Foraging Pine Needles
Pine trees belong to a group of wild edible conifers, which also includes spruce and fir trees.
What do fresh pine needles taste like? Pine needles have a stronger, more woodsy flavor profile than spruce and fir which tastes more citrusy. Try collecting tender spruce tips in the spring for a surprisingly lemony snack.
Can you eat pine needles raw? Yes, these coniferous needles are safe to eat uncooked.
Aside from the needles you can also eat other parts of a pine tree.
- Pine cones: The female cones (the ones that contain the seeds) are tasty when peeled and roasted. Male cones have a stronger flavour and are best used when cooking with other foods.
- Pine nuts (seeds): Although these are generally too small in european trees to harvest.
- Pine pollen: The male pine cones produce ample amounts of pollen that can be easily collected. It has a slightly nutty and savory taste, but requires some patience when foraging! Incorporate into baking recipes or into savory dishes.
- Pine sap: In springtime, tap the trees for a sweet, syrupy treat to chew on or turn into a drink.
- Inner bark: The white inner bark is packed with vitamins A and C and can be enjoyed raw as a sweet snack or dried and ground into powder and added to soups, stews, or bread. The bark also can be cut into strips, and used like spaghetti.
Quite early into our rewilding journey we were informed of the health benefits of our pine trees. In North America, indigenous people used the plants as laxatives, to treat coughs, tuberculosis, headaches, and toothaches, and for general health. Topically, pine was used to treat rashes, scabs, boils, arthritis, burns, and many other skin complaints. At this stage we prefer to use in our Wild Kitchen, but the same foraging rules apply – most importantly do not damage the plant.
Forage from the right Pine Tree
There are many pine trees with edible pine needles like the spruce, pine trees have only a handful of inedible ones to avoid, but make sure you check first as these are not just unpleasant, they are poisonous. White pine is considered the best tasting, whilst the ones to avoid are Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) and Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) – also known as Western Yellow Pine
Pine needles from different species of pine trees have different flavours. For example, Douglas fir needles are high in Vitamin C and make a healing soak for arthritis, while spruce needles are tasty and can be made into a zingy beer, so it’s so it’s a good idea to experiment with different varieties.
How to Harvest
- Look for the light-colored tips of the trees. You can harvest all year round, but spring is the best time.
- Use clean, sharp scissors or clippers to carefully snip the needles from the branches.
- Avoid pulling or yanking on the needles, as this can damage the tree.
- Leave a few inches of each branch intact to promote healthy growth of the tree.
- Once picked, pine needles will keep for about a week in the fridge, or you can freeze them for up to a year.
Reported Health Benefits of a Pine Tree
- It is full of antioxidants and has an ample supply of Vitamins A and C.
- It is an excellent treatment for respiratory infections with its expectorant and decongestant properties.
- These antioxidants assist in protecting the skin from any damage.
- The tea is effective in maintaining a healthy heart.
- It speeds up one’s metabolism.
- It is well known as an anti-inflammatory treatment.
- The pine needle tea can aid endurance during strenuous exercise.
- It helps maintain a clear mind and concentration.
Note: If pregnant do not ingest pine as this has been linked to miscarriage in some studies