Nature is filled with soothing and healing properties if you know where to look. White pine trees, for instance, boast various elements that are packed with vitamin C perfect for tackling coughs and colds.
Even if you are not an herbalist, it is easy to make a white pine tea, syrup or drinking vinegar.
White pine has been used for generations as a natural herbal remedy. The Micmac used the inner bark and resins of white pine to heal coughs, bronchitis, laryngitis and chest congestion. European settlers soon caught on.
“It was traditionally used to prevent scurvy,” said Kathi Langelier, CEO and founder of Herbal Revolution in Union. “It’s very high in vitamin C. It contains four to five times more than lemons. It’s a traditional remedy for the upper respiratory system, used for coughs and [as an] expectorant to get out phlegm when you have a cold.”
In Maine, white pine is bountiful and unlike many other plants used for herbal remedies, it can be collected year-round.
“The really great thing about white pine is that since we’re in Maine they’re all over the place,” said Allie Armstrong, herbalist and functional medicine coach in Freeport. “Other plants that can be used for similar properties that are limited in quantity in the area [and it’s] something that you can harvest year round. [There are] not a lot of plants in Maine like that, that you can harvest in the winter.”
Plus, Langelier said white pine tastes delicious.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I love white pine trees and I think they’re a really delicious, unique flavor. It’s a little tannic, but it has these really nice citrus notes.”
How to prepare white pine
If you want to take advantage of white pine’s medicinal properties, there are a few ways that you can do so. The first is by making tea.
“I usually just use the needles if I’m making the tea because it has a more pleasant flavor,” Armstrong said.
To make white pine tea, Armstrong said to put some pine needles in a jar, pour boiling water over it and let it steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
Another option is to make a white pine syrup. Armstrong said to fill a pot halfway with plant materials and water, but don’t fret too much about proportions, as “it’s important for people to feel it out themselves. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for 30 to 40 minutes with the top off of the pot in order to let some liquid evaporate. Strain the plant material out of the liquid and add one part raw honey for every one part liquid as a stabilizer.
“Raw honey has live probiotics and prebiotics, whereas when it’s heated and more processed, a lot of those medicinal properties are lost,” Armstrong advised. “Honey has all kinds of immune boosting properties. It’s really great for the digestive system that can help with a cough or sore throat that combined with white pien is a really great remedy.”
Armstrong said the syrup will keep in the refrigerator for about a month.
“If you want it to last longer you can increase the honey, percentage of honey to liquids,” Armstrong added. “One-to-one will last quite a bit longer but that is pretty sweet.”
Then, simply eat a teaspoon of syrup a couple times a day when you are feeling congested. The syrup will also take more time to make, but it will be more potent than the tea.
“You’re going to extract more of the resin content,” Armstrong said. “White pine high in resins lots of expectorant qualities come in with tea not as strong. Because that’s a shorter steep for the tea, you don’t get quite as concentrated other properties.”
Langelier said instead of simmering a syrup, she sometimes will infuse white pine into honey with other flavors.
“I usually do a blend of lemon, ginger, [rosemary] and white pine in honey itself and take spoonfuls of that,” Langelier said. “I just layer it into a jar, let it steep in the honey for a few weeks and take spoonfuls of that.”
Langelier said that she will even make white pine drinking vinegars — elixirs with macerated pine needles steeped in alcohol for four to six weeks at room temperature. She said that she loves cocktails featuring white pine shrubs, and has heard of people using white pine in other creative ways in the kitchen.
“I think people are always amazed with our white pine shrub,” Langelier said. “You can marinate meats in it and get really creative with the uses.”
Gathering white pine
The needles, twigs and bark can all be used to make white pine teas, syrups and other products. When you are gathering white pine in order to reap these benefits, make sure you are foraging these materials responsibly.
First, make sure you know how to identify white pine. Armstrong said that an easy trick for picking white pine out from any number of other evergreens is that each cluster of needles will have five needles.
“White has five letters so that’s sort of an easy reminder,” Armstrong said.
Before you take plant material, make sure you have permission to do so.
“Know the land you’re working with and there’s permission to be gathering on that property,” Langeilier said. “All those things are really important.”
You also want to gather your materials sustainably. Only harvest what you need and opt for material that has already fallen off the tree. For example, Armstrong said that you can use the inner layer of bark for herbal remedies, but she only ever harvests from recently fallen limbs and not from the living tree.
“We live in this ecosystem where us humans tend to be taking from the environment instead of giving back,” Armstrong said. “As an herbalist I’m always thinking about how I can give back to the plants, just saying thank you to the tree and expressing gratitude back so it’s not just this one sided taking resources away.”