In winter, one of my favorite things to forage for is pine for pine needle tea. In the quiet corner of Connecticut where I live, Eastern White Pine (Pinus Strobus) is plentiful and makes for a delicious tea that’s packed with vitamin C and is also high in vitamin A. In fact, it contains 4-5 times the amount found in orange juice.
This type of pine is also a great choice because it is so easy to identify. You can see from the photo below that the needles on the twigs grow in clusters of five.
Are all pines suitable for pine needle tea?
The short answer is no. Although most pine trees can be used for pine needle tea, some are not safe for consumption. There are some that are poisonous or toxic, so it’s extremely important to know which pines are safe and to be able to positively identify the tree before collecting.
Those you want to avoid include Lodgepole Pine, Monterey Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Norfolk Pine (Australian Pine), Loblolly Pine, Common Juniper, and although not a pine, Yew. A good rule of thumb is to avoid flat needles.
As stated in my bio, I’m a collector of field guides. I highly recommend the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees.
How to Prepare Pine Needle Tea
Gather a nice fresh branch, rinse it off to get rid of any bugs or dirt, and then pick the needles clean off the branch. If you’re working with long needles, like those of an eastern white pine, and will be steeping them in a small pot or mug, cut them up into half an inch to one inch pieces There’s no need to chop up smaller needles.
I like to pull the needles off the twig until I have a little bundle in my hand. I hold the bundle at the bottom where there is a little brown sheath covering the ends. This sheath is where the needles were attached to the twig. I don’t want to include this papery sheath in my tea, so when I cut my needles up, I discard the ends. I have found that the easiest way to cut the needles is to use clean, sharp scissors.
After you get your pine needles cut up, you can go ahead and add them to your simmering pot of water. I typically use 3-4 cups of water. I want to make enough for several mugs of tea throughout the day.
How much you need depends on your tastes, but I’d say somewhere between 2 and 4 tablespoons of chopped pine needles makes a good cup of pine needle tea. While you can leave them whole, chopping them up a bit increases surface area and will help extract more flavor.
I like my tea a bit stronger, so I opt for around 4 tablespoons of chopped pine needles (1/4 cup) per cup of tea. Experiment a bit and see what you like.
Cover your pot and remove it from the heat. You never want to boil your pine needle tea as this tends to break down the Vitamin C. It also releases bitter tasting terpenes. If you want stronger tea, simply add more needles.
Allow your pine needle tea to steep in the hot water for 20 – 30 minutes before drinking.
You’ll find that your pine needle tea has a pleasant, citrusy flavor. You can add some lemon and honey to it if you desire. Citrus-y and woodsy, it smells absolutely wonderful in your wintertime teacup, and it’s perfect for sipping by the fire.
Other Health Benefits of Pine Needle Tea
Pine needles are also great for helping to relieve coughing because pine can help to make the cough more productive as well as relieving congestion. They also support the immune system to do its job recovering from viruses and infections. Pine is high in antioxidant flavonoids including anthocyanins
Algonquin tribes would also make a cold bark tea from the wounds on the tree bark. The resin from the wounds was boiled to make a decoction for sore throat, colds and tuberculosis.
Here are some other benefits that pine needles share with other conifer species:
- Improves circulation
- Relieves nervous exhaustion and fatigue
- Relieves sore muscles
A word of caution: don’t try pine needle tea if you are pregnant.
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