White Pine Medicine

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White Pine (Pinus strobus) is one of my first and dearest plant allies, and extremely abundant here in the Northeast. My hope is that the monograph on it below will encourage you all to get to know this fantastic bioregional herb and incorporate it into your herbal repertoire! Read on for a full description of this plant, harvest methods, medicinal uses and a recipe for White Pine Cough Syrup. Enjoy!

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Family Pinaceae

Part Used:  Needles, Resin/ Sap/ Pitch, Inner Bark. I prefer to work with the needles and thin twigs together, as pictured
Habitat:  Very widespread in Massachusetts and New England.  Woodlands, forest edges, yards, parks, old meadows. Found all along the Eastern seaboard from New Brunswick to northern Georgia, east to the Great Lakes region and Appalachians.
Cultivation:  No need to cultivate this one- it’s very abundant!
Description: An evergreen and the tallest tree in the Northeast, they can reach at least 180ft in height.  Their long, slender needles (2-5 inches long) grow in bundles of 5 needles....a good mnemonic device for ID is there are 5 letters in the word "white" and 5 needles per bundle. They grow pine cones that can be quite large-4-7 inches long- and are often covered in resin.   Bark is light brown and heavily grooved in older specimens and smooth and brownish-grey in younger trees.  They commonly reach 200 years in age and can grow to be over 450 years old.
Herbal Ecology:  White pines are the characteristic “old field” species in New England and are known to form even-aged stands in open areas that are left to return to forest.  If you see an even-aged stand of white pine there is a good chance that in the distant past that area used to be pasture- a neat plant for “reading the landscape”.  It is tolerant of virtually every soil type in New England from wet and boggy to dry and sandy, and frequently establishes itself after all manner of disturbance.  The older trees are moderately fire resistant due to their thick bark.
Collection:  The needles can be collected anytime they are green, which is pretty much all year, including winter.  In the fall they do lose some needles- some turn yellow and fall, while others stay green and intact- it is best to wait until after this fall shedding to collect. The needles, as well as thin twigs may be harvested together (see pic above). Harvest the tips of the branches. Even better, collect dropped branches from the forest floor after a storm for the most sustainable harvest.
Taste: slightly Sweet, slightly Bitter, Sour (needles)
Energetics:  Warm, Dry
Constituents:  Vit C (needles), many different acids in needles, essential oils (including terpenes, monoterpenes, sesqueterpenes), resin, starch (and more....)
Herbal Actions:  Expectorant, circulatory stimulant, mild diuretic, pectoral, immune stimulant

White Pine-infused Honey. Cut needles small and add to raw honey, warm lightly to infuse into the honey (do not heat to a boil), then put into a jar and let sit a few weeks. To use, eat by the teaspoon-full, or add to hot water for instant tea. May also be made simply by adding to raw honey (without heat) and letting infuse a few weeks. No need to strain the honey, use it with the needles still in the honey!

White Pine-infused Honey. Cut needles small and add to raw honey, warm lightly to infuse into the honey (do not heat to a boil), then put into a jar and let sit a few weeks. To use, eat by the teaspoon-full, or add to hot water for instant tea. May also be made simply by adding to raw honey (without heat) and letting infuse a few weeks. No need to strain the honey, use it with the needles still in the honey!

Medicinal Uses:  Specific for respiratory and bronchial complaints, especially when wet and cold in nature.  A tea of the needles, or the needles with thin twigs included, is helpful to promote expectoration and removal and thinning of mucous from the lungs. Use for coughs, colds, bronchitis, laryngitis, croup.  Warning- White Pine can be quite stimulating to coughs, so if the cough is dry and spasming in nature it can exacerbate these symptoms. It's best in this case to combine with more moistening and/or anti-spasmodic herbs in this case (see White Pine Cough Syrup recipe below for a balanced recipe). The needles are widely known to be extremely high in Vitamin C and are a great addition to a tea for the common cold or as a winter immunity tea.  Once used to treat scurvy!  They are actually reported to be 5x as high as oranges, per volume, in Vitamin C! A deficiency of Vitamin C can also negatively impact the adrenals, as well as the integrity of tissues in the body, and one way I've worked with White Pine in my practice is as a bioregionally abundant and inexpensive source of Vitamin C, especially when combined with Rose Hips. Our locally bioregional species of Rose in Rosa multiflora. Of course Vitamin C is heat sensitive, but it is so abundant in both these plants that steeping in hot water as a tea still provides a great source of this vitamin.  The needles and twigs also make for a fabulous steam for congestion in the lungs.  The inner bark is the part that was offical to the Electics (the Herbal doctors of the late 1800's and early 1900's). and is very useful as an expectorant as well and can be decocted and sweetened with honey- best used after the infectious, feverish stage of a sickness has passed.  An old Eclectic recipe from Squibbs Materia Medica c. 1906 for a cough syrup combines the inner bark of White Pine with wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina), Spikenard Rt (Aralia racemosa), Balm of Gilead buds (Populus sp including Aspen and Cottonwood), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) , Sassafrass Rt (Sassafrass albidum) and chloroform and morphine sulfate! The pea-sized piece of the pitch can also be chewed to promote expectoration.  It is also a gently warming circulatory stimulant and I love making bath salts with white pine for a warming winter bath, and also for general aches and pains. It is invigorating and enlivening in nature, and the ample essential oils are quite immune-activating too. You can add oil to the bath salts to make it into a salt scrub, which can be very immune-boosting, as it stimulates lymph flow.  To support you lymph, take a palm-sized amount of the scrub and always massage towards the heart. Salt is of course quite detoxifying too. And the oil moistens our skin- our biggest organ of elimination and the biggest protector of our body- so giving it some medicinal, non-toxic love is always a good thing too! The sap has a whole host of topical applications including splinters, sores, boils, sore muscles and rheumatism, cuts and swellings and is sometimes mixed with butter or fat for this. To remove woody debris and bark from collected pitch, gently heat on low and strain. Sap dissolves readily into warmed oils to be added to salves. It contains “abietic resins” which stimulate topical circulation, inflammatory response  and the “foreign body response”- meaning pus and fluids will build up much more quickly on a wound that is dressed with pine pitch.  BUT the other side of the coin is that one moves through the healing process much faster and avoids infection.   It's quite important to note that the Eclectics learned of the medicinal properties of this North American plant from indigenous peoples, including the Algonquin, Chippewa, Ojibwe, and likely many more.               

White Pine Bath Salts (with Grandmother Pine towering in the background). Put a 1 inch layer of sea salt or epsom salts on the bottom of a jar, then add an (approximately) 1 inch layer of snipped-up White Pine Needles in the jar and cover with salt, then add another layer of the pine needles, then salt, and repeat. Finish it with a 1 inch layer of salt on the top. It will be ready in a few days, but can stay in the jar indefinitely. You can strain the needles out when ready if you like, or simply add direct to the Bath and get a strainer cap for the drain of your tub. I like to use at least 1 cup/bath. It can also be easily made into a salt scrub by adding enough olive to give it a nice scoop-able consistency. Take a nice palm-sized amount and rub into your skin in the shower, moving towards your heart to support the lymph. 

White Pine Bath Salts (with Grandmother Pine towering in the background). Put a 1 inch layer of sea salt or epsom salts on the bottom of a jar, then add an (approximately) 1 inch layer of snipped-up White Pine Needles in the jar and cover with salt, then add another layer of the pine needles, then salt, and repeat. Finish it with a 1 inch layer of salt on the top. It will be ready in a few days, but can stay in the jar indefinitely. You can strain the needles out when ready if you like, or simply add direct to the Bath and get a strainer cap for the drain of your tub. I like to use at least 1 cup/bath. It can also be easily made into a salt scrub by adding enough olive to give it a nice scoop-able consistency. Take a nice palm-sized amount and rub into your skin in the shower, moving towards your heart to support the lymph. 

Preparation:  Infusion, Infused Oil, Perfume, Steam, Bath Salt/Scrub, Honey, Salve, Chest Rub, Poultice (pitch), Decoction, Syrup, as flavoring for foods
Dosage: Infusion- 1 tsp: 1 cup water, drink freely.  Apply salve and oil topically freely as needed. Steam- daily as needed. Syrup- 3-4 tbsp/day when acute. Honey-added to teas, drink freely. Enjoy freely in foods
Contraindications:   Avoid tea in HIGH doses if pregnant (due to high Vit C content)


White Pine Cough Syrup

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White Pine needles and twigs (Pinus strobus)- 1 part
Mullein lf (Verbascum thapsus)- 1/2 part
Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina)- 1/2 part
Anise Seed  (Pimpinella anisum)- 1/4 part
Rose Hips (Rosa multifora, Rosa spp)- 1/4 part
A few other herbs I sometimes add: Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora), Fir boughs (Abies spp), Eastern Hemlock needles and twigs (Tsuga canadensis)
Raw Honey

Add your herbs to a pot. 1 part can be whatever you want- 1 tbsp, 1 cup, etc. Cover the herbs with about 2 inches of water and simmer on low to make a decoction. I keep a lid on it, but use a lid with a small hole in it for some steam to escape.  Simmer for about an hour, until the water reduces to just covering the herbs. Then remove from heat and let the herbs continue to steep until the decoction cools. Next, strain it and for every cup of the decoction add 1/2 cup raw honey, and that's it! It's important not to heat the raw honey to a boil, but it is ok to warm it all gently to get the honey to mix. Putting it in a mason jar and then capping it and shaking vigorously is another great way to mix the honey in. An adult dose of this could be 1 tbsp every hour until cough improves- in order for herbs to work in acute conditions you often have to use lots! For kids a tsp (mixed in elderberry syrup if they don't like the flavor) 3x/day will suffice. This will likely last 1-2 weeks but we always use it up before it goes bad. You could also freeze the decoction and thaw and add the honey as needed!

If you're interested in learning more about locally abundant plants, the 2018 From the Roots Up Apprenticeship & Class Series in bioregional herbalism is OPEN for registration! Classes start in April with options for a full 8 month apprenticeship and seasonal 3-class series.

More info here!

 

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Roasted Dandelion Root-Pumpkin Spice Latte

Ok, so I know this post is a little whimsical….but I must admit that I am a huge fan of pumpkin spice, but having a sugar-y caffeinated drink is not always my cup of tea so to speak, so I invented my own!

Fall is for grounding roots and warming spices.  The bitter and cleansing roots we harvest in the fall, like Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Burdock (Arcticum lappa), and Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus), help support our organs of elimination (liver, kidneys, skin, lungs), helping us enter the cold and flu season in better health and less susceptible to sickness. This is why in Ayurveda cleanses are often done in the spring and the fall.  In the herbal wheel of the year, fall is for letting go of what we don’t need, be it emotions, experiences, possessions/stuff, or accumulated metabolic wastes and toxins (this is where those fall roots come in handy). If you need a little inspiration for letting go of that which you no longer need, take a look at the plants this time of year, which model it for us so beautifully, or read my post here on the fall and letting go.

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Dandelion Medicine

So Dandelion is a potent tonic this time of year.  It is often called food for the liver, and for good reason! Dandelion leaf and root (but especially the root) has been shown time and time again to strengthen and support the liver. In herbalism if you’re thinking about liver health, you’re immediately thinking about Dandelion as a part of the protocol. Its bitter flavor stimulates bile flow, which aids in digestion and nutrient absorption of fat soluble vitamins. It filters the blood coming from the digestive tract and breaks down harmful chemicals and substances, some of which are then excreted into the bile through the large intestine and the feces, and some of which are excreted into the blood (in a broken-down form) and sent to the kidneys which then further filters the blood and excretes the waste through the urine. The liver literally filters every foreign substance that comes into our body, and our own metabolic waste from normal cellular function, and even excess hormones too. 

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We often talk about the liver only in terms of detoxification, but it is a nourishing organ too! It stores iron (this is why eating liver is so good for you- it’s not as bad as you might think!), filters out nutrients from the blood for the rest of the body, stores-up glucose to be released as needed, and even helps immunity by helping remove bacteria from the bloodstream. Supporting the liver is square one in so many of my client’s protocols, be it hormonal/menstrual/pms issues, poor digestion/nutrient absorption, low energy, chronic skin issues, and even emotional imbalances (especially excess anger and frustration). I most often work with the leaf as a nourishing food as medicine and the root in the form of tinctures, teas and decoctions. The root has a mild bitter taste that is delicious in a savory beverage like the recipe I’ll be sharing with you below- it’s bitter, but not too bitter. It’s about the same level of bitterness as coffee, but nothing even as remotely bitter as Goldenseal, if you’ve ever tasted that!

Pumpkin Spice Medicine

And what about those warming spices I was mentioning too? Well, “pumpkin spice” is of course not an official collection of spices, but this blend most often contains Cinnamon, Ginger, Clove, Allspice, Nutmeg, and Clove- yum! These spices (often called carminatives in herbalism) invigorate digestion and stoke the digestive fires, aiding in nutrient absorption, increasing circulation to the digestive system, and boosting metabolism.  They are also potent anti-spasmodics, easing digestive pain and reducing gas and bloating. Being rich in essential oils, we can infer that they have some level of anti-microbial effects as well, and indeed many of them have been studied for this, particularly Cinnamon.  And speaking of Cinnamon, this spice is particularly well-known for its blood sugar-regulated effect, and considering millions of Americans are pre-diabetic and don't even know it, that's an added bonus for all of us!  Plus all of these spices are uplifting, warming, and have an over-all mood-enhancing effect- they just feel good. By imbibing in these warming spices as the wheel of the year turns to the colder seasons of fall and winter, we are providing our body with much-needed warmth and stimulation to adapt to the seasonal transition at hand.

So, yes, drinking a pumpkin spice latte (provided it’s not loaded with sugar and caffeine, of course!) is actually quite good for your health and seasonally appropriate! The current craze of pumpkin spice everything actually makes me smile because I can’t help but to think that deep down in our souls- even though our culture’s largely SO removed from food as medicine- we still intuitively know that the warming, carminative spices are good for us this time of year, because it just feels right!

So, ready to make your own? Here’s how.....


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Roasted Dandelion Root-Pumpkin Spice Latte

1 tsp ground, roasted Dandelion Root (see instructions/where to buy below)
1 tsp pumpkin spice blend, powdered (see below)
1 cup full fat coconut milk from the can, or milk of choice
raw honey to taste

To make: Combine all the ingredients in a pan and bring to a simmer for about 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat, pour into a mug, add a dash of raw honey to taste, and serve! Make sure to eat/swallow any ground-up roasted dandelion that ends-up at the bottom of your cup for full medicinal effect.

To make your own Pumpkin Spice Blend: You can often find this blend ready to go this time of year, or you can make your own. My favorite blend is 3 parts cinnamon rt, 2 parts ginger, 2 parts nutmeg, 1.5 parts allspice, and ½ part clove. You can make each part any unit you want, ie 1 tsp, 1 tbsp, 1 cup, etc. My recommendation is to make a big batch and powder it up all at once or as needed (or buy the spices pre-powdered...just make sure they're fresh- a strong aroma indicates this). This makes a fabulous mulling spice blend for cider too!

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To make your own Roasted Dandelion Root: This is also often referred to as “Dandelion Coffee” but that’s kind of misleading because, well, it's just not coffee. Kind of like carob vs chocolate, they’re both just they’re own thing! It does contain the nice, satisfying somewhat bitter flavor or coffee though which can make it a nice swap for someone trying to ditch caffeine or just have a non-caffeinated alternative from time to time. So, first-off, I just want to say that you can buy Dandelion already roasted online, from one of our wonderful local herb shops (see my Resources page for a directory). Look for the dandelion labelled “roasted dandelion root.” You can also buy the regular dried root, and pan-roast it in a cast iron pan until it starts to become aromatic. Make sure you remove it from the heat while it is still toasted, but not burnt- it just takes a few minutes. Or, you can be an herbal superstar, and harvest and make your own! I won’t lie- it’s a time-consuming process, and the yield is pretty low for time spent and amount of plant material it takes...but it's still a super-fun endeavor for a kitchen medicine enthusiast! Chop the fresh roots as small as you can, then spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for 1/2 hr, checking and stirring often to prevent burning on the edges.  Then remove from the oven and grind it in a coffee grinder until it's pretty fine. Then spread it out on the baking pan and roast again at 350 for 2-3 minutes to makes sure all moisture is baked-off. Then you're done!

Enjoy!

Wanting to learn more about the wonderful world of Kitchen Medicine, and ways to incorporate the powerfully medicinal spices and culinary herbs into your diet and daily life? My winter class series, Spice Rack Medicine, is OPEN for registration! Class meets 1 Sunday/month January-March in Greenfield, MA. We cover the medicinal uses of the culinary herbs, food as medicine, remineralizing, herbal energetics, medicinal mushrooms, cooking with the culinary herbs and tonic herbs, harmonizing with the seasons, and so much more!

Learn more and register here!

 

 

 

 

Chopped Purslane Salad with Cilantro

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a super common weed that pops-up in almost any garden this time of year- don't weed it! Instead, harvest it for the amazing food and medicine that it is. This unassuming weed has been identified as the richest known plant source of alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid! Remember that omega-3's are the anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, heart-healthy "good fats" most concentrated in fish oil, so having access to a local, bioregionally abundant plant source of this is fantastic! Also, most people's ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is waaaaaay off, which means more inflammation. Researchers think that ancestrally our ratio of 3's to 6's was a about a 1:1 ratio. The ratio in an average adult nowadays is about 1:15 to 1:17! Read: inflammation and cardiovascular problems that are epidemic in America and the developed world-basically the ills of the modern world.  So, you can easily see how consuming ample amounts of Purslane while it's in season is beyond good for your health.  It is also quite vitamin and mineral-rich, most notably in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Potassium, and Calcium.  If you don't feel solid on identifying it, check-out this great resource

Purslane also contains high amounts of mucilage- a thick, moistening substance with a borderline gooey consistency, which can be difficult for some people to get past.  The good news is that mucilage is very nourishing and healing to to the lining of our gut and intestines- a support many people need.  And I've found that when its prepared in a salad, it can be a lot easier to enjoy! It has a lovely, somewhat sour flavor that pairs especially well with tomatoes, herbs, and a lemon-y dressing. I hope you'll try the recipe and think twice before weeding it from your garden!


Chopped Purslane Salad with Cilantro

2-3 cups Purslane, chopped leaves and stems
1 medium Cucumber, chopped into 1-inch squares
1/2 Onion, chopped
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, quartered or halved
1 1/2 cups Cilantro, chopped finely

If you have a salad spinner, give the Purslane a quick spin (or be sure to rinse well), as it can often be dusty due its creeping growth form.  Then combine all the ingredients. Toss with dressing of choice- I like a combo of nettle-infused raw apple cider vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt. Enjoy as it's own, or it's also great on a bed of quinoa. To bulk it up into a very filling and extremely omega-3 rich meal, add a can of sardines (they're yummier than you might think)! Additionally, the large amount of Cilantro gives this recipe another layer of medicinal action- it's a potent digestive aid which supports nutrient absorption and assimilation, is extremely mineral rich, and helps the body remove accumulated heavy metals

Enjoy!

References & Resources

Purslane Weed (Portulaca oleracea): A Prospective Plant Source of Nutrition, Omega-3 Fatty Acid, and Antioxidant Attributes
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3934766/

Foraging: Identifying and Eating Purslane
http://foragedfoodie.blogspot.com/2015/11/purslane.html

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/