Imagine being stranded, lost and alone.
A full week since your last human contact.
It's been days since you've been through your last bit of trail mix and Snickers bars.
Only vast seemingly endless wilderness surrounds you.
Birds, bees, animals, emptiness, and pine trees as far as you can see.
Could it get any worse?
Imagine that you don’t have any food acquisition survival gear.
No fishing pole, nor any reliable means of trapping, snaring or killing wild game.
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In such a dire situation, what options remain?
But, lucky for you, almost everything around you is edible.
Most conifers are not only edible, they’re also medicinal. Every part is useful including the bark, needles, resin, nuts, and cones.
And while eating a pine tree is no substitute for emergency food, in a pinch, it can keep you going.
When you look at your average pine tree, rarely does one think that it has the ability to sustain you in a survival situation if the need ever arose.
It’s sharp needles and gnarly bark give off the impression that it’s a less-than-friendly flora.
On the contrary, pine provides some of the most readily available food sources in nature.
Here is a comprehensive guide to eating yourself a pine tree.
And you may be pleasantly surprised once you put this survival knowledge to the test.
Pine trees are astonishingly palatable (See the recipes below)
How To Eat A Pine Tree
How To Harvest And Prepare A Pine Tree
I encourage you to try eating pine before you end up needing to eat a pine. Practice makes perfect, but practice also entails mistakes.
So try to avoid dismembering a bunch of pine trees in your efforts to learn how to gather morsel of food.
You should also only select mature pine trees to help preserve its health and to maximize your bounty.
Pine trees can grow old – healthy ones can live for 100-200 years! So pick the large, tall ones for your meal.
The more mature trees also provide great amounts of inner bark while minimizing overall harm to the tree.
White pine is widely considered the best tasting pine tree. But most other pines (Slippery Elm, Black Birch, Yellow Birch, Red Spruce, Black Spruce, Balsam Fir, Tamarack, etc.) also have edible barks.
Watch out for the inedible pine trees. Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla), the Yew (Taxus) and Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa — aka Western Yellow Pine, Blackjack Pine, or Bull Pine).
Avoid these poisonous bark or needles! Learn which trees are edible and which are not before you go chomping down. Lest you compromise your health.
For example here’s how you identify the poisonous Yew tree.
Make sure you learn how to identify an edible pine tree from one that can kill you.
Once you have your edible pine tree picked out, use a knife to cut small strips out of the bark. I emphasize “small” because if you gouge out large sheets of bark, the tree may succumb to disease and die. Or collect only small handfuls of needles from each pine tree.
By dispersing your harvest, you’ll mitigate lethal damage to the trees.
All Parts Of A Pine Tree Are Edible
The most obvious pine edible is the tasty nuts.
They find their way into fancy foods, and you don’t really get extra forager points for eating them. Your mother likely eats them on occasion.
You will, on the other hand, get bonus points for foraging your own or growing your own.
While all pines have edible seeds, most are too small to be worth the bother. Worldwide there are roughly 20 species with large edible pine nuts, and most of those grow in warm climate areas.
Pine nuts are famous for their use in pesto, but really they’re useful in all manner of recipes, savory or sweet. They have a buttery flavor, which makes them especially good in cookies.
Gathering and Processing Pine Nuts
The best time to gather pine nuts is in September and October. Look for the round open cones.
Simply gather the cones, remove the seeds and shell before eating raw or roasting.
Harvesting pine bark causes severe damage to a tree, and bark should only be harvested from trees destined to be cut down for other reasons.
Pine bark has been harvested for food for hundreds of years, and one reason we know this is because the scars of pine bark harvesting are still present in Scandinavian trees after more than 700 years.
Harvesting, even a little, scars the tree for life and harvesting too much will kill the tree altogether.
According to the Herbal Academy’s online Botany and Wildcrafting Course,
“As a rule, never harvest from the trunk of a living tree. Only harvest bark from a tree that has been recently cut down for some other reason or has recently fallen over on its own. The timing here can be tricky, as you only want to harvest from recently fallen trees (within a few weeks of falling or being cut down) and not those that have begun to rot and decay. Never, absolutely never, cut a tree down simply just to harvest its bark or its root bark. This is not only unethical, but unsustainable, and is the reason why so many tree species used in herbalism, such as slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), are currently at risk from over-harvesting.”
Both the inner and outer bark of pine trees has been used as a food source by the Sami, an indigenous people from northern Scandinavia, and not just as a famine food.
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The inner bark especially is a rich source of vitamin C, and as Nordic Food Lab notes,
“The phloem of the pine is rich in ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), which during the 1800s helped the Sami of the interior of Norway and Sweden avoid the scurvy that was at the time devastating the coastal populations of non-Sami farmers.”
Pine needles are perhaps the most versatile part of the tree.
Believe it or not, even more than pine nuts, as they can be made into a tasty tea (see recipe below), or mixed into just about any recipe savory or sweet for a spicy kick.
They’re also medicinal, which is a lovely bonus.
Externally, pine needles are added into salves for skin care
“because pine is astringent, it reduces pore size and fine wrinkles. And pine is a powerful antioxidant which means that it may help to prevent premature aging, and may even help to reverse skin damage.”
Adding pine needles to homemade bath salts can help relieve headaches, soothe frazzled nerves, relieve muscle pain and treat skin irritation.
A pine needle hair rinse can be used to treat dandruff and eczema while adding shine to your hair.
Internally, pine is high in vitamin C, which makes it perfect in a nutrient-rich pine tea or pine needle soda.
Pine needles are also naturally antibacterial, antifungal and expectorant so they make a great pine cough syrup when combined with honey.
Pine pollen is only available in the spring when the male cones flower. You can tell the male cones because they usually look like an upturned bunch of bananas covered in pollen. And that pollen is what you want.
Shake the pollen from each male pine cone into a container.
The yellowish powdery substance makes for a stew thickener. It can also work as a flour substitute, which can be used to bread and deep-fry other foods.
Similar to pine nuts, this pollen is full of protein and vital nutrients that your body needs.
Pine Tree Recipies
Pine Needle and Raspberry Soda
- 1 1/2 cup pine needles (chopped)
- 2 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1/2 cup raw honey
- non-chlorinated water
- Chop pine needles into approximately 1" pieces.
- Put the pine needles and raspberries in a 1/2 gallon heat-resistant glass jar or pitcher. If using frozen berries, thaw them first and include any juice.
- Cover the pine needles and raspberries with boiling water. Allow to steep until the water is cooled to room temperature.
- Add raw honey and fill the pitcher with non-chlorinated water. Stir thoroughly.
- Cover loosely with a coffee filter or tea towel.
- Stir 3 - 4 times per day. Bubbling should begin to occur within 2 - 4 days.
- After your ferment begins to bubble, strain and transfer to grolsch style bottles. Allow to ferment another 12 - 24 hours at room temperature. Refrigerate.
Pine Bark Bread
This recipe for pine bark bread comes from Sweden and uses the outer bark of a pine tree ground into a fine flour.
The resulting bread is more like what most people would consider crackers.
- 7/8 cup Pine Bark Flour 200ml
- 3 3/4 cup whole wheat flour 900ml
- 1 tsp salt 5ml
- 1 3/4 cup cold water 400 ml
- Preheat oven to as hot as it goes, around 500 degrees for mine.
- Mix all ingredients to form a dough. Adjust with more water or flour if it is either too sticky or dry.
- Roll the bark flour cracker dough into very thin sheets and prick it every inch or so with a fork. Cut it into bite-sized pieces and place them on an oiled baking sheet.
- Bake for about 3 minutes, turning the sheets halfway through. When the crackers come out of the oven they'll have a soft texture, but they'll be crisp once the cool.
Fried Pine Bark
If you would like to fry the bark to eat it now, you can use the bark fresh from the tree.
Just fry the bark strips for a few minutes on each side, in a pan with a few spoons of oil, unit it becomes crispy.
I like to call this "Bark Jerky", which is a close estimate of the texture, but not the flavor.
Pine bark tastes like Pine sawdust, because it pretty much is sawdust, so you'll want to find creative ways to blend it into other foods so that it goes down easier.
Pine Bark Flour
Flour made from the inner bark contains about 1/4 of the calories as wheat flour, but since it’s a good source of scarce vitamins it was eaten by the richest in society.
The outer bark is not rich in calories, but it was also ground into flour to help bread and crackers keep, and because it contains tannins that science has since shown to support healthy cell function.
A powder made from the outer bark of pine trees is even sold as a modern dietary supplement, which the manufacturer claims “may support healthier cardiovascular and circulatory function.”
If you want to make flour from the bark, or just save it for later, the next step is to process the bark by drying it.
Drying the bark in the sun on a rack or on a flat rock is your best bet, if you are not using the bark right away. It should take about a day to dry the bark strips, depending on the weather and the bark strip size.
Once dried, you can create the fabled pine bark flour, which actually resembles oatmeal more than wheat flour.
If you want to go old school, you can grind up the dried bark between two stones, but a faster way is to drop pieces in a blender or food chopper.
Pulse the device to powder the bark, and then store it in a cool dark place.
Pine Needle Tea
The needles of all pine make an excellent mild tea (not at all pitchy tasting as you’d expect) that is loaded with Vitamin C.
To make the tea simply gather a good handful of fresh green pine needles.
With a knife or sharp stone, dice the needles as fine as possible.
Next, take these needles and put them directly into a cup of boiling water, letting it boil for a minute or two.
The water should turn a light yellow color.
Add some honey, drink and enjoy!
Warning: Pine Needle Tea, and eating Pine needles, may be harmful to unborn babies--so find something else to snack on if you have a bun in the oven. Also, there is some question about toxins in the needles of the western Ponderosa Pine and the southeastern Loblolly Pine, so these two should be avoided for tea.
Pine Bark Cookies
Gain a massive amount of "trail cred" by breaking out some Pine Bark cookies on your next hunt or hike.
An easy path to success is to modify your favorite oatmeal cookie recipe, by switching half of the oatmeal for Pine bark flour.
My family recipe for oatmeal cookies is normally 2 cups of quick cook dry oatmeal, so I just drop that to one cup of oatmeal and add one cup of Pine bark flour for a chewy and piney, yet strangely delectable treat.
Give it a try, and let us know if you liked Pine bark or one of the other edible barks, by leaving us a comment.
The Final Word
No one expects you to serve up grilled pine loin, pine needle tea, toasted pinyon nuts, or pine pollen deep fried pine bark strips for regular meals.
Eating a pine tree is the kind of thing that’s fun when out camping or backpacking, and very helpful when hopelessly lost. Don’t be one of those unfortunate souls who has died of starvation surrounded by a forest of edible pine trees.
Be inventive, be creative, and be tough. A human can survive for a long time on nothing but pine trees. That may sound ridiculous, and like a poor diet, but it will sure as hell beats the alternative.
Never be afraid to eat an edible pine.