White Pine Bark

Medicinal use of White Pine: White pine was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who valued it especially for its antiseptic and vulnerary qualities, using it extensively in the treatment of skin complaints, wounds, burns, boils etc. It is also very beneficial to the respiratory system and so was used in treating coughs, colds, influenza and so on. The turpentine obtained from the resin of all pine trees is antiseptic, diuretic, rubefacient and vermifuge. It is a valuable remedy used internally in the treatment of kidney and bladder complaints and is used both internally and as a rub and steam bath in the treatment of rheumatic affections. It is also very beneficial to the respiratory system and so is useful in treating diseases of the mucous membranes and respiratory complaints such as coughs, colds, influenza and TB. Externally it is a very beneficial treatment for a variety of skin complaints, wounds, sores, burns, boils etc and is used in the form of liniment plasters, poultices, herbal steam baths and inhalers. A poultice of pitch has been used to draw out toxins from boils and reduce the pain. The dried inner bark is demulcent, diuretic and expectorant. An infusion was used as a treatment for colds and it is still used as an ingredient in commercial cough syrups, where it serves to promote the expulsion of phlegm. A poultice made from the pounded inner bark is used to treat cuts, sores and wounds. The wetted inner bark can be used as a poultice on the chest in treating strong colds. The dried inner bark contains 10% tannin, some mucilage, an oleoresin, a glycoside and a volatile oil. A tea made from the young needles is used to treat sore throats. It is a good source of vitamin C and so is effective against scurvy. An infusion of the young twigs has been used in the treatment of kidney disorders and pulmonary complaints. The powdered wood has been used as a dressing on babies chaffed skin, sores and improperly healed navels.

Medicinal Use of Pines
Pine Needles
The fresh needles and buds, picked in the springtime, are called “pine tops.” These are boiled in water, and the tea is consumed for fevers, coughs, and colds. The needles are also diuretic, helping to increase urination. Pine-top tea is one of the most important historical medicines of the rural southeastern United States, especially given pines’ abundance in the region. Renowned Alabama herbalist Tommie Bass used the needles in a steam inhalation to break up tenacious phlegm in the lungs. I combine pine tops with sprigs of fresh thyme (Thymus spp., Lamiaceae) and bee balm (Monarda spp., Lamiaceae) for this purpose. Tommie Bass reported “ the country people used to drink pine top tea every spring and fall to prevent colds.”5

I enjoy the needles—fresh or dry—as a fragrant and warming wintertime tea. It pairs well with cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum, Lauraceae) and cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum, Zingiberaceae). Pine offers relief in sinus and lung congestion through its stimulating expectorant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory qualities. The fresh, younger needles also contain Vitamin C.

Try combining peppermint (Mentha x piperita, Lamiaceae) and catnip (Nepeta cataria, Lamiaceae) with pine needles as a tea, which can be sipped upon throughout the day to assuage cold symptoms. This combination is a safe remedy for the whole family.

Nourishing Skin Tea
Mighty Pine Tea
1 quart water
Small handful of pine needle tops (approximately five to seven branch tips; fresh or dried)
1.5 Tablespoons dried peppermint
1 Tablespoon dried catnip
Boil the pine needle tops in the water for twenty minutes. Turn off the heat and add the peppermint and catnip. Cover and let steep for an additional twenty minutes. Strain and add honey if desired. Sip on the tea while hot, reheating each cup as needed throughout the day. Adults can drink three cups a day. Children’s dosages should be lessened proportionally.

Pine Bark
The inner bark contains more resin and is more astringent than the needles. It has been used historically as an antimicrobial wash or poultice and infused in bathwater for muscle aches and pains. It’s also boiled in water and ingested as a remedy for coughs and colds. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the knotty pine wood from several species of pine is infused in wine and used topically for joint pain.3 I tend to reserve the bark for topical applications since the needles are easy to harvest and more pleasant tasting.

Pine Resin
The resin, also called pitch, has many local first-aid uses—it’s used as an antimicrobial dressing on wounds and to pull out splinters. Pine resin, in minute quantities, has been used internally as a powerful expectorant but it does have some toxicity, so I recommend sticking to the needles or bark when it comes to internal use. I use pine pitch, prepared as a salve, to draw out splinters, glass, and the toxins left from poisonous insect bites. Pine resin salve is helpful to lessen muscle aches and joint inflammation.

Pine Pitch Band-Aids: Forest First-Aid
On a trip to the southwest, I learned another way to apply pine pitch medicinally from Arizona herbalist Doug Simmons: Take a piece of pitch that’s semi-hard but still pliable and form it into a flat bandage over the afflicted area. This simple forest first-aid has excellent drawing power, as well as being anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Cover it with a Band-Aid or clean bandage and leave it on overnight.

On this same trip, I had a chance to see the resin in action. Six months earlier a mysterious insect had bitten or stung my foot, leaving behind a little welt that refused to clear up, no matter what remedy I tried. I decided to try Doug’s method of application with the pine resin. I applied a pliable piece of pitch and left it on overnight. The next morning the welt was gone, and it hasn’t returned.

Man harvesting pine resin from a tree’s that already been damaged

Pine Pitch Salve
1 part clean pine pitch
2 parts extra-virgin olive oil
Grated beeswax or beeswax beads (proportions below)
See our article on preparing herbal salves here. The measurements in this recipe needn’t be exact, but following the general proportions by volume (using a measuring cup) is useful for achieving the desired consistency. Using a double boiler, melt the pitch in the olive oil (1 part pitch to 2 parts olive oil, by volume) until it is mostly dissolved (it’s fine if a little resin remains solid). Add the grated beeswax (1 part beeswax per 4 parts of the combined liquid oil and pitch). Pour into jars and let cool before adding lids.