If you were ever lost in the forest for an extended amount of time, would you know how to survive using what you can find around you? Picking mushrooms, berries or even greens from the forest floor is a tricky proposition unless you’re an expert at avoiding poisonous species, including their lookalikes. But as long as you’re in an area in which the mighty Eastern White Pine (pinus strobus) grows, you’ll have a surprising number of resources at your disposal.
It’s easy to identify the Eastern White Pine. These tall trees boast gray bark, and their needles grow in bundles of five, with a pale stripe running down the center of each one (hence the name ‘white pine.’) At first glance, the tree doesn’t seem to have any edible components – there are no visible nuts, flowers, berries, tubers or large leaves on offer. But foragers will find nutrition and sustenance in addition to great firewood in this species if they look a little closer.
Of course, you don’t have to be in a dire situation to enjoy all of the Eastern White Pine’s benefits. It’s a favorite edible among wild crafters, and all parts of it are non-toxic, though the resin may irritate sensitive skin. According to Hawthorne Hill Herbs, pinus strobes needles and resin have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, stimulating and relaxing, aromatic, pungent and stabilizing qualities, with particular benefits for the upper respiratory system, stomach, liver and kidneys. Many of the Eastern White Pine’s uses come from Native American knowledge and traditions.
Here are some ways to enjoy this beneficial and beloved tree:
- Pine needles from the pinus strobes tree contain high amounts of vitamin C – five times the amount found in a lemon when measured by weight! It contains vitamin A and reservatrol, which has anti-aging properties, too. Making a tea from the needles produces a powerful cold-fighting brew. The tea also has a mild diuretic property that can help flush kidney crystals from the body before they turn into stones. To get these benefits, steep the needles in hot but not boiling water for fifteen minutes or more.
- In Japan, pine branches are often placed on top of the coals on a grill to infuse fish with the signature aroma of the needles.
- Thoroughly wash and dry fresh Eastern White Pine needles and infuse them in a jar of olive oil, which can be brushed on meat. Alternately, you could infuse the needles into homemade simple syrup and add it to cocktails.
- The young, pale green shoots that appear in early spring are tender enough to eat. Like spruce, they can also be candied by preserving them in a jar of sugar, or blended with salt and garlic in a food processor for a tasty dry rub that pairs beautifully with chicken. Remove the brown husks from the buds to access them.
- Other edible parts of the tree include the soft, young green pine cones in spring, and the pine nuts are a crunchy source of fat and protein, though they’re relatively small and require a bit of effort to harvest. You can even make pine bark flour by shaving off the cream-colored inner layer of bark, drying it until it’s brittle and grinding it up.
- The sticky resin that oozes out of the trunk and broken spots on the branches makes a great glue if you collect it in a metal container (or a sea shell), set the container on the coals of a dying fiber, let the volatile compounds bubble away and then remove it from the heat, as outlined at Outdoor Life. Mix it with plant fiber, sand, stone dust or powdered charcoal to bulk it up and make it stronger.
- Because it’s a softwood, pine burns extraordinarily fast and hot, making it ideal for campfires. It’s much easier to get a fire started in a survival situation with dry pine branches than with hardwoods. Dry pine needles make a highly effective tinder, too.
Foraged Flavor: All About Pine | Serious Eats
Pine Shoots: Edible 24 | The Foraging Family
Getting to Know White Pine | Hawthorne Hill Herbs
Eastern White Pine, an Effective Remedy for the Common Cold | Eat the Planet
Survival Skills: How to Use White Pine as Food, Medicine and Glue | Outdoor Life
Images via: Wikimedia Commons