In the natural world, life-saving vitamins can come from entirely unexpected sources — like the needles on a pine tree. For centuries, these needles have been brewed around the world to create a nurturing tea. It’s a tasty and nutritious drink that you can freshly harvest and create in any season. Plus, it’s packed full of the essential nutrient vitamin C.
What Is Pine Needle Tea?
Pine needle tea is a beverage consumed worldwide, particularly in countries such as:
This tea is a fantastic source of nutrients during harsh winter months when fresh fruits and vegetables are unavailable. This year-long availability is one of the main reasons it’s a part of several traditional medicinal practices.
For example, the Iroquois brewed this tea for centuries before offering it to malnourished European explorers. One of the most famous examples of its early use is when the Iroquois saved the Frenchman Jacques Cartier’s dying crew with pine needle tea in 1543.
People mainly describe the pine needle tea taste as piney — similar to the way pine needles smell. Many people find the taste pleasant. It shouldn’t overwhelm your palate.
What Is Pine Needle Tea Made Of?
All you need to make pine needle tea is a source of edible pine needles. A lot of pine varieties are safe to consume, including:
- Eastern white pine — Pinus strobus
- Japanese red pine — Pinus densiflora
- Himalayan cedar — Cedrus deodara
Avoid inedible pine lookalikes, which can be dangerous. You should specifically avoid yew trees.
Consult online tree identification guides or a local cooperative extension expert for help identifying edible evergreens. Never consume any plant unless you’re certain you've properly identified it and it’s safe.
What Nutrients Are in Pine Needles?
The main beneficial nutrient extracted from pine needles when you make tea is vitamin C. All of the edible species contain this beneficial nutrient. Your body needs vitamin C to form bones and connective tissues.
They also contain several molecules that can vary in presence and quantity from one species to the next. Researchers are still in the process of identifying new compounds within pine needles. Some of the bioactive compounds identified so far include:
- Flavonoids — particularly proanthocyanidins, which are associated with several health benefits
- Amino acids, such as arginine and proline, used throughout your body to create proteins
- Flavor-related compounds — including alpha-pinene and isoamyl alcohol
Pine Needle Tea Health Benefits
Few scientific studies have looked into the effects of pine needle tea on human participants. Most research has focused on identifying the molecules in pine needles and evaluating their properties in test-tube and animal experiments.
The main proven use for pine needle tea is as a cure for scurvy. Scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C, which you normally get from the fruits and vegetables in your diet. Symptoms of this condition include:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Difficulty healing from wounds
- Gum disease
- Weak and broken bones in children
These days, there are dietary sources of vitamin C available all year, so scurvy is no longer common.
But you could still develop scurvy if you’re struggling to acquire food — like in a war zone — or choose to follow an incredibly strict diet. Certain medical conditions, like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, can also make it harder to absorb certain nutrients and could lead to scurvy if you’re not careful with your diet.
Luckily, reports indicate that pine needle tea can cure even the most severe cases of scurvy and can protect people who are at risk for developing this condition.
Other potential health benefits are associated with the compounds in pine needle tea, but none have been verified in human subjects. These possible benefits include:
- Antioxidant properties. Laboratory-based experiments have demonstrated that some of the chemicals in pine needles may protect your body from free radicals that can damage your cells.
- Anticancer properties. Research with cell lines and animals has found positive effects on cancer cells, but these have not been verified in human subjects.
- Antimicrobial effects. One study that focused on Cedrus deodara found antimicrobial activity in laboratory-based experiments on water-soluble extracts.
- Anti-aging effects. A study found that some of the molecules in pine needles can bind to a particular receptor that affects your metabolism. This receptor is also known to have anti-aging effects.
- Heart protection. This is associated with the presence of proanthocyanidins, which have been found at least in Pinus densiflora.
- Immune system modulation. This is also associated with proanthocyanidins, which have been found in Pinus densiflora.
How to Make Pine Needle Tea
Making your own pine needle tea is a simple and fun way to benefit your health. You can even forage for your own pine needles year-round.
First, locate an edible species of pine tree and harvest as many needles as you need for a given batch of tea. The more you use, the stronger your tea will be. You can save extra ones and allow them to dry out. They can still make effective teas when dried.
In a pot, heat the amount of water that you need until it approaches boiling but does not fully boil. Technically you can let the water boil, but this could destroy some of the nutrients you’re extracting from the needles. Add the needles and let them simmer for about ten minutes.
You’ll know it's done when you detect a strong piney scent rising from the brew. Then strain the water to remove the needles and pour the tea into mugs. It’s ready to serve as soon as it’s cool enough to drink. Feel free to add honey for a bit of sweetness.
The process is so simple that even children can help. Foraging for pine needle tea is a fun educational opportunity. It gets your child outside while teaching them the value of renewable resources in the natural world.
When Should You Talk to Your Doctor?
Talk to your doctor first if you plan on regularly adding pine needle tea to your diet — especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. Natural remedies can interfere with prescription medications and supplements. Your doctor is the best person to determine whether pine needle tea is safe for you.
Otherwise, feel free to enjoy this tasty beverage all year long.