I recently bemoaned the fact that in January, there really isn’t a great deal of plant life around to write about – not realising that I did indeed have a friendly neighbour right on my doorstep who, being evergreen, is available to lend a friendly branch all year round! I have now rectified my mistake, and would like to introduce to you my newest herbal friend, Grandmother Pine! Two of these beautiful, dignified trees live not far from my front door, overhanging my cottage and lulling me to sleep in the summer with the sound of wind through the pine needles, but never yet had I thought that this gorgeous tree might be useful herbally as well as a real beauty to look at. Events, it would seem, conspired to make me more aware of the tree, as first Kiva Rose posted about Pine, and then I stumbled across a post from Fred Gillam about Woodsman’s Tea, made using pine needles. Intrigued, I resolved to make my way through the paddock to have a closer look at the plant. I’m fairly sure that the ones we have are Scots Pines.
My first impression, on approaching the two trees, was a sense of dignity and calm that had a certain amount of joy to it as well. The bark, a rich reddish brown, is deeply fissured and rough with intriguing planes and hollows to it, speaking of a multitude of storms weathered gracefully. The branches, endowed with silver green needles in pairs, hung low, reaching out for me whenever the wind stirred them. They are still graced with many pinecones, despite many being shaken loose by winter winds. I have a box full of them in my conservatory as they make wonderful kindling for an open fire.
The resin from the pines on my doorstep is fragrant and sweet smelling, much more musky, sweet and floral than the scent of pine furniture. Absolutely delicious, and I admit I spent quite a bit of time sniffing delightedly at the small bit of it the tree had produced – and rather a lot longer trying to wash it off the little jar afterwards as it clings really thoroughly!
Sacred to Druantia, an ancient Goddess reputed to be the Queen of the Druids, the pine used to be burned at the Winter Solstice to welcome the sun back into the world. Perhaps unfortunately, the pine is also associated with death, due to a number of people in myth and legend hanging themselves from pines or being buried beneath them. A wine of pine sap was infused with fly agaric and drunk by the Bacchae in their ecstatic rituals – and anyone familiar with myths and legends probably has an inkling as to the kinds of shenanigans that followed the ingestion of this particular drink! Pine cones have traditionally been associated with fertility, bringing the cycle full circle – death, fertility and magic. There’s something decidedly sticky and fertile about the appearance of female pine flowers, that’s for sure! The descent to the underworld, and rebirth afterwards, bearing fruits of wisdom and truth. Sacred to a variety of deities, including Artemis, Ariadne, Cybele, Durantia / Druantia, Dionysus and Bacchus, the pine is ruled by Mars and the Sun.
Medicinally, the lovely pine can be used to make a facial steam to relieve congestion of the nose and sinuses. A tea of the needles or pine shoots can be used to improve the healing of bladder and kidney problems, as well as to ease cystitis and rheumatism – presumably it has a diuretic effect, cleansing the body of toxins. The needles and shoots are high in vitamins A and C, and have been used to treat scurvy. The cones and needles can be used as a bath to relieve chest complaints, skin problems and rheumatism. If you’re using the needles for the vitamin C content, it is probably not a good idea to boil them – most of the vitamin C content evaporates off if you do!
The tea made from pine needles is lightly flavoured, with a smoky character. I didn’t mind it, but suspect it could be improved by fermenting the needles first – I’m going to give this a try and find out for sure. I started two batches of pine needle vinegar off as well – one in balsamic vinegar, one in white wine vinegar, as these make a great salad dressing according to Fred Gillam (his blog is accessible from the side menu). I want to do more experimenting with pine resin as well – the smell is sublime and I want to see what I can do with it!
I will be the first to admit that I have not worked all that closely with the lovely pine before, so anyone who can add to my meagre store of knowledge will be welcomed with a huge smile! 😀