Pine Medicinal Benefits
Medicinal Properties and other Pinaceae species
Parts used: pine nuts (fall), young needles (spring), inner bark (young tree), pitch and resin
Medicinal Actions: warming bitter1, mild laxative1, anti-inflammatory 1, 2, 3, antiseptic 2,3, diaphoretic1, nutritive 1, 2, 3, circulatory stimulant 1 and rubefacient 1, diuretic 4
Contraindications: Strong tea or pitch used long-term should be avoided in kidney disease or pregnant people. Do not use resins on puncture wounds.
Ecological status: Least concern 5
Please consult a licensed professional if you have serious health concerns before trying new medicinal herbs.
Sap, Pitch and Resin
Sap – is the fresh oozing water soluble substance from the tree that is made up of the polysaccharides (complex sugars). These sugars travel from the roots to the leaves and act as the ‘blood system’ of the tree. Think like maple syrup.
Pitch or oleoresin– is a more viscous substance than sap that exudes from the tree. It is very sticky so bring a jar that you plan to use to extract it. Clinically is no different than resin. 7 Oleoresin may contain more aromatic compounds than resin. Oleoresin hardens and becomes resin over time. Consider using as ‘chewing gum’ replacement but be warned that it does stick to your teeth, it comes off eventually!
Resin – “is the sticky, water-insoluble substances exuded” by the tree (or plant) when it is damaged 6 and contains terpenoids (non-aromatic) and phenylpropanoids (aromatic). 7 This is likely a defense mechanism used to seal and protect the tree from serious injury. Resin eventually ages and becomes fossilized amber.
In Navajo tradition, Piñon resin is melted into a salve with red clay and tallow (render fat from an animal) and used topically for wounds. The clay helps to draw out the infection, the pitch is antiseptic and the tallow helps to keep the skin and wound moist. Recipe is 1 tablespoon red clay to ¾ cup melted tallow mixed with 1 tablespoon melted resin. Stir gently to mix thoroughly. 3
Pine resin extract
- Supplies 90-95% alcohol (honey, water, glycerite are ineffective at extracting medicine from resins)
- Either pitch/oleoresin or resin, 30 grams
- Jar with sealing lid, 8 oz
1:5 ratio or 1 gram resin: 5 mL alcohol
In clean jar or the jar you collected your resin add 30 grams of resin then add 150 mL of everclear alcohol (organic is best to avoid pesticides/herbicides). Shake until most of the resin has dissolved. Shake daily for 30 days. Strain any plant material out and now you have a ready to use pine resin extract. Caution with higher doses as it may irritate the GI tract. You can make the salve recipe I cited above with tincture.
One thing I love about the resin tinctures is their use for coughs and upper respiratory illnesses. The resins coat the back of the throat, although bitter, the coating lasts for hours
Pine nuts, Piñon
A historically valuable food for the Natives of the Southwestern USA including the Navajo.
Despite their name, pine nuts are not technically a nut. Since they are the inner flesh of an inedible shell they are actually a seed. Though some caution must be taken if one has a tree nut allergy as cross-reactivity has been cited.
Pine nuts are a good source of fats such as polyunsaturated fatty acids and omega 6 fats, Vitamin K and Vitamin E, B vitamins like thiamin, niacin and riboflavin and minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. 8
Medicinal Actions Explained
Warming bitter, mild laxative – stimulates the digestive juices, better for those that tend towards constipation and dyspepsia (aka heartburn); best used as a lower percentage in bitters formula to avoid digestive irritation
Anti-inflammatory – calms irritated, itchy skin, helps heal burns including sunburn and wounds. Consider using in topical formulas for eczema, psoriasis, chicken pox and bug/insect bites.
Antiseptic – this is more-broad spectrum than antimicrobial, use sap as a bandage outdoors, seals and draws out the infection, great for lung and urinary tract infections. Nice addition to herbal mouth washes that call for myrrh or frankincense.
Diaphoretic – induces sweating to increase a fever (fevers are good things!) to help break it
Nutritive – the young leaves (spring) are high in vitamin C, much higher than oranges; pine nuts (fall) are packed with EFAs and potassium
Circulatory stimulant and rubefacient – because of its warming properties it helps to heat the body up thus increasing circulation; rubefacient causes capillaries to open to increase circulation to the skin and joints, causes skin redness. Excellent for rheumatic complaints which tend to be cold and stagnant tissue states
Diuretic – increases the frequency of urination and for people with significant chronic kidney disease, long term use of diuretics may exacerbate the issue
Soap box – Frankincense
I love frankincense. It was one of the first botanicals I feel in love with like so many other people. Frankincense has deep Biblical roots and has been traded all over the world since the first time humans realized its healing benefits.
The issue with frankincense, even companies that claim to have the “best source” of essential oil distillation typically come from the same handful of producers. Why? Well frankincense trees have a limited range in which they grow. “Most frankincense comes from about five species of Boswellia trees, found in North Africa and India, but also in Oman, Yemen, and western Africa.” 9 In the National Geographic article by Rachel Fobar, the author met with a field researcher. The field researcher Anjanette DeCarlo found single trees with up to 120 incisions. In order for sustainable harvesting to be had with Boswellia species there should be no more than 12 incisions per year. Unfortunately none of the frankincense trees are covered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Boswellia spp. are on their way out of this world. I do not want to contribute to the end of such an amazing genus of plants.
The article stated that there is no new growth, but it is difficult to properly access the growth of these trees given the remoteness. Another aspect is that several of the countries in which Boswellia spp. grow are war-torn and the people are financially suffering, so they work where they can. In the US, I have heard people complain about the high costs of ‘quality’ frankincense oils without understanding this complex situation.
So what does frankincense have to do with pine trees?? Well based on the phytochemical profile I assert that pine is an ideal alternative to frankincense. We need more research on Pinus spp. to determine if the clinical effects are similar. So far I am sold and haven’t purchased any frankincense products since I first learned about pine species being FAR more sustainable and significantly less expensive. Plus, you know, local!
Pine species have been used for ceremony throughout Native history and some continue today despite white settlers stealing their land. This is another reason that I feel Pine is an acceptable alternative to frankincense. Each indigenous group of people around the globe have sacred plants, why not use what we have at our fingertips rather than a genus that is likely to go extinct in our lifetime?
Do you have research or more information about pine being an exceptional replacement for frankincense clinically? Please contact me! Thank you
1. Wood, M. (2009). Pinus strobus White Pine. In The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants (Vol. 2, pp. 269–272). North Atlantic Book.
2. Barnes, T. M., & Greive, K. A. (2016). Topical pine tar: History, properties and use as a treatment for common skin conditions. Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 58(2), 80–85. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajd.12427
3. Mayes, V., & Bayless-Lacy, B. (1989). Nanise’: A Navajo Herbal One Hundred Plants From the Navajo Reservation. Navajo Community College Press.
4. Harder, C. F. (2021, February 4). The Medicine of Pine. Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. https://chestnutherbs.com/the-medicine-of-pine/
5. Plants for a Future. (n.d.). Pinus edulis. Https://Pfaf.Org/User/Plant.Aspx?LatinName=Pinus+edulis. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Pinus+edulis
6. Mills, S. (2000). Principles of Herbal Pharmacology. In K. Bones (Ed.), Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy (pp. 37–38). Churchill Livingstone.
7. Yarnell, E. (2017). Resins [Slides]. Pharmacognosy, Bastyr University. https://1drv.ms/u/s!Arz3LdnBRwwCghYaHNw5rmHN4bti
8. Nuts, pine nuts, dried. (n.d.). Https://Nutritiondata.Self.Com/Facts/Nut-and-Seed-Products/3133/2. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3133/2
9. Fobar, R. (2019, December 13). Frankincense trees—of biblical lore—are being tapped out for essential oils. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/frankincense-trees-declining-overtapping