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© Susun S. Weed

The warming air of this verdant May morning touches my senses with pine. In the sweet-scented shade of a towering white pine much like the one I now sit under, the Peaceful Nations buried their weapons. I breathe deeply, asking their ancient wisdom to flow into me with the refreshing pine smell.

The nations of the Adirondacks (a word which means "tree eaters") ate the inner bark of White Pines as one of their primary winter foods.

I slice a strip from the underside of a small limb, thanking the tree for its gifts of nourishment. The antiseptic sensation in my throat as I chew brings to mind "Pine Brothers' Cough Drops." I feel my lungs open, my throat open, my sinuses open, warmed and stimulated by White Pine, lofty yet generous tree.

Europeans didn't eat White Pine (at least, not at first). They cut the straight, tall trees (150 feet was not an uncommon height and there are records of 200 and 250 foot trees) and sent them to the shipyards, where they masted huge sailing ships.

But eat Pine they did. Old records reveal numerous English settlements where virtually all of the colonists died of scurvy (lack of vitamin C) during their first winters in the "New World." Compassionate Native Americans suggested a daily tea of Pine needles, one of Nature's richest sources of vitamin C, and saved the colonists' lives. Pine needle tea has become one of my winter favorites, as well, staving off not only scurvy, but colds, congestion, and the flu.

The sticky sap I pry loose from the pine cone near me was chewed, no doubt, by Indian youth. It contains an (FDA approved) substance nearly 2000 times sweeter than sugar. I savor its surprising intensity, remembering winter sore throats soothed and sore gums strengthened. (Myrrh is a distant relative.) Mixed with grease, the sap is a superb sealant for canoes and water vessels.

As I close my eyes and savor the sweet, pungent taste and smell of Pine, I remember a story I heard from a woman who guides canoe trips. One of the participants ran his aluminum canoe into a rock, splitting the canoe and gashing his thigh deeply from knee to hip. Emergency care was 4-5 days away. They bound his thigh with limber strips of fresh White Pine bark and continued on. "I still marvel," she told me, "at the speed and ease with which that very nasty cut healed."

"Pine Tar Salve" reads the label. Looks black, like my hands when I handle fresh cut pine, or my clothes when I sit on the wrong stump. "Works like heck," says my neighbor. "Put it on dog sores, cat fight wounds, boils, ulcers, blisters. Draws out splinters, stys, and pimples. Soothes burns, hemorrhoids, and itchy bites. Even cures you of poison ivy. Give it a try."

I'll be in good company if I do. The Native people of North American valued no single healing/nourishing plant more highly than Pine. They used not only the sap, but also the boiled mashed inner bark, to heal the inevitable injuries of an outdoor life.

Icelanders of the fifteenth century took the sap mixed with honey to ease lung troubles.

Oriental herbalists use knots from their pines as medicine, especially praising the decoction (with Tang Gui) as a remedy for arthritis.

Is there a Pine growing by you? It's very likely. Take a moment; to the Pine, great tree of peace, tree of healing. Joyously feel the blessing of the trees. Breathe in the calming yet exhilarating scent of Pine. Truly, the trees shall heal us.

Pine is Astringent, Antiseptic, Analgesic, Anodyne, Expectorant

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Susun Weed’s books include:

Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year

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