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    How to Eat a Pine Tree (Pics & Recipes)

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    How to Eat a Pine Tree (Pics & Recipes)

    Most people assume that the only edible trees are fruit and nut trees. In reality, there are all sorts of edible trees, and one of the most versatile is the pine tree.

    Many pine trees offer both nutritional and medicinal benefits. The primary benefit of pine trees as a wild foraged food source is that it is not only widespread across the world, but it is an all-season tree offering those nutritional and medicinal benefits across the seasons.

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    What Exactly Can You Eat from a Pine Tree?

    Most parts of some pine trees are edible except for the outer bark. Here are the parts that are routinely foraged:

    Pine Nuts

    These are the most obvious option and many people typically use them as a garnish on salads, breads, and in pasta dishes. These pine nuts are usually purchased and are surprisingly expensive. But there’s more to pine trees than pine nuts.

    Bowl of Pine Nuts

    The Inner Bark

    Also known as the cambium layer, the inner bark of pine trees can be eaten raw, boiled, or roasted and even dried and turned into pine bark flour.

    Pine Inner Bark

    Pine Needles

    People have been making pine needle tea for thousands of years. The taste and benefits vary depending on the species, but pine needle tea also has significant medicinal qualities.

    Pine needles can even be turned into a carbonated pine soda because of the natural wild yeast on the needles of many pines.

    Pine Needles

    Pine Cones

    Pine cones do more than produce pine nuts and the young, green cones of some pines can be turned into everything from syrup to pine cone jam.

    Pine Cones

    Pine Pollen

    Pine pollen is produced by male pine cones. They hang down in small, reddish bundles and release pollen when shaken. They have significant nutritional and medicinal qualities and are often used as an ingredient in recipes.

    Pine Pollen

    A Few Words on Pine Cones

    Our common assumption about pine cones is that they have a common appearance with slight variations. What we may be missing is there are both male and female pine cones.

    The female pinecones have the shape we are accustomed to and typically associate with the idea of a pine cone. It’s the female pine cone that has the pine seeds or nuts that many of us gather.

    Pine Cone on Tree

    There is also a male version of pine cones that typically grow in clusters, but they still have some pine cone characteristics. These are the clusters that release pollen to pollinate the female pine cones so they can produce seeds.

    Pollen Bearing Cones

    It’s not unusual to see both male and female pinecones emerging together on the same branch, and that makes sense. When harvesting, this can give you the chance to harvest some pollen and then grab a few pine cones.

    Male Female Cones Emerging

    But Be Careful Out There

    Not all pine trees are safe to consume. The common truth of wild foraging is that you have to be very certain of what you are eating, and that applies to pines as well as anything. Some species of pine are toxic, and the seeds of a pine known as the Yew are actually deadly.

    The pine species to avoid foraging include:

    The good news is that many of these pine species don’t grow in North America, but Ponderosa Pine is quite common west of the Great Plains, and Yews often show up as ornamental shrubs everywhere.

    Junipers are another common tree in North America, so don’t assume that any evergreen you encounter is a candidate for foraging, including something as simple as making a cup of pine needle tea.

    Speaking of Pine Needle Tea…

    There are many cautions about the consumption of pine needle tea for pregnant women. It has been shown to cause miscarriages in cattle and should simply be avoided by anyone who is pregnant.

    With all of these cautions and caveats, it’s easy to simply take a pass on eating or drinking anything from a pine tree, but the same cautions apply to many of the fruits we eat from trees every day.

    Apple seeds have trace amounts of cyanide yet we eat apples without hesitation. The key is to make sure you have located the correct species of pine and know what and when to harvest.

    So Which Pines are Good?

    The pine trees most often mentioned in books and articles about edible pines include:

    Each offers unique flavors and benefits for various types of preparations. In one quick study done by a pine tree connoisseur, cedar emerges as the best-tasting tea but it is seldom recommended for pine jam.

    Here’s a guide to identifying possibilities across these five pines, and then we’ll get into harvesting and storage tips and some recipes:

    Balsam Fir

    Image via Doug McGrady / CC BY 2.0
    • Food or Beverage: Tea, pine flour, pine cone jam, pollen, pine nuts.
    • Nutritional Benefits: Vitamin C, Vitamin A, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial.
    • Side Effects: Few side effects although the same caution about pregnancy.
    • Notes: The young shoots in spring offer the best possibilities.

    Black Spruce

    • Food or Beverage: Tea, pine flour, pine cone jam, pollen, pine nuts.
    • Nutritional Benefits: Vitamin C, Vitamin A, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial.
    • Side Effects: Can cause rashes on the skin.

    Cedar

    Cedar Trees
    Image via Paul Evans / CC BY 2.0
    • Food or Beverage: Tea, pollen.
    • Nutritional Benefits: Vitamin C, Vitamin A, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial.
    • Side Effects: Eastern Cedar should never be used for a pine needle tea.
    • Notes: Makes the best tea but not suited for jams.

    Red Spruce

    Red Spruce Tree
    Image via Nicholas T / CC BY 2.0
    • Food or Beverage: Tea, pine flour, pine cone jam, pollen, pine nuts.
    • Nutritional Benefits: Vitamin C, Vitamin A, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial.
    • Side Effects: Generally safe.
    • Notes: Young shoots are often consumed as an ingredient.

    White Pine

    • Food or Beverage: Tea, pine flour, pine cone jam, pollen. Pine nuts, pine needle soda.
    • Nutritional Benefits: Vitamin C, Vitamin A, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial.
    • Side Effects: The tea should not be consumed by pregnant women.
    • Notes: Makes the weakest tea from a flavor standpoint.

    There are specific tricks and tips for harvesting the good stuff from a pine and various methods for preparing the harvest for a recipe. We’re going to start simple with teas.

    How to Make Pine Needle Tea

    Pine Needle Tea

    This is all about steeping pine needles in water that has been boiled. It’s not about tossing the pine needles into the boiling water. That will make the tea murky and bitter.

    On the other hand, a well brewed cup of pine needle tea will not have the rich color you see in other teas. It will have more of the appearance of a “white tea.” The flavor will be there, but few pine needle teas result in a rich color in the tea.

    The great thing about pine needle tea is that it can be harvested year-round.

    Pine Trees and Snow

    That can be a real challenge when wild foraging in winter, but many parts of a pine are always available with the exception of pine pollen, green pine cones, and fresh pine nuts.

    The usually recommended ratio is a ½ cup of pine needles per 3 cups of boiling water. The needles should be chopped into ½-inch to ¼ -inch pieces. Here’s one of the many recipes out there:

    Ingredients:

    • 1/2 cup of chopped pine needles from a white pine, spruce, cedar or balsam fir.
    • 3 cups of boiling water
    Pine Needle Tea Ingredients

    Directions:

    1. Remove the needles from the stem and cut off the root end where the needles attached to the branch.

    2. Wash the needles under running water in a strainer.

    Pine Needles Removed

    3. Chop the needles on a cutting board and toss into a large glass bowl or jar.

    Chop the Needles

    4. Bring a pot of water to a boil

    5. Pour the water over the needles and let steep for 3 to 4 minutes.

    Steep the Needles

    6. Strain the tea into a cup.

    Strain the Needles

    7. Add honey, sugar, lemon or any other ingredient you usually enjoy with your tea.

    Across the pines, the cedar tea and the spruce seemed to provide the best flavors while the fir and the white pine produced a milder and weaker overall flavor. The medicinal benefits are equal, but if you’re looking for flavor, go with the cedar and the spruce.

    How to Make Pine Needle Soda

    Pine Needle Soda

    At times you may notice a thin, white dusty coating on pine needles. This is the same dusty coating you sometimes see on wild grapes and other wild fruits. What’s interesting is that white, dusty coating is wild yeast, and it can actually carbonate water to make a pine needle soda through fermentation. Your results may vary.

    During winter, the yeast can sometimes be killed by cold temperatures, and during other times of year, a heavy rain can simply wash it off. With any luck, there will be some wild yeast still attached to the pine needles and you’ll have a good shot a fermenting your wild soda.

    We’re recommending you wash the pine needles in this recipe. You might lose some yeast, but you don’t want any residual bacteria percolating in your water/sugar mix over days, but many recipes insist it will still ferment to create carbonation.

    The taste has been described as citrusy with some flavor notes similar to Sprite or 7-UP. It’s simple to make and it’s worth a try. Here’s the recipe and the directions:

    Ingredients:

    • 2-pint bottles with a cap or lid (flip tops are best to release any excess carbon dioxide gas while the soda ferments)
    • 2 cups of water
    • 4 Tablespoons of sugar
    • 2 cups of long white pine needles (white pine needles grow in bundles of 5 needles)

    Directions:

    1. Collect pine needles from white pine trees. Remove woody ends from the pine needles. Put pine needles in a large bowl, immerse them with cold water, wash and drain 3 times.

    Needles on Cutting Board

    2. Spread washed pine needles on a wire rack, let dry on your countertop for about 1 hour.

    3. Pour 4 Tbs of sugar into bottle.

    Sugar in the Bottle

    4. Place pine needles in bottle.

    Needles in The Bottle

    5. Fill the bottle with filtered or bottled water.

    Water in the Bottle

    6. Close the lid and give the bottle a good shake so that the sugar is distributed evenly.

    Shaking the Bottle

    7. In cold weather, you can put the bottle by a window so that the water is under the sunlight. In hot weather, keep the bottle in a bright room but avoid direct sunlight.

    Soda Fermenting

    8. Three days later, fill a cup with ice cubes and a few slices of lemon. Open the bottle and pour the pine needle soda over the ice cubes. Stir and enjoy.

    Finished Pine Needle Soda

    Harvesting and Eating Pine Bark

    Pine Forest

    Bark on any tree consists of many layers, including pines. The outer bark is not edible, but between the phloem layer and the sapwood is a thin layer of bark known as the cambium.

    Pine Tree Layers

    This is the edible portion of a pine tree. The cambium layer in any tree actually acts as the circulatory system for the tree, channeling water and nutrients from the ground and the sugars from the leaves created by photosynthesis.

    Pine Bark Strips

    Pine Bark Strips

    The idea of eating pine bark sounds simple, but it’s not about eating the outer bark.

    Outer Pine Bark

    The outer bark of most trees are inedible including pine. You need to chop away the outer bark to get to the thin cambium layer that has a thin white appearance. It will be somewhat soft and can peel off or be shaved with a sharp knife.

    In an emergency, the strips can be eaten raw. They can also be boiled to serve as a fibrous pasta substitute or roasted and eaten like a crunchy snack. A little salt helps if you have it.

    The cambium bark of a pine can also be dried in the sun, over a small fire, in a cast iron pan, or in the oven on a roasting pan at 225 degrees until dry. At that point you can turn your pine bark into flour

    Pine Bark Flour

    Pine Bark Flour

    The Scandinavians have been making pine bark flour for thousands of years. They peeled and dried the cambium bark and then pulverized it into a flour.

    Here’s how to harvest, dry it, and turn it into pine flour, and then we’ll get into a recipe for pine flour bread.

    1. Collect strips of pine cambium layers.

    2. Dry them either in the sun or in an oven at 150 degrees for about 30 minutes.

    Cambium Strips

    3. Place the dried cambium into a food processor.

    Processing the Cambium

    4. Process until finely chopped.

    Pulverizing for Final Grinding

    5. Place the finely chopped cambium into the hopper of a flour mill.

    Final Flour Grind

    6. Mill until you have a fine dust of flour.

    Bowl of Pine Bark Flour

    Pine Flour Recipes

    We’re going to quickly cover two recipes. One is for a bread and the other for pancakes made from pine flour.

    Pine Flour Bread

    Pine Flour Bread

    This is a hybrid recipe combining equal parts of pine bark flour with all-purpose flour. The good news about pine bark flour is that it’s gluten free. The bad news is that gluten-free flours like pine bark flour don’t effectively feed yeast, so you will end up with a very dense bread.

    If you add a bit of all-purpose flour of even whole wheat flour, you’ll give the yeast a fighting chance to cause the loaf to rise.

    If all you have is pine bark flour, you could always make a flatbread that you cook on a cast-iron griddle, but we’re going to cheat and add a bit of all-purpose flour.

    Here's the recipe (makes a 1 ½ pound loaf):

    Ingredients:

    • 1 cup of warm water
    • 1 ½ tsp. yeast
    • 1 tsp. sugar
    • 1 ½ cups of pine bark flour
    • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
    • 1 tbs of oil or any other fat

    Directions:

    1. Combine the yeast, sugar and 1 cup of all-purpose flour in bowl and mix well.
    2. Add the 1 cup of warm water and blend into the mix.
    3. Let the mix rest for 20 minutes to let the yeast come to life and proof.
    4. Add the pine bark flour and mix.
    5. Add the oil and blend into the mix.
    6. Knead by hand for 10 minutes or 3 minutes in a stand mixer.
    7. Shape into a loaf or place into a greased bread pan.
    8. Let rise for 1 hour.
    9. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes.
    10. Let rest and serve.

    Pine Flour Pancakes

    This may be the easiest and most common use for pine bark flour. (Makes about 6 medium size pancakes.)

    Ingredients:

    • 1 cup of milk
    • 1 tsp. baking powder
    • 1 tsp. baking soda
    • 2 cups of pine bark flour or enough to make a batter
    • ½ tsp salt

    Directions:

    • Combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and blend together.
    • Add the milk and stir until you reach a batter consistency. (If too thick, add more milk. If too thin, add more pine bark flour.)
    • Let rest for 2 to 3 minutes.
    • Pour onto greased and preheated griddle or frying pan over medium heat.
    • Cook about 1 to 2 minutes a side or until browned.
    • Serve with butter, syrup, cinnamon or your favorite pancake toppings.

    Harvesting and Eating Pine Pollen

    Few of us have ever thought about eating pine pollen, and it’s not something you can buy in most stores. It’s a rare ingredient, and some research indicates it is a testosterone booster and super food.

    Pine pollen is a bit labor intensive to harvest, but there are two techniques that make it easier. To begin with, you need to know where to start. There are small cones on many pine trees that give off a light, yellow dust when shaken or brushed.

    Harvesting Pine Pollen

    These small cones appear with the same frequency as the larger, female pine cones, and you can either surround them with a plastic bag and shake the branch, or simply harvest them and shake them out over a strainer later.

    Collected Pine Pollen

    The best time to harvest pine pollen is in the spring or early summer. A lot depends on the species of pine and the local weather.

    Pine pollen can be used as an additive to other flours including pine bark flour, regular all-purpose flour, wheat flour or any other flour you’ve milled from seeds, grains or bark. It has significant medicinal and nutritional properties.

    As a food source pine pollen is usually used as a small addition to recipes than a foundation ingredient. It’s typically used as a spice or flavor enhancer which is a good thing given how difficult it is to harvest it in any significant quantity.

    Here’s a link to some ideas for how to incorporate pine pollen into a range of recipes: Foraging and Cooking with Pine Pollen.

    Harvesting and Eating Pine Nuts

    Pine Nuts Bowl

    Pine nuts may be the most well-known edible product from pine trees. They’re very expensive and most come from a species of pine known as the Pinyon pine that grows mostly on the west coast of North American.

    The nut casing is hard and difficult to crack, and most people who harvest pine nuts from Pinyon pines gather them on the ground.

    Pine Nuts From Open Cones

    On the other hand, all pine produce pine nuts, but most are very small and all are difficult to release from their hard shells. The good news is that pine nuts are not only loaded with nutrients but are a good source of proteins. They are high in calories and can be used in almost any recipe.

    Rather than go through all of the painstaking explanations for how to harvest and process pine nuts, here are some links to some very insightful YouTube videos that outline both the approach and the pain of harvesting and processing pine nuts:

    Harvesting and Eating Pine Cones

    Pine Cones on Table

    It’s not just about pine nuts. You can do a lot of things with pine cones, especially the green cones that haven’t dried and opened up to release their seeds or nuts.

    The three most common results are pine cone jam, pine cone syrup and pine cone soda. They are surprisingly good, but they’re also highly polarizing flavors. Some people love it, some people don’t. There appears to be no in-between.

    Like so many things pine, the species or variety of pine tree has a lot to do with the best pine cones for either pine cone jam, pine cone soda, and pine cone syrup. We’ll identify your best pine tree source for each recipe that follows.

    Pine Cone Jam

    Pine Cone Jam

    The foundation of any jam or jelly is sugar. Pectin is sometimes added to help the final mix gel, but sugar is the dominant flavor with the added fruit or other ingredient as the flavor note that gives it a unique taste.

    Pine cone jam is no different, but its flavor is definitely unique. It has been described as smoky, bold, and strong. How strong depends on many factors from the type of pine cone to the weather and soil surrounding the tree, and a bit of luck.

    Green Cones in Jar

    Green and unopened pine cones are the key to this recipe because they are still holding many of the compounds that will give the jam its flavor. Dry pine cones are only good for pine nuts, pine cone wreaths, and improvised pine cone torches.

    Some pine cone jam recipes recommend you leave the pine cones in the jar while others recommend you remove them for long-term storage. We’re recommending you remove them because over time, they will not only intensify the flavor to a degree you might not like, but may also compromise long-term food safety.

    Here’s the recipe for your first pine cone jam:

    Pine Cone-Cider Jam

    A preserve of young pine cones in apple cider molasses inspired by the traditional Pine Cone Varenye of the Caucuses. Use as a strong condiment for cheese and creamy, fatty things. If you want extra syrup, make this with ¾ gal cider instead of ½.

    Ingredients:

    • ½ gallon unfiltered apple juice or apple cider. The darkest, most unprocessed you can find will give the darkest syrup. If you want a higher proportion of syrup to pine cones, use ¾ gal instead of half.
    • ¼ inch piece of cinnamon
    • 2 cloves
    • ¼ cup young pine cones

    Directions:

    1. Rinse the pine cones to remove any debris.
    2. Bring a few cups of water to a boil and blanch the pine cones for 1-2 minutes, remove and reserve.
    3. In a 1 gallon pot with high sides about 8-10 inches in diameter, combine the cider, bouquet of warm spices, pinch of salt, and pine cones, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and set a timer for 1 hour while you do something else.
    4. After an hour, check on the reduction and gauge how much time it will take to reduce down to about 1.5 cups or so, at which point you should baby it, watching it carefully to make sure the consistency is to your liking.
    5. Continue reducing at a brisk simmer until the bubbles start to increase in size and threaten to creep up the sides of the pan. Referring to the video will be helpful here.
    6. When the bubbles are large and the mixture is reduced to the consistency of warm honey, transfer the cones and their syrup to a jar, allow to cool uncovered for 30 minutes, then put a jar with a tight-fitting lid like a mason jar and refrigerate.
    7. Once chilled, inspect the thickness of your jam. If it seems too thick/100 percent pine cones, transfer to a bowl, warm it over a pot of simmering water and thin it with a splash 1T of cider, mix well, then put back in the jar and refrigerate again, which will refresh the consistency.
    8. Kept in the fridge with the lid screwed on tight it will last for a couple months.

    Pine Cone Syrup

    Pine Cone Syrup

    This is a simple recipe, and it’s basically a variation on pine cone jam only you use less sugar while steeping the green pine cones in water and then concentrate the solution to the magic 220 degrees Fahrenheit to make a syrup.

    Ingredients:

    • A 5-gallon food grade bucket full of young, unopened pine cones
    • 2 pounds brown sugar
    • A strainer and funnel 
    • Some jars and lids to store the pine syrup

    Directions:

    1. Cover the bottom of the bucket with a layer of pine cones.
    2. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Then add more pine cones and more sugar. You should use 2 to 3 pounds of brown sugar.
    3. Put the lid on and leave for a week, burping every day to let out the gas produced by the fermentation occurring.
    4. After a week the pine cones and sugar will stop producing gas and you can leave them for another two weeks without daily burping.
    5. After a total of three weeks, you are ready to remove the pine cones and find the syrup in the bottom of the bucket.
    6. Strain this syrup into jars and store it for future use.

    Give It a Try

    If you have a pine tree in your area that falls into one of the safe and edible pine categories, you should try at least one of these recipes. You may surprise yourself, and it’s valuable knowledge for any survival situation, or just as an addition to your everyday diet.

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