White Pine – Pinus Strobus: Edible & Medicinal Uses of Ontario’s Tallest Wild Plant

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In Chippewa, jingwak’, white pine was the most towering of edible and medicinal plants here 200 yrs ago. Imagine forests of 200-ft tall, 4-ft wide powerful evergreen medicine.

Like the now “trending” and controversial sage smudge, pine needles are said to clear negative energy when burned. “Smoke cleansing” is a more acceptable term for general use (no ties to a specific religion or spirituality). This tree has so much positive energy. It has the longest list of mammals and birds and insects allies that I have seen yet in my preparations for these articles. Even the noble American bald eagle likes to nest atop the tallest pine by a lake. And it’s the treeing of choice for a black bear mama and cubs.

Edible Uses of White Pine

An Old Illustration of White Pine - Pinus Strobus
An Old Illustration of White Pine – Pinus Strobus

Like the white spruce we covered last week, young pine needles can be used for tea. And in the springtime, the turpentine tasting inner bark is *cough* most edible.

However, white pine was nearly obliterated from the area and used in ship masts in service to the Queen. To this day she has “rights” to the trees on my property – common here.

I long to see these 200+ feet tall and 4 feet in diameter pine forests, hundreds of years old, but I can only imagine. Now there are acres of white pine plantations here in offputting straight rows. When logged the trunks that are left behind could be utilized for bark.

New cones, which take 3 years to mature, are edible. So are the catkins, the young shoots, and young pine needles. These have a pitchy pine taste, but not as much turpentine flavor as the woody parts.

An easy (although potentially wasteful) way to taste test pine in cooking would be to use the young needles in place of rosemary in a recipe, perhaps more sparingly, and see if you’ll acquire pine taste. Swapping two strong herbs with a similar texture. I feel pine is perhaps the most pungent of evergreens, making it less palatable but more medicinal.

A tastier potential ingredient is pinenuts. The pinenut you buy at the store is from pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) and while not as flavorful, white pine nuts are edible. But they are small. It’s a lot of work to open the cones and collect the teeny tiny nuts, which are in shells. Shelling tiny nuts is a painstaking process. If you want to plant a pine species in which the nuts are more suitable for harvest, the Siberian pine will grow well in our region of Ontario.

The Needles Have 5x Vitamin C as a Lemon

Medicinal Uses of White Pine

White pine is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Muscular
  • Respiratory
  • Skeletal

Medicinal tags include Antiseptic, Carminative, Diaphoretic, and Expectorant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the resin in salve mixes for various skin issues and in salves for muscle and joint pain. Essentially the same as the white spruce we just covered.

But for white pine, there’s an added emphasis on its respiratory uses. Some of today’s cough syrups (E.g. Buckley’s) even contain ingredients derived from white pine. The bark is usually the part used in traditional cold remedies. The inner bark has been applied as a poultice straight to the chest. The gum can be chewed for a cough or even dried first into a cough drop. Even the needles may have some effect.

Here’s a cough syrup recipe from Stalking the Healthful Herbs that Euell got from an old herbalist:

  • Take 1/2 cup coarsely ground white pine bark
  • cover with 2/3 cup boiling water and let cool
  • then add 1/2 cup whiskey, seal and let soak overnight, shaking occasionally
  • strain it the next day and add 1 cup raw honey, mixing well.

The dosage is 1 tbsp for adults and 1 tsp for children. And the mixture should last indefinitely.

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook includes instructions for using pine essential oil (additional oils opt.) cooked with petroleum jelly for a decongestant vapor rub. This is a great starter herbalist project if you use petroleum jelly.

You have to melt the jelly at very low heat until it liquefies, then immediately move it off the heat. Quickly add 30-50 total drops of essential oil per 1 fl. oz. petroleum jelly. Mix and immediately pour into a glass container, and replace the lid. Let it cool before opening.

Pine tar, which is made from slowly burning the roots, branches, and trunks, has been used in recipes to remove tapeworm and roundworm. Pine tar is also an ingredient in many dandruff treatments and you’ll likely notice pine tar soap at your local health store.

Alternative Uses of “Soft Pine”

The wood of white pine is in high demand and utilized in many ways. However, the use I’d like to draw attention to is pine needle basket making and similar crafts like pine needles hats:

Basket Making With Pine Needles, Linda Fox, Native American Fellowship, 04 19 18

If you’re curious about the hats, check out this pine needle hat dated about 1910 that appeared on Antiques Roadshow.

A tan or green dye can be made from the needles.

Growing Pinus Strobus

A while back I planted a handful of pine saplings. Strangely the only one that lives is the one in the least sunny spot, but it’s not growing well. Pine tree saplings crave full sun, which is a commodity I don’t have much of on the one-acre. Our native pines are white, red and Jack. Scots pine was planted after all our trees were cut down and soil erosion was a problem, but it’s an introduced and invasive species. Scots is easily mistaken for red.

If you’re around Haliburton you can order white pine and other native plants starting sometime in February from FEEL. Friends of Ecological and Environmental Learning run this annual native plant sale.


Large amounts of evergreen tea can be toxic.

Extended use can irritate kidneys.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

The Good Living Guide to Natural and Herbal Remedies: Simple Salves, Teas, Tinctures, and More

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (Llewellyn’s Sourcebook Series) (Cunningham’s Encyclopedia Series)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual

Forest Plants of Central Ontario

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