Merry Pine Medicine
There’s an ancient tradition that many of us still practice during the holidays.
Millions of adults and children alike – here in Europe and around the world – get into the holiday spirit by hauling a bushy evergreen tree into the living room, standing it up in a prominent location and decorating it with lights, miniature figurines, and spiritual symbols.
What we don’t often realize is that pine, spruce and fir trees are powerful native medicines that hold many gifts for our mind, body, and spirit. They represent LIFE. What’s so great about these trees is that in the depths of winter when pretty much all the plants are asleep, the medicine of the Evergreens is still available to us - The Evergreen trees, with their verdant boughs and healing properties, stand tall and strong. Their needles, bark, and sap have been used for centuries to treat a multitude of ailments. From boosting the immune system to reducing inflammation and improving respiratory health, the medicinal benefits of these majestic trees are vast and are a perfect winter medicine for the dark and cold months.
I was stringing up lights around our Christmas tree beginning of the month when it dawned on me.
Whoa, we’re actually honoring sacred tree medicine right in the middle of our house!
Our ancestors relied on the pine tree for its medicine and sustenance – and many tribes still depend on it today. The remarkable healing properties of these resilient trees make them a staple to indigenous cultures, from the Siberian steppes to the forests of North America and beyond.
These evergreen conifers hold much spiritual significance as well and can symbolize many things including longevity, peace, wisdom, and harmony with nature. The Iroquois burned pine to dispel nightmares and placate spirits. Other tribes burn the wood of pine as incense, while still others use pine gum for protection against negative energies.
>> Actions <<
Evergreens are used most often for their stimulant expectorant property. When you enjoy Evergreen medicine as a tea or tincture and take a breath, you inhale the medicinal compounds deep into your lungs. Once there, they break up cold, damp, and stagnant mucus. Through this, they open your lungs and assist you in breathing deeper and clearer.
Although Evergreens are not antispasmodic, in my experience them feel like the “open up” the lungs, easing intense coughs, and support the respiratory system through clearing mucus with their dispersive, drying, and diffusive aromatic compounds. If you think about it, cold and damp environments have a sinking quality. Because the volatile oils in Evergreens are so warming, drying, and stimulating, they drive circulation and help to alleviate the heaviness of damp/cold states by the up and out movement of an expectorant.
Evergreens are rubefacient, which means they stimulate local circulation and drive the blood to the surface of the skin by opening the capillary beds. Through this mechanism, they mobilize and drain metabolic waste products that accumulate during patterns of excess cold and dampness. Over time, this build-up triggers the inflammatory response and leads to pain in the joints and musculoskeletal system. By improving circulation and driving blood to the local area, Evergreens drain the metabolic waste product accumulations, thereby lowering inflammation and pain.
Another action Evergreens are well known for is their stimulant expectorant effects. Through their pungent and aromatic compounds, they thin mucus and make it easier to out, thereby clearing the upper respiratory system of cold and stagnant mucus.
These same compounds grant Evergreens a slight carminative effect as they direct blood flow to the digestive system and improve digestive functioning. Lastly, Evergreens are immune stimulants and protect the body from infection with their broad-spectrum antiseptic and antibacterial oils.
>> Energetics <<
Evergreens have a warming, drying, and stimulating effect on the body. Although there is variation between each type of Evergreen tree, these energetics are common between them. Ayurvedically, Evergreens decrease vata and kapha by warming the body and stimulating the tissues. For the same reasons, they may aggravate pitta.
These trees have a balancing effect on the cold/depression and damp/stagnation tissue states. They benefit cold/depression by warming the tissues, driving circulation, and improving organ functionality. Lastly, they balance damp/stagnation by drying excess moisture in the body when they’ve become congealed and thick due to poor circulation and mobilization of fluids in the body.
>> Psychological & Emotional Aspects <<
Evergreens have become powerful symbols of everlasting life in many cultures around the world. While all the other plants have died back, returned to their roots, or dropped all their leaves, the Evergreens continue to flourish, representing life persevering. Although wintertime is typically thought of as the season of metaphorical and literal darkness, Evergreens remain a vibrant green and continue to grow despite the dark and cold.
These trees are highly revered and brought into the home during winter because they represent REJUVENATION, HOPE, and the WISDOM that there will be light once again. They remind you on a personal level that no matter how dark the world feels, there will be light again.
How can I use pine medicine?
There are approximately 115 different species of pine worldwide—36 of which grow in North America. These evergreen and resinous coniferous trees (in the family Pinus, and the genus Pinaceae) are native to most of the Northern Hemisphere. But some pine species have flourished in the Southern Hemisphere too – like the cypress or kauri pines in Australia, for example. Find out which types of pine grow near you, and make sure they’re true pines. Provided that you’re not allergic, consider connecting with its healing properties.
1. Use the pitch. The sticky delicious-smelling sap has powerful antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. In my Into the Wild training we used the sap as quick wilderness first aid for cuts, slivers, and burns. Try your hand at making your own healing salve below:
Pine Resin Healing Salve
¼ cup pine resin
½ cup almond or olive oil
1 oz. grated beeswax
Heat oil in a double-boiler. As oil begins to simmer, add pine resin, and continue heating until the resin melts. Stir occasionally.
Option: Strain mixture through a cheesecloth.
Return mixture to double-boiler over low heat, and slowly stir in beeswax until melted. Pour mixture into jars or tins, and store in cool place.
You can use this salve on aching joints and sore muscles, shallow scrapes, and wounds, or on the chest for an aromatherapeutic agent.
2. Use the bark. In a survival situation, you can actually eat the bark of a pine tree. But the easiest way to reap its benefits is using pine bark extract, which is packed with powerful antioxidants, including vitamin C. The extract has been shown to lower glucose levels, improve diabetes symptoms, prevent hearing loss, restore balance, stave off infections, protect the skin from harmful UV rays, restore circulation, improve erectile dysfunction, reduce inflammation, even increase athletic performance—and the list goes on.
3. Use the needles. Also loaded with vitamin C—more than five times that of an orange!—along with vitamins A, E, and a host of B vitamins, the needles are a cherished part of the pine. Pine needles have strong antimutagenic, antioxidant, and antiproliferative properties, which help in preventing the growth of cancer cells. Try making your own tea with the following recipe:
Sacred Pine Needle Tea
½ cup young pine needles (a small handful)
3 cup spring water
1 slice of lemon (optional)
Bring water to a boil.
De-stem and remove the brown papery sheaths at the base of the needles.
Chop needles into ½-inch pieces, to help release essence.
Place 1 tbsp. of chopped needles into a mug and pour boiling water over top, allowing to steep for 5-10 minutes.
Squeeze lemon into tea for flavor, or use as garnish.
4. Use the nuts. The “fruit” of these sacred trees can be found in the scales or spines of the pinecone, and is known for its own set of health benefits. These include: appetite suppression, boosting energy, reducing risk of heart disease, anti-aging, and improving vision. Use the nuts in salads and other recipes, or simply enjoy them as a snack.
5. Use the oil. Invigorating and cleansing, pine essential oil can alleviate headaches, relieve pain, boost energy and mood, treat acne and other skin conditions, act as a decongestant, and freshen a room. Consider diffusing the oil at home, or adding a few drops to a bath for a rejuvenating and restorative experience.
The Christmas tree is a prime example of a wild medicine that is hidden in plain sight. Revered by those who came before us, this noble plant is a shining reminder that the forest holds many healing secrets that are waiting to be told… to those of us who are open to hearing them.
Stay curious, Jaya