Sponsored by

VGoodiez 420EDC
  • Welcome to VaporAsylum! Please take a moment to read our RULES and introduce yourself here.
  • Need help navigating the forum? Find out how to use our features here.
  • Did you know we have lots of smilies for you to use?

Meds Tree Medicine


Active Member

Winter Tree Medicine

December 22, 2019 Jade Alicandro Mace
I love working with the evergreens this time of year...they just seem to beckon. That sole greenery on the landscape is a potent reminder of the verdant abundance to come and also of the strong medicine these trees have to offer. I love that even in the depth of winter I can head outside with my harvesting basket and gather these healing herbs for medicine right outside my door. Read on for info on ID, harvest, medicinal benefits, and herbal recipes for our beloved northeast evergreens.
winter tree medicine.jpg

The Trees​

Some of my favorite evergreens to work with in the winter are the Pine Family (Pinaceae) members-
  • Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
  • Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) NOTE: Not at all related to Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), which is not even a tree!!!*
  • Fir (Abies spp)
  • Spruce (Picea spp)
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 here in Massachusetts (think the Berkshires) and also VT, NH, and Maine, however, they grow at lower elevations just fine and are often planted as landscape/ ornamental plants. An especially common planted Spruce species is Norway Spruce (Picea abies), which makes excellent medicine.

Eastern Hemlock  (Tsuga canadensis)

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

NOTE: Not at all related to Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), which is not even a tree!!!
ID: 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.
HABITAT: They prefer north-facing slopes and cool, moist ravines and streamsides. Very common in Western Massachusetts. Often associate with Yellow Birch and White Pine.
FAVORITE PREPARATIONS: Cordial/Elixir, Bath Salts, Tea, Steam
A Note About Harvest: Due to the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Beetle which is negatively impacting this species, I only recommend harvesting dropped branches on the forest floor- as long as they are pliable and the needles smell aromatic when crushed they will still make fantastic medicine!

Balsam Fir  (Abies balsamea)  in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

ID: 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." Short needles which are ½-1 inch in length and shiny green. It smells amazing! There are many other species of Fir found throughout North America but this is the only one native to the northeast, however, all the species can be used medcinally.
HABITAT: It grows in high elevations, from 1,000ft to timberline in our area. Grows on mountaintops in the Berkshires and all areas north of here. Sometimes planted as a landscape plant in people’s yards, and on Christmas tree farms!
FAVORITE PREPARATIONS: Cordial/Elixir, Incense, Infused Oil

White Pine  (Pinus strobus)

White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

NOTE: All the members of the Pinus genus can be used medicinally, but I tend to work with this one since it is so common in our area. Other native Pine species include Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) and Red Pine (Pinus resinosa)
ID: 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, "plumey" form to it. Extremely common!
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.
FAVORITE PREPARATIONS: Oxymel, Salve, Cough Syrup, Honey, Emergen-C, Confections

Norway Spruce  (Picea abies)

Norway Spruce (Picea abies)

Spruce (Picea spp)

ID: Spruce is known for its flakey, greyish- brown bark and sharp-to-the-touch, square needles, which are .4-.6 inches in length. The cones have sharp, spikey tips too!
HABITAT: In Massachusetts both Red Spruce (Picea rubens) and Black Spruce (Picea mariana) are native, found at high elevations where you also find balsam fir. They are also very common north of here. The non-native Norway Spruce (Picea abies) is very common as a landscape/specimen plant in New England. It’s fairly easy to identify from a distance, 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." All species of Spruce may be used medicinally
FAVORITE PREPARATIONS: Tea, Hot Toddy, Finishing Salts


White Pine harvest

White Pine harvest
It's so easy to harvest and dry these trees and I’m forever grateful for their abundance. The simplest and by far the most sustainable way to harvest them is by collecting dropped branches from the forest floor. I recommend going-out after a wind storm-you’ll find lots of drops! They stay fresh for quite a long time on the forest floor but any easy way to tell if they’re still fresh enough to use is to see if the needles are still flexible and if they smell aromatic when you crush them. If so, they’re good enough to harvest. If you are harvesting directly from the tree just snip the tips of a few branches here and there, giving it a gentle hair-cut.
If I'm using these fresh (say for an infused oil or tea) I usually use the needles and very young, thin twigs- bark, wood, needles, and all (see photo above). If I am going to dry them, I am typically going for the needles. As usual, use all of your assessment skills and harvest respectfully. 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 your hands along the branches (use gloves if it's spruce!) and they will fall right off into the bottom of the bag where they can easily be collected. Store your dried needles in a glass jar and keep them out of direct sun. They will be good for years.
When harvesting evergreens it’s important to be sure you don’t have the poisonous lookalike Yew (Taxus spp). One easy way to tell is that the needles of Yew, when crushed, don’t have the distinctive evergreen smell of Pine Family trees, however, please use a field guide or comparable botany text to ensure proper ID.

The Medicine​

white pine tea 1.jpg

Spruce, Pines, Hemlock, and Fir all share many medicinal properties. Perhaps their most evident medicine is the essential oils contained within their needles and sap. This is what gives them their characteristic evergreen fragrance and is also why their needles are so flammable and make such great incense. Whenever a plant contains essential oils it’s safe to say it contains some level of antimicrobial activity and, while the evergreens wouldn’t be my absolute first choice for an herbal antimicrobial, they certainly do show some antiseptic activity when applied topically to wounds (especially the sap) and are particularly purifying to the lungs, which leads us to the respiratory system.
These Pinaceae Family trees all have an affinity for the lungs. They are herbal expectorants and decongestants to the lungs, helping to thin mucous and clear-up coughs, especially wet and boggy coughs. Of all of the trees discussed in this article, it’s important to note that White Pine bears the distinction of bringing the lungs back into balance-be they wet or dry- and helps restore their tone. For respiratory complaints these trees work especially well as a steam, tea, cough syrup, chest rub, and oxymel (see the recipe section below for inspiration!). They are also quite pleasant tasting, their needles are rich in vitamin C (particularly White Pine), and can form the basis for a lovely winter immune tea, especially when combined with Rose Hips, and Ginger.
These evergreens are also nice, warming, circulatory stimulants- another benefit from the essential oils. They can be employed externally in massage oils, salt and sugar scrubs, and bath salts for this use and there’s nothing like an evergreen hot toddy made with an elixir and honey to warm the body up! On an energetic level these trees lift the spirits. They have a warming and slightly energizing disposition and, especially when enjoyed in the winter months, can help keep spirits bright during the darkest days of the year. When we work with 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 with the pine family evergreens in the winter to help achieve this balance and harmony so many of us crave!
Lastly, Pines, Spruce, Firs, and Hemlock make fantastic food as medicine. Most of the evergreens in the Pine Family are so tasty and aromatic. They lend themselves well to infused honey, confections, spice blends, finishing salts, infused vinegars, marinades, wild soda, herbal butters and ghee, chai, chocolate, simple syrup, tea, and more.


In the recipes below “evergreen needles” refers to the tree species discussed above- Pine, Spruce, Hemlock and Fir
Balsam Fir Cordial

Balsam Fir Cordial


Fresh evergreen needles and thin twigs
Alcohol of choice that is 40-50% alcohol content (brandy, vodka, rum, grappa, whiskey, gin)
Honey (preferably raw)
Directions: Roughly chop your fresh conifer needles and thin twigs (kitchen scissors or clippers work great for this). Put them into a glass jar then cover with roughly 75% with your alcohol of choice (see above) and 25% raw honey. Let sit for a month (or as long as you want) and strain. This can be sipped on as a cordial, added to bubbly water or tonic water, or taken by the spoonful as medicine. It's delicious and tastes like the forest!

White Pine Honey

White Pine Honey

Infused Honey​

Fresh evergreen needles
Honey (preferably raw)
Directions: Cut the needles small with scissors or garden clippers, put into a jar, and cover with honey, mixing well to be sure the needles are thoroughly coated in the honey. It will be ready to use in a few weeks. An optional extra step here is to lightly warm the needle-honey mix to help it infuse into the honey (do not heat to a boil), then put into a jar and let sit a few weeks. An alternate method, if you’d like the honey to be ready right away, is to warm the needles in the honey in a pan on the stovetop for a few hours, being sure not to boil if you’re using raw honey. To use, eat by the teaspoon-full, add to hot water for instant tea, or use in confections. No need to strain the honey- use it with the needles still in the honey!

White Pine & Balsam Fir Cough Syrup

White Pine & Balsam Fir Cough Syrup

Cough Syrup​

Evergreen Needles (fresh or dried)- 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!

White Pine bath salts (with towering grandmother White Pine in the background)

White Pine bath salts (with towering grandmother White Pine in the background)

Bath Salts & Scrub​

Fresh evergreen needles
Sea Salt
Directions: Start by putting a 1 inch layer of sea salt (I prefer fine but coarse will work too) 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 through a mesh strainer when ready if you like or simply add direct to the bath (my preference). If you add it to the bath with the needles in I recommend geting a strainer cap for the drain of your tub. I like to use at least 1 cup/bath. Bath salts can be easily made into a salt scrub by adding enough olive oil to give it a nice scoop-able consistency. To use, take a nice palm-sized amount and rub into your skin in the shower, moving towards your heart to support the lymph.

Eastern Hemlock  (Tsuga canadensis)

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Oxymel & Vinegar​

Fresh evergreen needles + thin twigs
Apple Cider Vinegar (preferably raw)
Honey (preferably raw)
To make your oxymel fill your jar to the top with with roughly chopped evergreen needles and thin twigs. Next, add enough apple cider to cover the plant material approximately 75% of the way with the vinegar and then cover the remaining 25% with honey. Put a cap on it, putting a seal of parchment or wax paper underneath it, and shake it up! It may take a few days, but all the honey eventually will dissolve. It will be ready in about a month and can be strained then if desired or you can also leave the herbs in! Both honey and vinegar are excellent preservatives and this preparation has a very long shelf-life (2 years at the minimum) and does not need to be refrigerated. Evergreen oxymels are delicious. To use, sip straight, add to marinades and dressings, add to hot water, drizzle on cooked veggies, and more. To make an evergreen vinegar simply omit the honey and cover the needles and twigs completely with vinegar and follow the rest of the recipe above!

ghee cooking.jpg

Infused Ghee​

Evergreen Needles (fresh or dried)
Melt your ghee in a pan and add approximately 2 tsp fresh evergreen needles or 1 tsp dried evergreen needles per cup of ghee. Gently warm for about 1/2-1 hr. Strain into a mason jar and let cool. Use as you would ghee or butter for a delicious conifer-infused flair!

white pine emergen-c.jpg

White Pine Emergen-C​

Fresh White Pine needles
Honey (preferably raw)
Directions: Put a large handful of White Pine needles in a pan on the stove, put a lid on it and cover with about 2 cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then turn off the heat, and let it steep 5-10 minutes. Strain. For every 2 cups of tea add the fresh squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon plus a tbsp of local raw honey. This is one of my favorite winter immune pick-me-ups that’s full of vitamin C (the needles of White Pine have been studied and shown to contain 5 times as much vitamin c as oranges!) so I like to cheekily call it “White Pine Emergen-C” as a d.i.y. take on the popular supplement. Feel free to adjust the proportions, make additions, and so on based on your taste, your abundant evergreens in your region, and so on!

Making Balsam Fir infused oil

Making Balsam Fir infused oil

Infused Oil​

Fresh evergreen needles + thin young twigs
Oil (I like olive and grapeseed oil)
I like to use a double boiler for this but a pan on low will work too. Fill your vessel with fresh or dried evergreen needles and twigs and then cover with a oil that can tolerate heat. I tend to use grapeseed oil for this. Then let warm on low for 1-2 hours until the oil has taken in the aroma of the evergreen has thoroughly infused. Then strain and now you've got an herbal infused oil that can serve as a base for salves, solid perfumes, bath salts, scrubs, used for massage, and more!

Norway Spruce- one of my favorite evergreens for finishing salts

Norway Spruce- one of my favorite evergreens for finishing salts

Finishing Salts​

Fresh evergreen needles
Sea salt
Remove the needles from your evergreen and coarsely chop. Then add to a blender with equal parts sea salt- for instance, if you have 1/2 cup of needles add 1/2 cup of sea salt- and blend well. The salt will naturally preserve the fresh herbs and essential oils and this will smell and taste amazing! Use in place of plain sea salt at your table, sprinkle onto chocolates and confections, or even as the salt for making ferments for an herbal kick. Lovely additions that pair well with the evergreens are Rosemary, Thyme, and citruses such as lemon and orange zest- feel free to add your favorite herbs and flavors to make this recipe your own!

Dried Balsam Fir needles for incense

Dried Balsam Fir needles for incense

Loose Incense & Spice Blends​

Loose incense is so simple and staple in my home. Mix together dried, aromatic plants and sprinkle on incense charcoal, a fire, or an ember from your wood stove. All of our evergreen needles make incredible incense and the aroma is comforting and calming and good for your immune system too! You can choose to blend your needles with other aromatic herbs or use alone. Some nice combination with evergreen needles are cinnamon, orange peel, rosemary, frankincense, and mint.
Spice blends are made in a similar way- simply blend dried evergreen needles with dried spices (see ideas below). However, I recommend grinding the needles and spices in a mortar and pestle or giving them a quick zoom in a spice or coffee grinder so they have a fine enough texture to easily sprinkle on food and into dishes. The Pine Family evergreens combine well with the similarly pungent and aromatic Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, basil, rosemary, and oregano, as well as juniper berry, citruses, and mint!

white pine sugar cookies.jpg

White Pine & Orange Zest Sugar Cookies​

3 tbsp fresh white pine needles, finely minced (or needles from hemlock, fir, or spruce will also work here!)
zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups flour (or your favorite gluten-free blend- we like Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 blend)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 stick butter (or 8 tbsp ghee)
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Whisk together your dry ingredients- the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl mix the butter and sugar with an electric beater for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Then add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Zest your orange and chop your pine needles as finely as possible. Next mix in the flour mixture, orange zest, and pine needles with the butter/sugar/egg mix at the lowest speed on your mixer. Make the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap or a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking tray with parchment paper then roll-out the dough to about 1/4-inch thick. Use cookie cutters and cut-out your cookies then place on the parchment-lined tray, sprinkle with sugar, and bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the pan midway if needed. Let cool and garnish your serving dish with fresh evergreen boughs!

Enjoy all and happy medicine-making and cooking!

White Pine Dark Nougat inspired by a recipe by Gather Victoria

White Pine Dark Nougat inspired by a recipe by Gather Victoria



Antibacterial effects of home-made resin salve from Norway spruce (Picea abies)

Abstract and Figures

Resin salve made from Norway spruce (Picea abies) is traditionally used in folk medicine to heal skin ulcers and infected wounds. Its antimicrobial properties were studied against certain human bacteria important in infected skin wounds. The sensitivity of the resin against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria was studied in vitro by methods that are routinely used in microbiology laboratories. The resin salve exhibited a bacteriostatic effect against all tested Gram-positive bacteria but only against Proteus vulgaris of the Gram-negative bacteria. Interestingly, the resin inhibited the growth of bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE), both on agar plates and in culture media. The study demonstrated antimicrobial activity of the resin salve and provided objective evidence of its antimicrobial properties. It gives some explanations why the traditional use of home-made resin salve from Norway spruce is experienced as being effective in the treatment of infected skin ulcers.

Optimization of Bioactive Polyphenols Extraction from Picea Mariana Bark


Reported for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and non-toxicity properties, the hot water extract of Picea mariana bark was demonstrated to contain highly valuable bioactive polyphenols. In order to improve the recovery of these molecules, an optimization of the extraction was performed using water. Several extraction parameters were tested and extracts obtained analyzed both in terms of relative amounts of different phytochemical families and of individual molecules concentrations. As a result, low temperature (80 °C) and low ratio of bark/water (50 mg/mL) were determined to be the best parameters for an efficient polyphenol extraction and that especially for low molecular mass polyphenols. These were identified as stilbene monomers and derivatives, mainly stilbene glucoside isorhapontin (up to 12.0% of the dry extract), astringin (up to 4.6%), resveratrol (up to 0.3%), isorhapontigenin (up to 3.7%) and resveratrol glucoside piceid (up to 3.1%) which is here reported for the first time for Picea mariana. New stilbene derivatives, piceasides O and P were also characterized herein as new isorhapontin dimers. This study provides novel information about the optimal extraction of polyphenols from black spruce bark, especially for highly bioactive stilbenes including the trans-resveratrol.

Last edited:

The Medicine of Pine​

Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor

This article was originally written for Mother Earth Living magazine and is published here with permission from the publisher. Mother Earth Living is an American bimonthly magazine about sustainable homes and lifestyle.

My kindergarten school picture is the first evidence of a lifelong love affair with trees, and pine in particular. My dad had planted a little grove of white pines (Pinus strobus, Pinaceae) 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 over one hundred species of pine worldwide, and most have recorded medicinal uses. Cultures around the globe have used the needles, inner bark, and resin for similar ailments.1,2,3 Internally, pine is a traditional remedy for coughs, colds, allergies, and urinary tract and sinus infections. Topically, pine is used to address skin infections and to lessen joint inflammation in arthritic conditions.4 Native people across the continent—including the Cherokee, Chippewa, Iroquois, Apache, Hopi and countless other groups—have used over twenty species of pine in a similar medicinal fashion.1
Silhouette of pine tree at sunrise

Along with its myriad medicinal applications, pine is a source of lumber, food, essential oil production, and incense. There are a few species of pine in North America and a handful of species in Eurasia that yield the familiar edible pine nuts. Pine is essential commercially for its lumber and 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. See my article on longleaf pine here. Finally, many species are planted ornamentally for their evergreen foliage and winter beauty.
Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)

Medicinal Use of Pines

Pine Needles

The fresh needles and buds, picked in the springtime, are called “pine tops.” These are boiled in water, and the tea is consumed for fevers, coughs, and colds. The needles are also diuretic, helping to increase urination. Pine-top tea is one of the most important historical medicines of the rural southeastern United States, especially given pines’ abundance in the region. Renowned Alabama herbalist Tommie Bass used the needles in a steam inhalation to break up tenacious phlegm in the lungs. I combine pine tops with sprigs of fresh thyme (Thymus spp., Lamiaceae) and bee balm (Monarda spp., Lamiaceae) for this purpose. Tommie Bass reported “ the country people used to drink pine top tea every spring and fall to prevent colds.”5
I enjoy the needles—fresh or dry—as a fragrant and warming wintertime tea. It pairs well with cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum, Lauraceae) and cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum, Zingiberaceae). Pine offers relief in sinus and lung congestion through its stimulating expectorant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory qualities. The fresh, younger needles also contain Vitamin C.
Try combining peppermint (Mentha x piperita, Lamiaceae) and catnip (Nepeta cataria, Lamiaceae) with pine needles as a tea, which can be sipped upon throughout the day to assuage cold symptoms. This combination is a safe remedy for the whole family.

Nourishing Skin Tea

Mighty Pine Tea

  • 1 quart water
  • Small handful of pine needle tops (approximately five to seven branch tips; fresh or dried)
  • 1.5 Tablespoons dried peppermint
  • 1 Tablespoon dried catnip
Boil the pine needle tops in the water for twenty minutes. Turn off the heat and add the peppermint and catnip. Cover and let steep for an additional twenty minutes. Strain and add honey if desired. Sip on the tea while hot, reheating each cup as needed throughout the day. Adults can drink three cups a day. Children’s dosages should be lessened proportionally.

Pine Bark

The inner bark contains more resin and is more astringent than the needles. It has been used historically as an antimicrobial wash or poultice and infused in bathwater for muscle aches and pains. It’s also boiled in water and ingested as a remedy for coughs and colds. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the knotty pine wood from several species of pine is infused in wine and used topically for joint pain.3 I tend to reserve the bark for topical applications since the needles are easy to harvest and more pleasant tasting.

Pine Resin

The resin, also called pitch, has many local first-aid uses—it’s used as an antimicrobial dressing on wounds and to pull out splinters. Pine resin, in minute quantities, has been used internally as a powerful expectorant but it does have some toxicity, so I recommend sticking to the needles or bark when it comes to internal use. I use pine pitch, prepared as a salve, to draw out splinters, glass, and the toxins left from poisonous insect bites. Pine resin salve is helpful to lessen muscle aches and joint inflammation.

Pine Pitch Band-Aids: Forest First-Aid

On a trip to the southwest, I learned another way to apply pine pitch medicinally from Arizona herbalist Doug Simmons: Take a piece of pitch that's semi-hard but still pliable and form it into a flat bandage over the afflicted area. This simple forest first-aid has excellent drawing power, as well as being anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Cover it with a Band-Aid or clean bandage and leave it on overnight.
On this same trip, I had a chance to see the resin in action. Six months earlier a mysterious insect had bitten or stung my foot, leaving behind a little welt that refused to clear up, no matter what remedy I tried. I decided to try Doug’s method of application with the pine resin. I applied a pliable piece of pitch and left it on overnight. The next morning the welt was gone, and it hasn’t returned.
Man harvesting pine resin from a tree's that already been damaged

Pine Pitch Salve

  • 1 part clean pine pitch
  • 2 parts extra-virgin olive oil
  • Grated beeswax or beeswax beads (proportions below)
See our article on preparing herbal salves here. The measurements in this recipe needn’t be exact, but following the general proportions by volume (using a measuring cup) is useful for achieving the desired consistency. Using a double boiler, melt the pitch in the olive oil (1 part pitch to 2 parts olive oil, by volume) until it is mostly dissolved (it’s fine if a little resin remains solid). Add the grated beeswax (1 part beeswax per 4 parts of the combined liquid oil and pitch). Pour into jars and let cool before adding lids.

Journal page about Pine

Pine Identification

The first step in identification is to make sure you have pine and then narrow it down to the exact species. To accurately identify pine, look for the characteristic two to five needles growing together in a little bundle (called a fascicle), coupled with the familiar pinecones. Each bundle has a little papery sheath at the base. (Note: a few species of pine only have one needle; however, this is an anomaly, and most species bear two to five needles in a bundle.)
Identify the species local to your area and research their traditional uses. That said, it’s important to know that no pine is harmful and the medicinal uses overlap between species, so if you can’t find any information about your local pines, they are still medicinal. Just make sure it is indeed a true pine (in the Pinus genus) by checking for the identification traits listed above, and you’ll be good to go!
The male reproductive parts of longleaf pine

The male reproductive parts of longleaf pine
The flavor of pine varies depending on the species and the time of year the needles are picked. The needles have an astringent, “puckering” effect (similar to strong black tea) and a slightly resinous flavor; some pines possess a mineral tang, reminiscent of seawater. Some have needles that are quite sour, especially in the spring. After proper identification, chew on a bit of the needles to get an idea of how the various pine species in your area measure up.
Longleaf pinecone

Longleaf pinecone

Pine Look-Alikes

Other conifers have cones that are sometimes mistaken for pinecones, so be sure you have a real pine and not some other cone-bearing evergreen. Many conifers have similar medicinal properties to pine—spruce (Picea spp., Pinaceae) and fir (Abies spp., Pinaceae), for example. One simple visual indicator that set these two trees apart from Pinus species: both spruce and fir have needles that connect directly to the branch, as opposed to the fascicle in pines.
It’s crucial that you are extremely careful to not harvest yew (Taxus spp., Taxaceae), which is a conifer with poisonous needles.6 Yew produces a red fleshy fruit (technically a cone), unlike the familiar hard brown cones you see growing on other conifers. Other species of conifers, including yew, have precautions, or possible toxicity, so proper identification of pine is crucial.

Pine Imposters

Be aware that many species of trees with pine in their common name are not true pines and are not used in the same way, and may even be toxic. For example, Australian pine (Casuarina spp., Casuarinaceae) and Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla, Araucariaceae) aren’t even in the same family as the true pines! As with any plant you harvest from the wild, you’ll need to use the identifying characteristics, along with the scientific name, rather than the common name.
Freshly harvested pine needles in a basket

Harvesting Pine

You can harvest pine needles anytime they’re looking good and so are you. Seriously though, the needles can be gathered anytime they are needed, but the fresh springtime tips are more pleasant in taste and tend to be a little more sour than older needles. Cut the tips of the branches using garden scissors or shears, and dry in baskets.
Harvest the bark in the spring, preferably from a tree that needs to be thinned or a tree that’s fallen in a storm. You can alternatively collect a three-to-four-inch diameter branch from a tree, which leaves only one wound on the tree. The outer bark is removed and composted, and the inner bark—the medicinal portion—is scraped free from the wood. Dry on a screen or in a loose-weave basket.
Whenever you go on hikes or camp, keep an eye out for freshly dried, amber-hued pine resin on living pine trees. It’s much easier to harvest when the golden pitch is dried but not super brittle or black. Using a small knife, cut the pitch directly into a small jar, leaving a thin layer intact on the tree (the resin serves to protect the tree from pathogens and insects after injury). Sometimes the resin is dried on the outside and squishy on the inside, so proceed carefully. You can still gather resin that is gooey but it’s messy business indeed.
Pine resin can be dirty with adhering bugs and dirt. Avoid soiled resin if possible but if you end up with a grubby batch, gently heat the resin in a small pot and strain through a fine sieve. Clean the pan and strainer with rubbing alcohol. Store the pitch in jars for up to a few years. The medicinal resin has a distinct “piney” and resinous odor; when it’s past its prime, it will have lost its aroma.

Safety & Contraindications: Do not use pine needles in pregnancy and avoid the long-term internal use of the bark. Both pine needles and pine bark can cause kidney irritation with long-term use in strong doses or with sensitive individuals. Do not use pine resin internally except in minute doses under the direction of a skilled herbalist. Be sure you have correctly identified pine and not a look-alike or a sound-alike (see the notes in the identification section).
There haven’t been any recorded instances of human poisoning from ingesting small amounts of medicinal pine (like the dosages a sensible person would ingest or imbibe). You’ll sometimes read warnings about pine toxicity from authors who mistakenly infer human safety precautions from documented cattle poisonings where the animals are consuming pine needles in copious amounts.

Snow-covered pine (Pinus sp.) needles



  1. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press; 1998.
  2. Wood M. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books; 2008.
  3. Bensky D, Clavey S, Stöger E. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Eastland Press; 2004.
  4. Moore M. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press; 2003.
  5. Crellin JK, Philpott J, Bass ALT. A Reference Guide to Medicinal Plants. Duke University Press; 1990.
  6. Burrows GE, Tyrl RJ. Toxic Plants of North America. Wiley; 2012.


Effects of ethanolic extract of pine needles (Pinus eldarica Medw.) on reserpine-induced depression-like behavior in male Wistar rats



In this study, the antidepressant activity of ethanolic extract of Pinus eldarica Medw needles was assessed using forced swimming test (FST) in rats.

Materials and Methods:

Male Wistar rats were randomly divided into six Groups and treated as follows: first group was received only reserpine (6 mg/kg, i.p.), second group was received reserpine (6 mg/kg, i.p.) and imipramine (10 mg/kg, i.p.), three experimental groups received reserpine (6 mg/kg, i.p.) and three doses of pine needle extract (100, 300, and 500 mg/kg, p.o.) respectively and the final group (control group) received only vehicle (5% DMSO, i.p.).


Acute oral administration of ethanolic extract of P. eldarica Medw needles at a dosage of 300 mg/kg reduced reserpine-induced increase in immobility time in the FST, demonstrating an antidepressant effect in the FST. Additionally, extract treatment did not modify the ambulation and rearing evaluated in open field test, indicating that antidepressant effect found in the forced swimming test was not based on the stimulation of locomotor activity.


These results indicate that ethanolic extract of Pinus eldarica needles possesses an antidepressant activity.

Pharmaceutical and nutraceutical effects of Pinus pinaster bark extract


In everyday life, our body generates free radicals and other reactive oxygen species which are derived either from the endogenous metabolic processes (within the body) or from external sources. Many clinical and pharmacological studies suggest that natural antioxidants can prevent oxidative damage. Among the natural antioxidant products, Pycnogenol® (French Pinus pinaster bark extract) has been received considerable attention because of its strong free radical-scavenging activity against reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. P. pinaster bark extract (PBE) contains polyphenolic compounds (these compounds consist of catechin, taxifolin, procyanidins of various chain lengths formed by catechin and epicatechin units, and phenolic acids) capable of producing diverse potentially protective effects against chronic and degenerative diseases. This herbal medication has been reported to have cardiovascular benefits, such as vasorelaxant activity, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibiting activity, and the ability to enhance the microcirculation by increasing capillary permeability. Moreover, effects on the immune system and modulation of nitrogen monoxide metabolism have been reported. This article provides a brief overview of clinical studies describing the beneficial and health-promoting effects of PBE.

Antioxidant and antiapoptotic effects of pine needle powder ingestion and endurance training in high cholesterol-fed rats



Pine needle is a kind of medicinal plant ingested traditionally for a variety of purposes. Therefore, we examined the antioxidant and antiapoptotic capacities of pine needle ingestion in high cholesterol-fed and endurance exercise-trained rats.


Animals were divided into six groups as; CON: normal diet control group; EX: normal diet and exercise training group; HC: high cholesterol diet group; HCE: high cholesterol diet and exercise training group; HCP: high cholesterol and pine needle group; HCPE: high-cholesterol and pine needle diet with exercise training group, respectively. Each group consisted of seven Sprague-Dawley male rats. The swim-training groups, EX, HCE, and HCPE swam in the swim pool 60 min/d and 5 d/week for 5 weeks. During the rearing periods, freeze-dried pine needle powder mix with 5% of the high cholesterol diet was supplied to the HCP and HCPE groups. Gastrocnemius muscle was used as the skeletal muscle. Malondialdehyde (MDA), Mn-containing superoxide dismutase (Mn-SOD), Cu, Zn containing superoxide dismutase (Cu,Zn-SOD), and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) were analyzed for their antioxidant capacities. Finally, p53, Bcl-2 (B-cell lymphoma 2), caspase-3 protein expression was analyzed to determine antiapoptotic ability.


MDA showed low content in HCPE compared to the HC. Mn-SOD, Cu,Zn-SOD, and GPx protein expression was significantly increased by pine needle ingestion and/or exercise training. In addition, suppression of p53 protein expression resulted in Bcl-2 increase followed by caspase-3 decrease with/without pine needle ingestion and exercise training.


When exercise training in addition to pine needle powder ingestion may be a helpful nutritional regimen to athletes and exercisers.

Antioxidant, antimutagenic, and antitumor effects of pine needles (Pinus densiflora)

Pine needles (Pinus densiflora Siebold et Zuccarini) have long been used as a traditional health-promoting medicinal food in Korea. To investigate their potential anticancer effects, antioxidant, antimutagenic, and antitumor activities were assessed in vitro and/or in vivo. Pine needle ethanol extract (PNE) significantly inhibited Fe(2+)-induced lipid peroxidation and scavenged 1,1-diphenyl- 2-picrylhydrazyl radical in vitro. PNE markedly inhibited mutagenicity of 2-anthramine, 2-nitrofluorene, or sodium azide in Salmonella typhimurium TA98 or TA100 in Ames tests. PNE exposure effectively inhibited the growth of cancer cells (MCF-7, SNU-638, and HL-60) compared with normal cell (HDF) in 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide assay. In in vivo antitumor studies, freeze-dried pine needle powder supplemented (5%, wt/wt) diet was fed to mice inoculated with Sarcoma-180 cells or rats treated with mammary carcinogen, 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA, 50 mg/kg body weight). Tumorigenesis was suppressed by pine needle supplementation in the two model systems. Moreover, blood urea nitrogen and aspartate aminotransferase levels were significantly lower in pine needle-supplemented rats in the DMBA-induced mammary tumor model. These results demonstrate that pine needles exhibit strong antioxidant, antimutagenic, and antiproliferative effects on cancer cells and also antitumor effects in vivo and point to their potential usefulness in cancer prevention.

Evaluation of the effects of pycnogenol (French maritime pine bark extract) supplementation on inflammatory biomarkers and nutritional and clinical status in traumatic brain injury patients in an intensive care unit: A randomized clinical trial protocol



Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the major health and socioeconomic problems in the world. Immune-enhancing enteral formula has been proven to significantly reduce infection rate in TBI patients. One of the ingredients that can be used in immunonutrition formulas to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress is pycnogenol.


The objective of this work is to survey the effect of pycnogenol on the clinical, nutritional, and inflammatory status of TBI patients.


This is a double-blind, randomized controlled trial. Block randomization will be used. An intervention group will receive pycnogenol supplementation of 150 mg for 10 days and a control group will receive a placebo for the same duration. Inflammatory status (IL-6, IL- 1β, C-reactive protein) and oxidative stress status (malondialdehyde, total antioxidant capacity), at the baseline, at the 5th day, and at the end of the study (10th day) will be measured. Clinical and nutritional status will be assessed three times during the intervention. The Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) questionnaire for assessment of organ failure will be filled out every other day. The mortality rate will be calculated within 28 days of the start of the intervention. Weight, body mass index, and body composition will be measured. All analyses will be conducted by an initially assigned study arm in an intention-to-treat analysis.


We expect that supplementation of 150 mg pycnogenol for 10 days will improve clinical and nutritional status and reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress of the TBI patients.

Hippocampal memory enhancing activity of pine needle extract against scopolamine-induced amnesia in a mouse model


We evaluated the neuropharmacological effects of 30% ethanolic pine needle extract (PNE) on memory impairment caused by scopolamine injection in mice hippocampus. Mice were orally pretreated with PNE (25, 50, and 100 mg/kg) or tacrine (10 mg/kg) for 7 days, and scopolamine (2 mg/kg) was injected intraperitoneally, 30 min before the Morris water maze task on first day. To evaluate memory function, the Morris water maze task was performed for 5 days consecutively. Scopolamine increased the escape latency and cumulative path-length but decreases the time spent in target quadrant, which were ameliorated by pretreatment with PNE. Oxidant-antioxidant balance, acetylcholinesterase activity, neurogenesis and their connecting pathway were abnormally altered by scopolamine in hippocampus and/or sera, while those alterations were recovered by pretreatment with PNE. As lipid peroxidation, 4HNE-positive stained cells were ameliorated in hippocampus pretreated with PNE. Pretreatment with PNE increased the proliferating cells and immature neurons against hippocampal neurogenesis suppressed by scopolamine, which was confirmed by ki67- and DCX-positive stained cells. The expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and phosphorylated cAMP response element-binding protein (pCREB) in both protein and gene were facilitated by PNE pretreatment. These findings suggest that PNE could be a potent neuropharmacological drug against amnesia, and its possible mechanism might be modulating cholinergic activity via CREB-BDNF pathway.

Last edited:


By Hank Shaw on June 6, 2014, Updated May 17, 2020
gifts of the pines
Photo by Holly A. Heyser
“Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.”
That may be the most famous quote from the father of modern foraging, the late, great Euell Gibbons, who spoke those words in a Grape Nuts commercial back in the 1970s. He’s right, of course, and I’d like to walk you through just which parts he’s talking about.
No, it ain’t the wood, silly. And it ain’t the bark, either, although some people have eaten the inner cambium bark of some conifers and declared it tasty. It takes like resinous, tannic wood to me. Meh. The true gifts of the pine — and for the sake of this article by “pine” I mean all conifers — are their nuts, pollen and needles.

Pine Nuts​

Most of us have eaten pine nuts. Few of us have eaten North American pine nuts. Something like 95 percent of the commercial market in pine nuts is from China and Korea, and while these nuts are nice, they are occasionally adulterated with nuts from another pine that will make your mouth taste metallic for several days: This is the dreaded “pine mouth.” (I know how much it must shock you to learn that the Chinese sometimes adulterate the foods they export… ) I can assure you, North American nuts will not do this.
Of the American nuts that people do eat, the lion’s share are either Pinus monophylla or P. edulis, the piñon pines. These grow all over the Southwest and Great Basin, into California and Idaho and New Mexico. Once in a while you can find one planted elsewhere. P. monophylla, the single-leaf piñon, is the dominant pine on the East side of the Sierra Nevada, and they like to live with sagebrush in open scrub. Lots of them live in Nevada, too. This is one:
Pinus monophylla with cones
Photo by Hank Shaw
P. edulis, the two-leaf piñon, is centered around Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, although it can be found in scattered places elsewhere. It also likes open, arid scrub. Both trees can live for more than a century.
Single-leaf pine nuts are the largest pine nuts I know of, sometimes longer than an inch. Edulis pine nuts are much smaller, about the size of a store-bought nut; their cones are also teeny, much smaller than you’d think. A big one will still fit in the palm of your hand. Single-leaf nuts are pretty mild, and they’re softer than most other pine nuts, almost gummy when raw. I always toast them. Edulis nuts are virtually identical to the Chinese ones, although I prefer their flavor, which is stronger than the imported nuts.
The trick to harvesting these pine nuts is to get on it early, like in August or early September. I’ll get into exactly how to harvest pine nuts in a post later this summer.

Several other pine trees have good nuts, all in California. Sorry folks, but there are no pines east of the Great Plains that have nuts large enough to bother with, unless you have a Western transplant or an Italian stone pine nearby. Sugar pines, P. lambertiana, have gigantic cones loaded with good nuts, but good luck getting to them before squirrels do. Sugar pines are our tallest pine and the cones are often 100 feet in the air when they ripen. Still, if you are diligent you can get some in September.
Even closer to home — or at least my home — is the bull or gray (or digger) pine, P. sabiniana. This is a huge pine with a raggedy look to it, and it bears the largest cones of all. If one falls on you, chances are you’ll get knocked out, or worse. I’ve written about cracking these nuts before, and it was a futile endeavor. Gray pine nuts taste fantastic — very strong — but they have a really hard shell. I gave them up a few years ago.

Until I saw a bunch on the ground last month. As it happens, the cones of the gray pine open in spring, and the squirrels and birds go to town on them. They’re messy eaters, so many good nuts drop to the ground right under the trees. I soon found I could gather more nuts on the ground than I could by prying them out of their evil, hooked cones. I quickly gathered a pound one day just by looking on the ground. But there was still the problem of opening the little bastards.
On my way home, I contemplated it. I’d noticed that most of the opened nuts had been opened on their narrow axis; the nuts are lens-shaped in cross section. That meant there must be a hidden seam there, like on a walnut. How to open that seam? Then it hit me: Vise grips. A set of grips clamped down on the narrow axis of the nut should crack it cleanly and easily. It does! All of a sudden, the nuts of the gray pine are valuable to me again. It’s those nuts that are in the dish you see at the top of this post.

Pine Pollen​

pine pollen
Photo by Hank Shaw
The gray pine also gave me another gift this spring: pollen. I’d known pine pollen was edible, and indeed many people say it’s a wonder food. I’d hit on exactly the right moment to harvest the pollen, and gathered enough to have some fun with pretty quickly. All you need to harvest pine pollen is a plastic bag and some good timing. You’re looking at anywhere from April to July, depending on your climate. Watch for the “yellow ash” falling everywhere, and when you see it, get on it — the pollen won’t fall for long. It does store for quite some time, however, so you can keep it in a glass jar in the cupboard for when you need it.
Even if it’s not a magic tonic, pine pollen is certainly nutritious, and while the pollen in other pines, notably the Jeffrey pine (P. jeffreyi), can be bitter, that of the gray pine is pretty neutral. It’s good added to anything you’d make with flour. I decided it would make a great pasta additive. It does.

Pine, Fir and Spruce Needles​

That leaves the needles. Yes, you can eat pine needles, and they do make a pretty good tea, but I’ve found that the needles of pine’s cousins, the firs and spruces, taste less like turpentine and more like citrus. There is a good reason they all have at least a little bit of citrus flavor: The needles of conifers are a good source of Vitamin C. Many people use them as a tea, and I like that, although I’m not much of a tea drinker. I prefer to make fir or spruce tip syrup, which I then use as a glaze on poultry (especially grouse), and as a soda base or in gin martinis.
spruce tip syrup recipe
Photo by Hank Shaw
To gather them, look for the light-colored tips of the trees; this is the new growth, which is milder and less resinous. Every tree will taste a little different, so taste in the field to make sure you don’t get one too nasty. If you happen to find an especially citrusy tree, mark it down. Never pick the new growth at the top of a little tree, as this can stunt it. Pick around the edges, a few tips here, a few there. Don’t overharvest any one tree. Stick and move and you can still put some weight in your bag. And after all, you don’t need much.
Once you have them, they will keep a week or so in the fridge, but I like to vacuum seal the tips and freeze them. Sealed, the tips will last a year.
Armed with all three gifts of the pine, a few weeks ago I decided to make a dish celebrating them. As you may or may not know, I make a lot of pasta, so a pine pollen pasta was a must. I chose this particular shape because it kinda reminds me of little pine cones. The addition of the pollen and a tiny amount of piñon pine essential oil (which gave them a heavenly aroma) added to the effect.

Here in the West, morel mushrooms live with conifers, mostly firs. I happened to have had a good day with them at the time, so in they went, too. I added a big handful of toasted pine nuts, a few wild onions from the edge of the forest, and garnished the whole dish with the fir tips. I loved the dish. It brought together every element of the pines, and created an overall plate full of flavors even I hadn’t tasted together before.
I’m giving you the recipe below, even though I am not sure who will actually make this dish. Chefs, maybe. Other manic foragers like me perhaps. But I do know that if Euell were still alive, this is what I’d serve him. I hope he’d be proud.
pine pollen pasta with morels and fir tips

I make no apologies for this recipe. Yes, it will be hard to recreate at home. But not impossible. And the real point is to bring together all the gifts of the pine in one dish. The pine pollen, which you can buy in stores or online, is a nice touch in the pasta, but it adds more color than flavor. Pine nuts you can buy. Morels, too, although this dish is better with fresh ones than dried. The demi-glace, which is a thickened, reduced stock, you can either buy or use this recipe to make yourself.

Prep Time2 hrs
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time2 hrs 30 mins

Course: Pasta
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw



  • 3 tablespoons pine pollen, ,bout 3/4 ounce
  • A scant 2 cups semolina flour, 9 1/4 ounces
  • About 1/2 cup of water, or 4 ounces
  • 2 to 4 drops of essential oil of pine (optional)


  • 3/4 pound morel mushrooms, sliced into disks
  • 2 ounces of wild onions, about a dozen, chopped and separated into green and white parts
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • Salt
  • 1 cup champagne or white wine
  • 2 tablespoons demi glace
  • Black pepper
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped young fir or spruce tips, for garnish


  • Make the pasta first. Whisk together the pine pollen and the semolina. Add the pine oil to the water and pour it into the flour. Mix well and knead for a solid 5 to 8 minutes. This is a stiff dough, but it will incorporate eventually. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave it out on the counter for an hour or three. Or, if you have a vacuum sealer, seal the dough. You can then work with it pretty much immediately, as the vacuum instantly hydrates the dough.
  • When you're ready, shape the dough so you can cut it into 4 to 6 equal pieces. Keep all the pieces you are not working with covered in plastic wrap. Roll the piece of dough you are working with out into a snake the thickness of your little finger. Cut it into pieces about as wide as your first finger. Use a gnocchi board to roll off each cavatello, using enough pressure with your first finger (or two fingers if the pasta bit is wide) to make the center part of the cavatello thin. You'll get the hang of it quickly. Set your cavatelli on a baking sheet you've dusted with some semolina.
  • Get a large pot of water boiling and salt it well. You want it to taste like the sea.
  • Put the morels and the white parts of the chopped wild onions into a large saute pan dry. Turn the heat to high and wait for them to sizzle. When they do, drop the heat to medium-high and stir them around a bit. They will release their water. Salt them when they do. When most of the water has boiled away, add the butter and toss to combine. Sear until the morels start to brown.
  • Add the pine nuts, champagne and glace de viande and boil furiously until the liquid has almost boiled away. Turn off the heat and add the green parts of the wild onions and toss to combine.
  • Boil the pasta, removing it about 30 seconds after it floats to the surface. Add it to the saute pan, along with some black pepper and the fir tips. Toss to combine and serve at once.


The fir tips you'll need to gather yourself. They're ready from March in hot, low elevations up until early July in the mountains. Incidentally, you will want to chop them for the dish, unlike in the picture. Big pieces of fir tips were too much of a palate wrecker.


Fir, Hemlock and Spruce Tips

by Elise Krohn

Fir, Hemlock and Spruce Tips

It is May and I am bedazzled by the lime-green tips emerging from evergreen trees. I have been waiting patiently. First the tiny brown buds, tight fists at the tips of branches. Slowly they swell, and then papery brown coating falls away in wind or rain, revealing tender nubs of baby needles. Now they are everywhere – waving on the tips of branches like bejeweled dancers. My mouth waters as I imagine the bounty they offer – spruce lemonade, Douglas fir sorbet or hemlock tip sun tea – all so refreshing on a warm spring day.
Evergreen conifer trees define our Pacific Northwest landscape. They are the giants that house many of our wild plants and animals. When I see their new growth something in me is relieved and gladdened – the forest is alive and the medicine it holds is still sheltered. We have many native varieties of evergreens with new needle growth that can be used for food and medicine. Cedar and juniper do not have needles and are not used in this way. Pine is rare in Western Washington, but if I lived in dryer places I would include it as well. Here are the species I most often harvest tips from:
Douglas Fir or Pseudotsuga menziesii. I grew up under the towering giants of Douglas fir – their deep furrowed brown bark the backdrop of my outdoor world. I love their smell on hot summer days and their large hanging cones that appear as if they are hiding the front half of dozens of chipmunks. Douglas fir is not classified as a true fir – it was just named this by a European botanist who visited our region in the late 1700’s. The leaves are distinctive because they are all the same length, are pointed at the tip (but do not hurt you when you brush up against them) and are spirally arranged all around the branch. This is very different than the flat sprays of true fir or the needle-like tips of spruce.

Douglas fir buds

Douglas fir new growth
True Fir or Abies spp. There are many firs in our region including Pacific silver fir, grand fir, noble fir, and in the high country, subalpine fir. All true firs have cones that are erect. Bark on younger trees is often smooth and silvery with blisters that contain sap. Fir branch sprays often appear flat. Leaves grow in distinctive patterns – either growing flat against the twig like pacific silver fir, in two distinct horizontal rows like grand fir or all tending to turn upward like noble fir and subalpine fir.

Grand fir tips

Hemlock tips
Hemlock or Tsuga heterophylla. Hemlock is a “climax tree” in our forest meaning that it grows longer and towers higher than other trees. If untouched by humans or natural disaster, our forests would be dark woodlands of giant hemlock. Hemlock has a distinctive drooping top and feathery drooping branches. In wind these trees remind me of graceful dancing cranes. Bark is silvery brown and furrowed – but not so deeply scored as Douglas fir. Cones are small – only a couple of centimeters long. Leaves are different lengths and are arranged randomly along branches. Many people have heard that hemlock tree is poisonous but this is because it is confused with “poison hemlock”, an entirely different plant from the carrot family.

or Picea sp. The easiest way to identify a spruce is to touch the needles. If they are very stiff and sharp, it is a spruce. Sitka spruce trees (Picea sitchensis) grace wet coastal forests from Oregon to Alaska. Along the rocky coastline they take the form of sideways bending sculptures molded by wind and rain. They seldom venture to higher elevations or dry climates. When I lived on the Oregon coast I often visited ancient spruces with tall buttressing roots that reach out making small walls. A child or an imaginative adult could get lost in the nooks. Outer spruce roots can grow straight and be pliable enough to split and make baskets with. Coast Salish weavers have traditionally utilized spruce roots to weave water-tight baskets. Sitka spruce was heavily logged during World Wars I and II because it was used to make American and British airplane frames and propellers. For more on white spruce see “Spruce Wisdom from Alaska” below.

When and How to Harvest:
Young tips are harvested when they are limey green and tender. Pinch off the new growth here and there – making sure to not to gather too much in one place. Remember that you are pruning. I usually use the tips fresh but I have heard that you can dry them for tea if you have a good area for drying (here in Olympia and other damp climates this is hard to do without a woodstove or a warm and well-ventilated area in your house). Tips can be preserved in the fridge for several days.

Food and Medicine​

I look forward to this refreshing flavor of spring. Tree flavors vary but you will pick up bright elements of citrus and pine with earthy undertones. Many have an astringent quality that makes you pucker up. When I ingest the new growth I feel like I am taking in the vitality of the trees. You don’t need too many – just a little handful feels like enough to satisfy. Because these tree tips are packed with Vitamin C and electrolytes, you could equate them with Gatorade or Emergen-C, but without the sugary downside. Indeed – many Northwest Native People have eaten spring tips to ward off thirst and hunger. They have also been used to combat scurvy, colds, coughs and fatigue.

Making Evergreen Tree Tip Tea​

You can prepare a hot tea by taking a handful of spring tips per 3-4 cups of boiled water. Cover and let steep about 10 minutes. My favorite is a sun tea. This brings out the bright aromatics and the Vitamin C without the tannins. Nothing is as refreshing as a cup of Douglas fir sun tea after a hard day of working in the garden. I add 2 handfuls of tips in a quart jar and cover with room temperature water. Place in a warm spot and let sit 3-8 hours. Strain and drink straight, or mix with lemon or lime juice and sweetener.

Evergreen Tree Tip Syrup​

You can make a simple syrup that can be used on pancakes, in tea, over ice cream, in sauces, and to glaze meats. This is really simple to prepare and you can use any of the many varieties of fir, spruce or hemlock.
  • 1 cup spring fir, hemlock or spruce tips
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar, demerara, turbinado or white
Place tree tips in an 8 ounce glass container. Cover with water, close lid and place in a warm place (preferably in the sun). Strain and place the liquid in a small sauce pan. Add sugar, turn on medium heat, and stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Place in a glass jar and keep refrigerated. This syrup will last several weeks. Demerara is a natural brown sugar and turbinado is raw sugar. These both have a richer and more complex flavor but white sugar will work fine too.

Spruce Lime Sorbet​

This light and refreshing dessert is sure to please. Hemlock and fir tips can also be used. You can experiment with adding citrus juice, herbs like lemon verbena, rose or lemon balm, or fruit like strawberry and blueberry.

  • 2 cups spruce tips
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
Rinse spruce tips then place in a quart mason jar. Fill with water and cover with a lid. Set in the sun or another warm place for 4-8 hours. Heat honey and lime juice in a sauce pan until the honey is thin but not boiling. Strain the spruce tea into the sauce pan and stir just until the honey is mixed. Remove from heat, cover and cool to room temperature. Place in an ice cream maker and follow directions. Sorbet should be used within about 7 hours or it will get too icy. Serves 6

Other recipe ideas:​

In Jennifer Hahn’s lovely book Pacific Feast she features a recipe for Moroccan-spiced lamb chops with Matanuska Valley carrot puree and spruce tip syrup. How could you go wrong!
For a playful blog on spruce and ideas on how to make “Poor Man’s Balsalmic” go to www.morganbotanicals.com


I am always on the hunt for pitch. Spring is a good time to gather it because tree sap is running. As I walk or drive through forested areas I scan for trees that have been hit by lightening or injured in some other way. Sap oozes over the wound – protecting and healing the tree. Perhaps it will have a little extra to share… I have been known to screech on the breaks – slowing from sixty to stop in no time to gather from a giving tree. I use it for medicine and for incense. Pitch has traditionally been used for other utilitarian purposes including starting fires and waterproofing boat seams. Generally, pitch is antimicrobial and immune stimulating. It can be used straight on cuts, scrapes and insect bites. A tried-and-true remedy is fir pitch on mosquito bites. First dap a bit of sap over the bite, then place a small leaf like huckleberry over it to make a little green band aid. This will relieve itching and help the bite to heal faster.
Helpful hint: Pitch can be a blessing or a curse – if you sit on a big glob of it or worse yet, get it in your hair, oil will dissolve it. When I was a kid this happened to me. I got the pitch out of my hair with peanut butter – the oil was the key factor here. Alcohol will also dissolve pitch but the higher proof the better.

Spruce Wisdom from Alaska, and More on Pitch​

I was lucky enough to attend the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s Alaska Plants for Food and Medicine Symposium recently. Karin Bodony taught an excellent class on the many uses of white and black spruce. First, I learned how important white spruce is to the Koyukon People. It is the equivalent of cedar here in Western Washington. Some of the many things spruce provides include shelter, baskets, dyes, bandages, medicine, carving, firewood, tanning, waterproofing, incense, spiritual uses, and chewing gum. Almost every part of spruce has a special Athabaskan name, and many of the meanings illustrate uses. For example “ts’ebaa kent’oh” means under the shelter of a spruce tree. Those who sleep under the boughs will be comforted as they rest on soft matted needles, smell the sweet aroma and find protection from this benevolent spirit. Sign me up!

Karin makes salves and ointment from spruce pitch. She gathers the young pitch and mixes it with a little olive oil to make an antibacterial and delicious smelling medicine that is the consistency of honey. This can be used straight or added to salve. Older pitch gets hard but you can break it up and heat it in olive oil to help dissolve it. After you have heated it gently for several hours you can strain it with muslin cloth and use it straight or turn it into a salve by adding beeswax.

Spruce needles are very aromatic and also have antimicrobial and immune stimulating properties. Even older needles can be made into a delicious and medicinal tea. They are steeped in hot water for 15-20 minutes. Karin also showed us how to make spruce massage oil by simply chopping up spruce needles, placing them in a plastic jar and covering them with extra virgin olive oil. After a week of infusing it has a very uplifting and invigorating smell. No need to strain out the needles – the flip top lid does the straining for you.

I love witnessing the creativity and passion that people bring to their plant preparations. Through sharing ideas and experiences we lift each other up and push the knowledge forward. Go Karin!



edible, mature spruce tips

These tips are a little past prime, but you could still use them for syrup, or pureeing in a blender.
Of all the young growth of Spring, spruce tips occupy a space that’s really interesting. Literally the young growth on branches of spruce trees, they’re not quite a vegetable, not quite an herb. In a sense, they’re a little bit of both, and there’s a learning curve to working with them, but nothing you can’t handle.
The first thing to know is that all spruce species taste different. I had a great time (sarcasm here) working with some local Amish farmers a few years ago. They’d agreed to sell me spruce tips, but we had to figure out a good tasting species on their property. Every week for about 3 weeks, they would send me a couple different types of tips from different trees with my vegetable delivery. Eventually we hit on a tasty species before the Spring was officially over, but it took some time.

Spruce Tips, Frozen_

Every young spruce tip I’ve tasted will have a good flavor, but some have intense bitterness too. The goal is to find spruce tips that have the least amount of bitterness or astringency. No species of spruce is poisonous though, so what you can do is just go around to different trees until you find one that tastes good. You’ll want to bring a bottle of water to rinse your mouth out, otherwise after you get a bitter one they might all start to taste the same. When you find a tree that you like the taste of, remember it, and then find other trees that are the same species of spruce. Generally I like picking Norway, white, and blue spruce. The only tips I know I really don’t like are balsam fir, although their cones are fun.
Spruce Tips in Sugar

Spruce tips make excellent desserts.


Like with many foraged foods, you need to be careful with how you treat the trees. Here’s my rules that I follow when harvesting tips:
  • I always pick from elder, mature trees, young trees need time to grow
  • I never pick more than 20% of the tips from a single tree
  • I never pick tips from the apical meristem, or top of a young tree, which would stunt it’s growth
With that out of the way though, know that spruce tips are something you can harvest in large quantity, easily, and put them away for winter.


Spruce tips have a fantastic shelf life. Picked fresh and cooled immediately, they can last for multiple months in the cooler under refrigeration at a restaurant. Home refrigerators dry foods out faster than commercial refrigeration units, so you want to be extra careful to keep them in a damp environment. I like to store them in a plastic bag with a couple holes punched in it for them to breathe, along with a damp paper towel or two to help hold in moisture. If you’ll be keeping the tips for a month or longer, make sure to change the towel every week or so. Spruce tips can also be frozen, and used for my ice cream and syrup recipe below at the bottom of this post.
Spring Vegetables With Lemon Oil, Spruce and Mint

A spring vegetable salad with spruce buds.


Here’s a few bullets I find helpful
  • When I cook with spruce tips, I usually add them raw to salads or vegetable dishes. When they get exposed to heat, their flavor changes, and their color darkens to an unappealing brown. You can get past this by using them in cold dishes, or by just being careful and adding them to thing at the last minute. Pickling them is, ok.
  • If I use spruce tips in desserts, they will typically be pureed or in an infusion, and always strained since leftover particles can get bitter.


  • “Cooking” with spruce tips is kind of a mis-nomer. After I heat them in something, like syrup, the tips turn brown and since their flavor is now in the syrup, they usually get discarded. I’m never going to toss them in a hot pan with something, since they will lose their color so fast. Think of them as something to sprinkle in a dish at the very last minute, toss in a cold salad, or puree into a cream or custard cold without exposing them to heat.
  • Sure, people make spruce tip salt, breads and cookies, and all kinds of stuff. I’ve made them too, and there’s a reason you don’t see recipes for them posted here. You’ll have to search for the flavor in most of the finished products that are cooked, salt is salty and needs to be frozen to not lose it’s bright flavor, etc.
Spruce tip posset recipe

Spruce tip posset-an eggless sweet custard.


This was really tricky for me at first. By themselves, spruce tips are aggressively flavored, so a little goes a long way, especially if you have a more aggressive tasting species. For the most part, for me it’s helped to think about them as either one or two flavors: honeydew melon and mint. From there, I just imagine what a dish would taste like if I added one or both of the two. Here’s some examples of flavors spruce tips like be paired with.


  • Sweet green vegetables, especially peas, fava beans, green chickpeas, asparagus, etc.
  • Radishes, raw lamb, goat, bison, game, etc.
  • Organ meats from all above animals, especially heart and liver
  • Citrus, and anything flavored like citrus, especially lime


  • Berries, especially dark ones like blueberries, serviceberries, aronia, cherries, etc.
  • White chocolate
  • Chocolate, like spruce tip ice cream with chocolate shavings
  • Citrus, and anything flavored like citrus–especially lime
  • Cream, as in ice cream, panna cotta, mousse, etc
  • Nuts, especially creamy ones like pistachios, macadamia, and cashew
blue spruce ice cream

Spruce ice cream has been a tradition, and customer favorite for years for me.



This is your best option, hands-down. If you strictly want to preserve their flavor vacuum seal them and freeze, although you can put them in a tightly sealed ziploc too. Frozen spruce tips regularly sell for 30$ a lb through some wholesalers I know of, so putting a few away for the off season is time well-spent. Frozen spruce tips have their limits though, and they will not have the soft texture of freshly picked tips. If I’m reaching for frozen spruce tips, I’m probably making ice cream or syrup–not eating them raw.


You can cook spruce tips into a simple syrup, which I like to concentrate by slowly reducing in the caramelized spruce tip syrup below. The caramelized syrup is really a short cut though, and doesn’t have the ultra-concentrated flavor of something like mugolio, or sun honey.
Caramelized Spruce Tip Syrup

Caramelized Spruce Tip Syrup


Winter radish and spring vegetable salad with spruce tips
Spring vegetable salad with spruce tips and pecorino
Caramelized spruce tip syrup
Spruce ice cream

@treesaver It's wonderful to learn about natural medicines and treatments.
I love it too! Learning about conifers all started for me with wanting to figure out what kind of tree was living in the front yard. Now I eat Blue Spruce tips in early Summer, make needle teas, and walk around the neighborhood trying to identify the others. I like saying that I eat trees. :lol: By the way, the inner bark of certain trees is eddible.
Last edited:

Sponsored by

VGoodiez 420EDC