The Medicine & Magic of Pine

Article written by Evan Sylliaasen

For ages, humans across the Earth have maintained a special and magical relationship with evergreen trees of all kinds. The multifaceted wisdom in their growth patterns, their wide range of symbolism in many cultures, their medicine, foods, and aromas, and their countless practical uses have them deeply rooted in ancient human history.

One of the most widely used evergreens throughout the Northern Hemisphere is the Pine tree. From its ancient use as spiritual protection incense in Scandinavia, to Pine needle tea drank by Native Americans for countless generations, to sap salves, Pine nut delicacies, the iconic Christmas tree, its widespread use in aromatherapy, and its use in a myriad of household products, Pine is one of the most well-known and multi-purpose evergreens in the world.

And the great thing is, many folks have the ability to forage Pine within walking distance from their homes!

Pines are coniferous evergreen trees in the Pinus genus that grow between 10 and 260 feet tall, from Dwarf Pine to the giant Ponderosa [1]. According to Wikipedia (2021), there are now 126 confirmed species of Pine found growing all throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Though not all species are traditionally used for their aroma and medicine. Pines are long-living, usually standing resilient for centuries, even millennia for some species! In the White Mountains of California, one of the oldest pines was recorded reaching 4,900 years old [1]. 

Many tall Pine species produce a fine timber which has been used for ages in ship building and general construction. Regarded as a sacred tree in many parts of the world, innumerable holy temples and places of worship are comprised of this sturdy, revered wood. Pine needles and sap are harvested and used in many ways in incense, perfumery, medicine, food, and household products. 

The Stories of Pine from Near & Far

The Pine tree is known all over the World and considered sacred in many cultures, as well as an important commodity. It is one of the most common trees used for commercial timber, and due to their fast-growing nature, they are ideal for cultivation and reforestation.

Every winter, the nostalgic aroma of Pine fills homes around the world as millions of trees are brought indoors for use as the iconic Christmas tree. The pre-Christian, Scandinavian and Northern European traditions of honoring evergreen trees around the winter solstice stems from them being ancient symbols for eternal or long-lasting life, hope, faithfulness, perseverance and reverence in a time of year when the snow covers the ground and all the life force in nature has seemingly disappeared. All but the resilient evergreen trees.

To many Native Americans and First Nations peoples, Pine has been an important tree resembling wisdom and longevity for ages. It is used traditionally as the supporting lodge poles for teepees and is used as incense by many North American tribes for sacred offerings, smudging during Sweat lodge ceremonies, uplifting energies, and sharpening and stimulating the mind and senses.

Many tribes have long used its sap and needles for spiritual and physical protection from illness and magical attack. There are many medicinal applications of Pine traditionally used by Native American medicine people for healing a wide range of illnesses and imbalances, from respiratory problems to nervous disorders. 

Pine trees are deeply revered and honored in Korean tradition. The trees are respected as wise entities and are sometimes worshiped as divine beings or spirits. It is not unusual for traditional Koreans to pray to Pine trees for longevity, prosperity, good luck, health and wellness. Prayer ties and pieces of cloth are commonly placed in its branches throughout Asia. In China, Pine is considered a symbol of the New Year.

In ancient times, Taoists believed that ingesting the pinecone seeds, resin, young buds, and needles of Pine would bring about longer life and would strengthen their bodies, protecting them from physical harm and natural aging. 

Pine tree forests throughout Europe were the birthplace of many timeless fairytales and legends. In many pagan, magical, and esoteric traditions, Pine trees were considered sacred, symbolic, and magical trees that were often worshiped and honored. Pine is found in countless stories of antiquity, from Greek and Roman tales of gods and goddesses, to Germanic and Nordic tales of dwarves, witches, elves, and werewolves. It was even the tree in which the wizard Merlin climbed, never to return to the world of Men. 

Pine has long been used as incense in many cultures to promote courage, strength, protection, and prosperous health. Celtic and Northern European peoples believed Pine to protect them from harmful, negative energies and influences. Its nuts are eaten around the world to this day for sustenance and for their positive effects on health. Pine is also the source of the widely used solvent turpentine, a versatile fluid distilled from the wood.

5 Main Reasons Why You Want Pine in Your Medicine Chest

As a plant healer, a common aspiration is to fill the home medicine cabinet or apothecary with just a handful of versatile herbs that possess a wide range of healing qualities, rather than to have an overwhelming amount of single-use remedies overflowing the shelves. Pine is one of those herbs with a long resume, perfect for many jobs.

1. Respiratory Healing & Relief

In Native American medicine, the needles, resin, and bark of Pine have been traditionally used for generations for many respiratory complaints and other ailments. Native Americans still use Pine as an herbal steam and incense to relieve asthma and bronchitis, clear the sinuses, and treat many respiratory problems. Fumes from burning pitch are inhaled for head colds, coughs, and earaches (2). The Ojibwa of North America burned the needles and inhaled the smoke to relieve headache and backache (3).

2. Evergreen Medicine for Cold & Flu Season

Pine is one of the best essential oils [and incenses] to clear cold phlegm from the lungs, and to fight respiratory tract infections (4). Used throughout many systems of medicine in the form of herbal smoke or steam, essential oil, tea, or tincture, it is a strong expectorant that also boosts immunity. For centuries, cough drops and syrups have been made using Pine extract for its ability to “open the lungs,” improve breathing, inhibit viral infections, boost immunity, and clear congestion. Pine is most beneficial at the onset of infections of colds and flus.

The classic Pine needle tea is another great way to ingest this fortifying evergreen medicine and keep your body’s defenses strong, since the needles are an abundant source of vitamin C. This is also why Native Americans have historically used the young tops in the prevention of scurvy. For tea lovers who want to forage for Pine, avoid Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Norfolk Pine, and Yew. Most prefer the taste of White Pine for tea.

3. A Topical All-Heal

When applied topically, Pine can do wonders for various external complaints for its wound healing, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory actions. Cuts, scrapes, bruises, wounds, eczema, you name it… Pine is a renowned healer of most dermatological issues and damage—even rheumatic pain and inflammation.

Aside from its miracle powers as a first-aid remedy in the form of salves, herbal infused oils, and balms, it is also traditionally used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, acne, eczema, psoriasis, and more. The famous Pine Sap Salve is a well known cure-all for many skin issues. Traditionally peoples around the world used melted Pine sap on wounds to protect from putrefaction, promote healing, and pull impurities to the surface.

4. Balancing the Mind, Emotions & Nervous System

Pine’s effect on the nervous system makes it an ideal choice for relieving stress, anxiety, fatigue, and nervous tension, and for promoting mental clarity and cognitive stimulation. It has also been used in cases of memory loss, loss of concentration, and to positively effect the emotions through its uplifting and refreshing qualities. From an aromatherapy standpoint, Gabriel Mojay suggests Pine to be psychologically fortifying, restorative to self-confidence, dispersive to melancholy, and counteractive to pessimism, while promoting self-acceptance and reawakening our instinctive connection to life (4).

5. A Nourishing & Nutritive Food

Pine nuts and Pine nut oil are full of health promoting vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, proteins, and phytochemicals. The high amount of monounsaturated fatty acids found in these little gems, like oleic acid, helps lower what we call “bad cholesterol” and raise “good cholesterol” levels in the body.

Pine nuts are also one of the richest sources of manganese, which is an all-important co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Therefore, consumption of Pine kernels helps the human body develop resistance against infectious agents and harmful free radicals. Since before the 16th century, Pine nut oil has been widely used by Russian physicians internally to treat ulcers, gastritis, as a digestive aid, and as a food supplement to help maintain overall physical health.

Pine pollen is yet another nutrient-dense food supplement used for anti-aging, vitality, immunity, and energy. It is also helpful in recovering from stress and balances estrogen levels. Many also use it for increasing or balancing testosterone and increasing libido.

6. Wait There’s More…

In case you needed any more reason to consider Pine for your medicine chest…

  • In terms of Oriental medicine, Pine essential oil is warm and dry, and tonifies Qi-energy (4).
  • As a decoction, Pine is also used to treat stomach ache and fevers.
  • Pine sap can be used as a poultice to draw out splinters and bring boils to a head (6).
  • Pine can help improve circulation and even help dissolve blood clots.
  • It also acts on the digestive tract, kidneys, and skin as an antiseptic (7).
  • Pine needle tea also contains high levels of Vitamin A, which is good for eyesight, improves hair and skin regeneration and boosts red blood cell production (8).
  • and more…

Magical and Metaphysical Uses

The longevity of Pine trees is very symbolic. Some of the oldest trees live to be over 4,000 years old, which is why so many cultures believe them to be wise beings. The ancient spirit of Pine and its energetic medicine have a positive effect on one’s confidence. It is commonly used to instill courage and optimism through the use of its smoke. As it clears the sinuses and mind and “opens the chest,” it leaves one with feelings of rejuvenation, inner strength, self-confidence, and a freshened perspective. Pine incense is used for many spiritual purposes by medicine people, traditional healers, shamans, and in different magical traditions for protection, longevity, wisdom, and as a symbol for peace. 

In Scandinavian and Northern European cultures, the Pine tree was, and still is to many, considered a sacred tree. During the winter months around the solstice, Pine branches were brought indoors and hung on the walls (an ancient decking of halls) to bring about hope, good energy, and blessings. As the evergreen trees were the only trees to show signs of life, and resilience at that time, in a barren, snow-covered landscape, they were honored as resilient, divine beings, capable of bestowing their worshipers with protection and long-life. Pine resin was burned during the Raw Nights of winter and during the days of Wotan’s (Odin’s) Wild Hunt to ward off evil influences and protect the home, livestock, and family. A practice that can still be found in parts of Scandinavia.

Summary

To sum it all up, Pine is a tree that offers us many blessings. Whether used for medicine and healing, spiritual or ritual purposes, fragrance and nostalgia during winter and Christmas time, basket making and crafts, building projects, as a food or supplement, or if you just want to go climb one and see the world from a new perspective, Pine will always be there with open arms, waiting for those who call upon its endless gifts.

Cautions: Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using Pine. If you are foraging your own Pine, be sure you know how to properly identify your species of trees, as the lookalike Yew poisonous!

Latin Name: Pinus species, including P. strobus, P. sylvestris, P. contorta, P. nigra, P. palustris, P. pinaster, P. pinea, P. tabuliformis

Other Names: White Pine, Scotch Pine, Norway Pine, Dwarf Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Longleaf Pine

Family: Pinaceae

Parts Used: needles, young buds, inner bark, resin

Aroma: fresh, strong, sharp, balsamic, woody, coniferous

Organ/System Affiliation: circulatory, respiratory, immune, nervous, psychological, genitourinary, skin

Physiological Effects: analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, aromatic, decongestant, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, tonic

References:

  1. Pine (1/17/2021). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine
  2. Havens P. (2010). Uses & Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke. Oxford University Press.
  3. Hoffman, W. J. (1981). The Midewiwin, or “Grand Medicine Society” of the Ojibwa.
  4. Mojay G. (1997). Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit. Healing Arts Press.
  5. Drevets T. The Miracle ‘Pine Tree Medicine’ The Native Americans Drank. www.offthegridnews.com
  6. Mars B. (2007). The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine. Basic Health Publications, Inc.
  7. Wood M. (2009). The Earthwise Herbal. North Atlantic Books.
  8. Gerry (2012). 10 Reasons You Should Be Drinking Pine Needle Tea. www.forestholidays.co.uk/

Article by Evan Sylliaasen

Evan Sylliaasen is the founder of the Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine and Higher Mind Incense. For the past decade his incense company has been a leader in sustainability and conscious sourcing of aromatic plants. As the head instructor of his online school, he teaches aromatherapists, incense lovers, herbalists, and spiritually-minded folks the traditional art of incense crafting, incense as medicine, and the art of wild-harvesting aromatic plants responsibly.

Evan lives with his family in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains of Washington state. He channels his creative passions through writing, photography, wood working, craftsman building, and music. When he’s not working, he’s out in the garden, forest and fields, walking along rivers, beaches, or in the mountains breathing deeply. 

© 2021 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.

*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.

Post A Comment