A mystical tree worshiped since past civilizations, the Pine tree represents immortality in the Far East due to its long life span and its peculiar sap. It usually grows atop rocky mounts, in dry and poor soil that are acidic and sandy. The pine tree can grow to gigantic sizes, and its circumference is impressive. How tall can it grow? Depending on the variety, this evergreen conifer can grow to between 50 and 150 feet (15 to 45 meters). Its spongy bark renews itself and falls off like scales. Needles land on the soil and take a long time to break down, thus preventing underbrush growth. This type of tree is more common in the coolest portions of our planet, both in the far North and the far South. It resists cold climates well.
All the pine trees belong to the Pinaceae family. “Pine” is the generic, common name for all the trees belonging to the “Pinus“genus. There are at least 111 different species in this genus. Sometimes it is called “pinewood”. This tree’s name goes back to ancient Greek, Celtic and Sanskrit with the root word “Pitu“ which means “drink” or “food”.
The story of pine goes back a long time. Indeed, in Japanese culture, cypress and pine trees play a part in specific ritual implements and portions of temples in Shinto beliefs. As for the Roman Empire, the fertility goddess Cybele inspired devotions to pine trees to symbolize eternal renewal in the cycles of Nature. The famed oriental Taoists would have pine seeds, needles and sap as their favorite diet since they said it “made their bodies light and capable of flight”!
In Europe, there are several different pine tree species: maritime pine, Scots pine, Swiss pine, eastern white pine, black pine, Aleppo pine, Pinus uncinata, stonepine, loblolly pine, mugo pine…But now, what are the properties of this very famous tree? In North America and in Europe, young growth of Scots pine trees have long been an ingredient to prepare herbal tea. Indeed, its benefits are known to treat: rheumatism and wounds that are rebellious to healing (in the form of lotions); common colds and pulmonary tract mucus lining inflammation (in the form of inhaled vapor treatment).Century-old traditional medicinal baths are an integral part of what the German people believe in.
The hygienist doctor Kneipp used his influence to help medicinal baths become a common treatment for many ailments in Germany. Indeed, pine tree is particularly recommended to treat diseases resulting from nerve malfunction, neuralgic disorders and rheumatism.
Relaxing in a bathtub with pine tree extracts is for sure beneficial to your health. To best appreciate its health benefits, keep the least tender shoots from your collection of fresh young shoots, and add them to the hot water. Use a cloth pouch to make it easy to pick the leaves out later and throw them to the compost. It is possible to bathe in water infused with pine as described above, but inhaling the raw power of a pine tree forest in nature is another experience altogether. Indeed, if you’ve got the chance, go for a walk in a thick pine tree forest, and gulp the air into your lungs. It is loaded with pine extract, a lemony camphor-like fragrance.
Previously, white pine young stems were very much appreciated in cooking by the Iroquois American Indians. They ate them raw. This dietary habit was also familiar to the American Indians of British Columbia who would also chew on raw shoots from other pine tree species. Some have found different ways to cook young pine tree shoots, and when you add them to vegetables at the end of cooking or toss some in mixed salads, their taste will make you ooh and ahh in wonder. Others prefer to steam those young pine shoots, and serve them after just a few minutes’ worth of steaming. Dipped in salad dressing or mustard, it’s delicious!
The edible portions of the pine tree are, among others:pine nuts or pignoli are the seeds. Together with parmesan cheese and basil, they form the base of the famous Italian pesto or French pistou;pine needles; inner pine bark; young male flowers; and, to wrap it up, some tribes like the Nlaka’pamux in British Columbia would lick up sweet secretions. A variant of guttation this liquid was called “mother tree breast milk”.
Young stems of pine trees – especially the tenderest ones – are much appreciated in mixed salads. Collect them at the tip of branches, right at the spot where needles haven’t yet grown. Once harvested, dry the young stems on a cloth or veil with a lot of air circulation. Keep away from moisture and light. When dry, store them in a paper bag, a cardboard box, a glass jar or a metal tin.
You can also sow a cloth pouch to store them, too.To prepare your bathwater, dip the pouch with about 18 Oz (500 grams) young pine tree shoots in the water. You can also prepare a concentrated young pine shoot infusion and add that to the bathwater. 2 or 3 quarts or liters are enough to prepare the infusion. After the bath, it is highly recommended to lie down and relax for about 30 minutes to an hour (at most). Then, resume your daily activities.
Not very long ago, pine needles were used to produce plant-based felt or wool. This went by the name wood wool, forest wool or plant wool. It makes a great stuffing for mattresses. Pine needles are also excellent to protect plants that grow in acidic environments, like rhododendron or azaleas. Spread them around those plant trunks. The typical needle-shaped leaf is found in all species of the Pinaceae family and it is the arrangement of these needles in bundles or fascicles that is the most characteristic feature of the genus Pinus.
In some pines, e.g., P. strobus or P. palustris, the needle is shed after the second growing season, but in most species they persist longer and in the extreme, up to 36 years in P. longaeva.
Actually, pines have three kinds of leaves. The first appear after the seed germinates and are called cotyledons or “seed leaves.” These are small soft needle-shaped leaves and their number varies from 3 or more (P. contorta, banksiana and sylvestris) to eighteen or more (P. lambertiana, sabiniana and maximartinezii). As soon as they emerge, they are capable of respiration and photosynthesis. Shortly after the cotyledons come the juvenile leaves which are shaped like the cotyledons and are solitary and arranged in a spiral. These are usually shed in several weeks after the adult leaves, which have a basal sheath and the fascicular arrangement characteristic of the genus Pinus, make their appearance.
The outer layer of the adult leaf is the waxy cuticle which protects the leaf from drying. In the cuticle are minute openings known as stomata and these permit the movement of carbon dioxide into and oxygen from the leaf. In most haploxylon (white) pines the stomata are on the ventral (lower) surfaces and the diploxylon (yellow) pines have stomata on both ventral and dorsal surfaces. These stomata often form fine white streaks running along the length of the leaf.
The leaves of the diploxylon pines are generally stiffer and arranged in fascicles of 2 or 3 needles (sometimes more) and the haploxylon pines usually have softer needles in fascicles of 5 needles(sometimes less). The basal sheath of diploxylon pines lasts for the life of the leaf whereas the basal sheath of the haploxylon pines is soon shed or, in the case of the pinyon and foxtail-bristlecone group (Section Parrya), it curves back to form a “rosette.”
The internal structure of the leaf is complex and includes a photosynthesizing parenchyma (“chlorenchyma” or mesophyll) and resin canals which may be located just beneath the cuticle (often in the haploxlon pines) or varyingly deeper within the needle (often in the diploxylon pines). Centrally there are fibro vascular bundles, which form the basis of classification of the genus Pinus into the subgeneraStrobus (the “soft” or “white” pines) with one (haploxylon) fibro vascular bundle and Pinus (the “hard” or “yellow” pines) with two (diploxylon) fibro vascular bundles. The resin canals connect with the stomata are involved in gas exchange and the fibro vascular bundles connect ultimately with the xylem involved with the transport of nutrients, sugars and water between the top of the tree and the roots.
Pine and its various extracts are used in many ways in traditional medicine. While its parts like bark and pollen are more extensively researched, the benefits of pine needle tea are less known. However, these are used quite extensively in traditional medicine.
Pine and its various constituents are known to be possibly rich in antioxidants, which may help to protect you against diseases. So, whether it is tea, bark extract, or pollen, as multiple researches have shown, you will get a good dose of immunity. The pollen extract was found to contain potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Similarly, different studies have validated the presence of antioxidants commercially available bark extracts, like flavangenol. A Berkley study found that the antioxidants in the bark were so potent that they could boost the effect of vitamin C and other antioxidants in our food.
(The views expressed are personal)