White Pine Medicine

white pine in hand in winter.jpg

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

whie pine cough syrup.jpg

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 2019 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 or seasonal 3-class series.

More info here!

 

white pine in winter.jpg

Winter Tree Medicine

Originally posted January 20, 2014

I love working with the evergreens this time of year...they just seem to beckon. That sole greenery on the landscape that reminds me of the verdant abundance to come, and also of the strong medicine these trees have to offer.  I love that even in the dead of winter I can head outside with my harvesting gear and gather these healing herbs for medicine right outside my door.

The Trees

Some of my favorite evergreens to work with are the Pine Family (Pinaceae) members-

  • Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)  NOTE: All the members of the Pinus genus can be used medicinally, but I tend to use this one since it is so common in our aree
  • Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)*NOT AT ALL related to Poison Hemlock, which is not even a tree!!!*
  • Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)
  • Spruce (Picea sp)

White Pine and Hemlock are the dominant evergreens in the forests around here- they are everywhere!  Balsam Fir and Spruce are mountain trees and are found at higher elevations (think the Berkshires...) and can be found growing up to treeline.  BUT they grow at our elevation just fine and are often planted as landscape/ ornamental plants; especially common is Norway Spruce (Picea abies), which makes excellent medicine.


Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).  Note the short, shiny, dark green needles (3/8-5/8 inch long), known for the 2 white lines found on their underside.  The tree bears very small (5/8-3/4 in) cones.  They prefer north-facing slopes and cool, moist ravines and streamsides. 

 

 


Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) is known for its characteristic cones that grow upright on its branches and are blue-green when immature.  Also it is soft to the touch, not spiny- think "friendly fir."  It grows in high elevations, from 1,000ft to timberline in our area.  It smells amazing and makes an incredible elixer that I usually enjoy as a cordial.


Norway Spruce (Picea abies). A non-native spruce planted extensively as a landscape plant in our area....the native spruces (P.mariana and P.rubens) can be found in the higher elevations with the Balsam Firs.  Note the pointed needles- they are very sharp and painful to touch!

Fairly easy to identify from a distance, Norway Spruce (Picea abies) is often the tallest tree around (grows to over 100 ft), has a distinctive pyramid shape, and is known for its branches that droop strongly downward and are often described as "pendulous."  The cones are often visible as well and are large- 4-6 inches long.
 

The Medicine

Warming and mildy stimulating/energizing in nature, the Pine Family evergreens make wonderful wintertime medicine.   They are excellent additions to the tea pot, especially when combined with other warming aromatic herbs, such as orange peel and ginger. Also delicious with mints, and all the flavinoid-rich berries too!- Hawthorn, Rose Hips and Elderberry, yum!  Known for their affinity for the lungs and respiratory ailments, they are often used for coughs that are cold, wet and damp in nature.  The needles of Pine Family trees are all very high in vitamin c, which supports proper immune function and helps prevent colds and flus from taking hold.   Use these trees to make teas, steams, infused oils, essential oils, vinegars, honeys, elixers, syrups, salves, smudges and more!  They are extremely versatile and I consider them to be a lovely and very ecologically sustainable winter immune tonic, safe for daily use.  

When we use the local plants growing abundantly around us I believe we begin to attune to and harmonize with our local landscape, ecosystem and its rhythms.  In other words we're more in tune with the Earth and her subtleties, seasonal shifts and more....use the pine family evergreens to help achieve this balance and harmony so many of us crave!

Harvesting

It's so easy to harvest and dry these trees.  If I'm using these fresh (say for an infused oil) I usually use the needles and very young, thin twigs, bark, wood and all.  If I am going to dry them, I am typically going for the needles.  Always cut branches just above points of new growth.  I usually harvest into a brown paper bag and let them dry right in there.....my house tends to be dry in the winter and they will be completely dry in about a week if not sooner.  From there simply rub you hands along the branches (use gloves if it's spruce!) and they will fall right off.  Separate from the twigs, put in a glass jar and keep them out of direct sun.  They will be good for years.

Favorite Evergreen Tea Recipe

Equal parts:
Evergreen Needles (Choose from White Pine, Eastern Hemlock, Balsam Fir or Spruce- my favorite is Hemlock)
Hawthorn Berries (Crataegus sp)
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Combine in equal parts.  Use 1 tsp: 1 cup water.  Let infuse, covered for 5-10 minutes.. Enjoy! It is soooooo delicious.  Great for colds and flus, nice as an evening digestive tea and comforting in its "woodsy-ness"- tastes like the forest!


Although I love them all, lets go into some detail on White Pine, extremely abundant in our area and an absolute favorite of mine!

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

     Distinctive Features: Our tallest tree in the northeast, it can reach over 150 ft in height.  5 slender needles/ bundle. Bark is gray and smooth when young, becoming rough, thick and deeply furrowed with age. Cones are long (4-8” long) with a long stalk. Open, spreading form.  Entire tree has an upward-growing, almost "plumey" form to it.
      Habitat: Very tolerant of a wide-range of soils. Early successional species- often grows in old fields. Can be found in dry sandy soil and also in wet, moist soil as well. More of a lowland tree and usually not found above 2000 ft. Along with hemlock, the most common evergreen in our local woods. 
       Medicinal Use: The needles, young twigs with needles, and sap/ pitch are used medicinally. It is an excellent respiratory herb and has an affinity for all bronchial/ respiratory troubles.  An expectorant, it helps thin and expel excess mucous from the lungs.  The young twigs and needles are most commonly used for this, taken as a tea.  Its energetics are warm, so it is often used to help break-up cold, wet coughs.  It was used extensively by the Eclectic Physicians of last century and the famous "White Pine Compound Syrup" for deep wet coughs included 
Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus serotina), Spikenard Rt (Aralia racemosa), Balm of Gilead buds (Populus sp including Aspen and Cottonwood), Bloodroot(Sanguinaria canadensis) and Sassafrass Rt (Sassafrass albidum)   Taken as a tea, it is a mild digestive aid and tastes delicious and distinctively“pine-ey”.  Drink a cup before or after meals to aid nutrient absorption and prevent digestive upset.  The needles are very high in vitamin c, and some sources claim it to have 5 times as much as oranges, by volume! This makes it an excellent addition to a cold and flu tea to help prevent and move along sickness. The pitch is highly anti-septic and a vulnerary (helps heal wounds) and can be put right on a cut or made into a salve for easier application.  The pitch can also be chewed for sore throats and also an immune-boosting tonic. Lastly, the warm pitch has powerful drawing powers, and can be applied to a stubborn splinter to help draw it out!   
      Preparations: Tea, Salve, Smudge, Incense, Honey, Elixer, Infused Oil, Cordial, Ghee, Syrup, Vinegar, Bath Salt/Scrub, Essential Oil, Steam

White Pine (Pinus strobus).  Note the 5 needles per bundle!

White Pine (Pinus strobus).  Note the 5 needles per bundle!

White Pine  (Pinus strobus)  harvest

White Pine (Pinus strobus) harvest

White Pine cone.  Usually 4-8 inches long.  They can be a good source of resin if you are willing to chip off the tips of the cones' scales!

White Pine cone.  Usually 4-8 inches long.  They can be a good source of resin if you are willing to chip off the tips of the cones' scales!

White Pine Salve Recipe

Infused Oil of White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Beeswax , grated (Use ½-3/4  tsp beeswax: 1 oz of oil)

Uses:  Apply to any cleaned cut, scrape, or skin irritation for speedy healing.  Especially excellent for splinters.  Add a few drops of essential oil and use as a chest rub.  Makes a delicious perfume.  Useful as a liniment for sore and aching muscles.  Warming and mildly stimulating to circulation.  Also very softening to the skin and is great for dry, chapped hands and sensitive skin in the winter- I love to use it as a moisturizer!

To Make:

STEP 1: Harvest
First, go out and harvest your pine. I use the tips of the branches- needles, bark, wood and all- and use branches about half the diameter of a pencil and smaller.  Most of the resin is in the cambium (inner layer of the bark) and this is the easiest way to extract it. 

STEP 2: Make your Infused Oil
To make your infused oil put your pine boughs in a pot (you can chop them up if you wish and garden clippers work great for this), or double boiler if you have one, and cover with grapeseed oil.  Heat very gently for 1-2 hours until your plant material seems "spent" and has lost its color. The oil will turn light green and take on the delicious caramel-like smell of the pine.  Be careful not to let your oil come to a boil, you just want little bubbles gently rising to the surface.  If you don't have a double-boiler and are using a pot even your smallest burner might heat it too much. If this is true for you, simply stack up a few of the burners and put your pot on top.  Be sure to criss-cross the burners for maximum stability and safety!

STEP 3: Strain
After your infused oil has cooled sufficiently strain it through cheesecloth or muslin.

STEP 4:  Add your beeswax
Measure out you oil in a glass pyrex cup.  For every ounce of oil you have add about ½ to ¾ tsp of grated beeswax (depending on desired firmness) to the oil.  Put the oil and beeswax together back in your pot and very gently heat and stir until it has completely melted.  Remove from heat.

STEP 5:  Pour it out!
This is it, you’re done!  Simply pour into your desired container (glass or metal as plastic will melt) and let cool. It's that easy! For a softer salve add less oil, for a harder one add more. A good test for consistency is to dip a spoon into the mixture and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes and then check the consistency.

NOTES:
This is a very basic recipe, from here let your imagination run wild and experiment! Some other additions might include Vitamin E Oil, Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Mango Butter, Coconut Oil, Honey, Essential Oils and more! The “butters”- shea, cocoa and mango- maybe be added at a ratio of .5 oz per 8 oz oil.  Essential oils may be added at a basic ratio of 5-10 drops essential oil to one cup of infused oil. Salves have about a 1 year shelf life and do not need to be refrigerated.  
 

Enjoy!

~Jade