Somewhere in the echoes of my mind is the voice of Euell Gibbons asking if you have “ever eaten a pine tree?” I was a very small child and the old breakfast cereal commercial produced the mental image of a giant munching down on a tree as if was a celery stick. Euell was a master foraging expert but I was a kid and saw the whole world as one big cartoon. Such is youth.
By the time I truly interested in being able to live off the land I still had that cartoon picture of what would be like to eat a tree. I finally got curious about the concept and began to read up on it. In my reading I came across a story about settlers suffering from scurvy. They looked to the native guides for advice and the scouts would point to the sky. The settlers would pray for healing. After this happened a few times one of scouts finally decided to intervene and brought the settlers pine needles. It was then that the settlers realized that the natives weren’t pointing to the sky but to the pine trees to cure scurvy.
While the story was probably made up ( I’ve forgotten where I read it. ) it does contain an element of truth. Scurvy is caused by the lack of vitamin C and pine needles contain an average of a whopping eight times the amount of vitamin C as an orange. ( ounce per ounce). This much is common knowledge among survivalists and foragers. The young light green needles make the best tea and the older needles have a stronger pine flavor.
Here’s where I have to admit that edible doesn’t always mean tastes awesome. And when you avoid sweetener like I do you might have to adjust your expectations a bit or mix the pine needles with something that will help cover the flavor. The tea is something that I only tried once just to say that I’ve done it. Maybe I messed up with preparation or maybe I just couldn’t get over the idea that it would taste like pine scented cleaning products but I wasn’t really a fan.
The uses below are from Peterson’s Field Guide and after the tea I opted to not bother with them but here they are.
In the feature image you can see young male cones which are considered to be an emergency food when boiled until tender.
The shoots are stripped clean and peeled to make a cooked green.
The inner bark is put through a process of being pounded under water and the resulting pulp is washed and dried into flower.
Aside from the scurvy treatment the resin was used by primitive culture as an antiseptic for minor skin injuries and is a folk treatment for poison ivy rash.
Normally when we talk about foraging we’re talking about food and medicine but sometimes you have a need for something more utilitarian. The resins do make a good glue. The process is to collect the crystallized resin from wounds and melt them under low heat. ( ⚠️too much heat and it can burst into flames!⚠️) once it’s liquid its mixed with charcoal and herbivore dung and sets into a waterproof glue. This is mixture that Native Americans used to seal birch bark canoes.
I have noticed a tendency for people to look at all evergreen trees as a “pine”. Mistakes happen and can be deadly if you mistakenly collect an ornamental yew instead of a white pine. The long twisted needles of Virginia Pine is a pretty good indicator that you’ve got the ID but if you’re not sure consult a good guide book like Peterson’s Field Guide.
On a final note, please remember that my Forage Friday posts are just a starting point for those who are interested in foraging. It’s recommend that you do further research before trying any wild edible plants the first time.
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