Grandmother Pine

Grandmother Pine, a friendly giantess!

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.

A pine cone on the bough

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.

Female Pine Flower

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!

Pine Bark

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.


Pine on a still, sunny day

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!


Lovely pine needles, sweet scented and full of good things

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!

Pine needles infusing in water, in balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar.

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! 😀


    1. mmmm what a marvellous idea! I shall be giving that one a try soon, methinks. Sounds like it would be great on roast meats and maybe good for the barbecue season as well…

  1. I have to admit I’ve not made any connections to pine and keep thinking I should! The pine trees which grow in my front garden and my neighbour’s don’t have pine cones like yours, but long, thin things which don’t open. I’ve not noticed any pleasant pine smell either. I guess it may be time to start hunting and paying more attention to our everygreen friends. Many thanks for a lovely post!

    1. I think half the problem with the various pines is that it can be very difficult to tell them apart! There isn’t an overt scent of pine about the ones I used either, until you infuse the needles in hot water or get a little of the pine tar to sniff. Still, a very lovely and graceful tree!

  2. Hey Ali,
    I have done pine teas and vinegars like you and also used it in the bath which is lovely and refreshing. Also an infused oil is nice which I have used as an all purpose body oil.
    This year I collected lots of spruce sap which I am using as incense, it smells wonderful!
    My pine project for this year is to work with the pollen which I haven’t done before.
    Danielle from the Teacup Chronicles recently posted a recipe for pine needle biscuits which looked great.
    Happy experimenting xx

    1. Hmm do you use an infusion or decoction of the needles in the bath, or the essential oil? Wouldn’t mind giving that a try¬ I shall have a go at the infused oil soon – do you use fresh or dried needles for this? Not had much luck finding pine sap on the trees locally – I shall have to nip over to the local wildlife park and have a look at the trees there instead as there are loads of pines and spruces there! Any excuse to get back out there again, lol… Never considered working with pine pollen either – I’ll have to have a closer look at the tree when the weather (and my energy levels) have improved again! I’m going to scuttle off now and have a look at the pine needle biscuit recipe! 😀

  3. Lovely share, Ali! I so love when you tell us about the legend and lore of pine:) I have a sweet white pine right outside my bedroom and living room window. It is like sleeping or relaxing on the sofa, inside her branches:) I have got to be rather intimate with her over the years. Decorating her limbs with popcorn and fruit garlands and houses for the birds who love her shelter, making teas, and vinegars like you mentioned. I have used her bark also to help with the beginnings of colds or flu. I get the impression she is helping move my circulation. Pushing the germ or virus on through to be eliminated. That sticky pine tar is my number one go to remedy, (made into a salve), for helping draw. Whether it be a splinter, one of the grandchildren’s blemishes, or an infected spot. There are some Scots pine near Dylan’s school, so I will have to taste them, as I am unfamiliar. Pinus strobus bark tastes better to me than the needles, although I use both:) xx

    1. I love the lore and legends that surround plants – it was this aspect of herbalism that first really drew me, so it remains a constant of mine! 😀 With the pine you made friends with, what is the bark like? I don’t know if i could really use the bark of the local pines for anything – too woody! I shall have to have a look, though – maybe the bark on the twigs would work… Never considered using pine tar as a drawing poultice though, must give that a try sometime!

  4. I agree Ali, with being drawn to the lore and legends… there is wisdom in it! As well as being great fun:) The bark on my tree is also woody on the outer layer, but there are two layers under that and this time of year it is pretty easy to separate them. Good idea to look for some twigs to try out. You might keep an eye out and maybe sometime you will see someone removing bottom limbs and be able to get one of those. Most times if pines are in an urban setting, folks will remove the bottom limbs so they can mow/walk under them:)

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