It may be surprising, but Pine trees have a long history of use for vitamin C acquisition. Since we are all concientious about staying in place, but still needing to maintain our vitamin C intake for our immune system function, this could be a perfect solution to a.) minimizing exposure and maintaining social distancing during this pandemic; b.) serve as a new home based project; and c.) familiarizing yourself to some of nature's bounty that could be right in your backyard.
Some of the earliest records from Linnaeus, the father of modern botany, from 1732 cites the use of Scotch pine bark by the Lapps, the indigenous peoples of Northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland (aka Lappland). There, they used the white inner bark in early spring. Similar reports were seen by early explorers in North America, noting that First Nation's peoples would use the inner bark of white pine and eat it as a nutrient dense famine food. The Adirondack tribe of people were named as such, coming from a native phrase meaning "tree eaters". The most notable nutrients found in these barks were sugars, starch, and a rich source of vitamin C.
The inner bark isn't the only part containing this vitamin luckily. Pine needle tea has been around for a very long time, first used by First Nations Peoples for its healing properties. The needles may lack in the sugars and starches, but not in vitamin C content. They contain about 5x as much vitamin C as lemons and good amounts of vitamin A. In fact, they introduced pine needle tea to early settlers as a cure for scurvy, which is caused by lack of vitamin C.
Pine needle tea is great for colds, chest congestion, and upper respiratory illnesses, though it is also rumored to help with many other ailments as well. It is packed with antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin A. White pine needles have 5 needles on each sprig, but you can use most pine or fir trees. Make sure you know your tree ID to properly ID which trees are appropriate pines to use. Do Not use things that look like they are in the pine family, however are not true pines, like the yew tree. These plants are not edible for humans.
Luckily pine trees are found in abundance all over the US, so it’s an easy and free tea that you can make at home. I happen to have Eastern White Pine in my back yard, so it’s very easy to make this tea all year round, even in the midst of winter (or a New England Spring!).
- ½ cup of pine needles, green young needles are best, chopped fine
- 1.5 pints of water
- Bring water to boil in a stainless steel pot
- Add the pine needles, reduce heat to a simmer for 20 minutes to overnight - the longer it is brewed the stronger the tea will be. Some people make a large pot and set it at low heat for overnight to have ready for the next day.
- Strain needles
- drink warm or cold
The tea should be red in color with a little oil floating on top.
You can add honey or cinnamon if you like. I love to combine with ginger, lemon, and chaga mushroom that I've also found close to home. It really doesn’t taste like pine; it has a very mild flavor.
Kimberly Jean, BSN, MA
Herbalist and Educator, Perfect Supplements
Kimberly holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing and a Master's of Arts in Education Research and Administration. She currently sits on the Editorial Review Board for the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild. Kimberly has studied directly under Alexis Durham lead herbalist at Herb Pharm, Sajah Popham of Organic Unity spagyrics, Pearl Sites and Tyler Wauters of Hawthorn Institute, amongst many others. Kim, in recent years, started and directed several large scale commercial herbal apothecaries for community retailers on both the West and East coast, with close working knowledge of over 300+ botanicals.
As always, the information in this section is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. Herbs can have interactions with medications and other natural products. If you consider taking an herb, I encourage you to read up on it before you begin consuming it, its extract, or essential oil.In addition if you are pregnant or nursing, you have to be very careful as to which herbs you can safely take. As an herbalist, I am sharing this information as a starting point, if you do decide to take action, please consult with a qualified healthcare professional who is familiar with your unique and specific situation.