As I write this, I think of the beautiful bald eagle I saw this summer, resting in the height of White Pine while we paddled by. White Pines grow to be the tallest and largest in the ecosystem where I live in the North East. They’ve looked over my home in the forest and exude this beautiful grandmother like essence in my life. They’ve been on this Earth for a very long time and have so much to teach us. My old teacher and mentor said that if she was on an island with no resources, White Pine would be the tree to nurture every facet that she needs in order to survive.
They certainly did this for indigenous people and understanding this incredible relationship that is possible between humans and White Pines feels so vital in resurging this largely lost connection. I want to share everything about this tree with the world…The way it grows, it’s gold dusty edible pollen, it’s nutrient rich needles, it’s medicine, it’s remarkably rot resistant wood, it’s edible cambium, it’s incredible resin and the way the wind sounds as it flows through it.
First Nations relied on it for food, medicine and so many other uses that are beyond material. In an essay I read called Cultural Importance of White Pine, indigenous peoples recall how the canopy of White Pine helped guide them home in the darkness of night. The prevailing south western wind affects the length of branches on the eastern side of the tree and they are typically much longer in size. The White Pine showed them which direction to travel.
Within the same species of trees, branching habit can sometimes be quite uniform. But as someone very close to me pointed out, the branches of White Pine always arc out an existence in a completely unique shape that towers among the forest in a way that speaks of their complex wisdom.
White Pine is in a classification of ancient plants that are called gymnosperms. Gymnosperm basically means “naked seed” and is quite different from other plants in the flowering angiosperm classification that have seeds contained within some kind of ovary. In reality and in metaphor, it feels as if White Pine just casts the truth in nakedness and reveal. There is nothing tucked away, its evergreen nature wants to show us its beginning.
Whenever anyone around me has a cold or any issue with their respiratory system, I recommend the twigs and needles of this tree. They are so soothing to our sore throats, or congested lungs and stuffed up nasal pathways. A White Pine steam works wonders to clogged noses in the winter time. Not to mention, they grow everywhere around my home. Instead of having to go and buy cold and flu remedies, walk into your backyard or nearby forest and gather yourself some beautiful medicines. Make a tea or infusion, and let it steep for some time. This will also give you a high dose of vitamin C!
Another way I will channel the medicine of White Pine is by adding the needles and twigs and other evergreens to olive oil. I let the plant material infuse in the oil for a month before Christmas, and I make a salve with beeswax. This is great for chapped skin in the winter time, and for achy sore muscles. I love making these for Christmas stockings, and gifts for my loved ones. People absolutely love it, especially in the colder times of the year.
If you’re in the forest and you cut yourself, and you don’t have any bandages, what are you to do? Gather some resin, rub it between your fingers and paste it onto your cut! It is naturally antiseptic, and antibacterial. It will at least help to keep your wound clean and protected while you seek medical attention if it’s necessary.
How to Harvest White Pine Pollen
This is the pine pollen nodules before they have opened and released the pollen. Perfect time to harvest!
White Pine pollen has been used by people for thousands of years as an extremely nutrient rich food and medicine. It contains high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. In addition, we live in a world full of estrogen due to the high level of plastics and Pine pollen naturally contains testosterone that can help balance out our bodies.
Pine pollen begins to line the land with golden dust around June or July in the north eastern climate. As you can see in the photo above, on the new growth of the White Pine tree you’ll notice these little nodules that almost look like little baby pineapples. Before these actually release the pollen is when you should harvest them, so attention and timing is everything here. Collect them and place them on a large plate or baking tray and wait a few days. They will release their pollen and you’ll be left with a tray full of this beautiful food. Allow it to dry for a week in a dark area and then put it in a jar. It will last for a long time, and I love adding it to breads, pancakes, smoothies, spice mixes etc. It doesn’t have a strong flavour, but it surely has a stunning colour. It will look beautiful in your homemade deserts and add a bounty of nutrients.
How to Patch up Your Canoe with White Pine Resin and Ash (or other Resins)
If you’re on a canoe trip and all of a sudden you notice a a small hole in your vessel. What are you to do? We are very lucky to have evergreens surrounding us in times of need! When collecting resin, remember that this is how the tree heals itself and that you should harvest sparingly. Collect some resin and get yourself a heat proof container that you don’t mind having resin on forever. A can that was used for soup is great.
It is quite difficult to remove off of surfaces, which is exactly why it is great to patch canoes with! Start a fire and set up your container with the resin. As it starts to heat, add in some wood ash. The ratio should be 3 parts resin to 1 part ash. Once it is well combined, get a flat stick and paste it onto the damaged section of the canoe. Let it dry and then test your canoe before embarking on your mission again to ensure it’s well patched up.
How to Harvest White Pine Inner Bark for Food
This is an extremely nourishing and incredible food. You could survive on the inner bark of White Pine if you needed to, in fact indigenous people did in times of scarcity…
But let’s not stick this food into the survival section. It is absolutely delicious when prepared the right way! Not only did indigenous people eat it in times of scarcity, other cultures used it as a regular food source!
It is much tastier in the spring, and it can be cooked to remove any of its compounds that do not digest very well. I’ve had it in a soup in the middle of winter with carrots, shallots, potatoes, Labrador Tea, and salted herbs. The texture is almost chicken like! I was truly blown away by the texture and flavour. Incredible. It is full of starches, nutrients and carbohydrates. This is an extremely useful resource to know, as you can harvest this in any season unlike many wild foods that have a short window for harvest.
Simply get yourself a sharp knife and find a tree that has recently fallen down because of a storm. Or cut a small branch on a tree and create an outline of a rectangle (depending on how much inner bark you need) on the branch. Press the knife in all the way around your rectangular shape. You’ll need a sharp large knife to do this. Once you’ve created your outline, slide your knife under the area you scored and peel back the outer bark. The younger the branch, the easier it is the peel. Note that the tree must still be alive to harvest inner bark from.
Below the rugged outer bark you will see a soft light coloured inner bark. Start to peel off the inner bark in strips. Eat it just like this for a delicate pine flavoured snack, dry it and grind it into a flour, or cook it in a soup as described above. If you’re in a survival situation and need to eat lots of it, I would recommend cooking it.
Giving Back; How to Grow White Pine Trees
The single most powerful thing we can do in a world that is losing more and more of it’s White Pine, is to plant them. Here’s how you can collect seeds of the White Pine, and be an important part in ensuring the survival of this species.
Collect the pine cones in the Fall. The cones have to be a little bit open and still sticky. If they aren’t open at all they’ll likely never open. The squirrels will knock them down from the tree. Some years there aren’t very many cones at all. Some years there are many! Place them on a baking tray with news paper and every day the seeds will fall out. You can shake them around a bit to loosen up the seeds. They’re tiny tiny beautiful seeds.
The seeds have to be frozen for a few months in order to ensure their viability. It is also important that they don’t fully dry out during this initial process so act quickly once the seeds fall out of the cones. This time of dormancy also gives them the period of rest they need in order to germinate the following spring.
These trees can handle different types of media to grow in, including bogs, rocky edges, and acidic, well drained, sandy soils. Keep this in mind when you plant your seeds, whether you start them inside or outside. Gently cover them with a light sandy and water. Use the mist setting on your spray bottle or hose to ensure a delicate water frequency and ensure the seeds stay moist until germination occurs.
- Asselin, Uprety, Bergeron. (2013) Cultural importance of white pine Pinus Strobus to the Kitcisakik Algonquin community of Western Quebec, Canada. Canadian Journal of Forest Research.
- Lars O, Stlund A, Ahlberf L, Zackrisson O, Bergman I, and Arno S, (2009) Bark Peeling, Food Stress and Tree Spirits – The Use of Pine Bark for Food in Scandinavia and North America. Swedish University Of Agricultural Sciences