Eating Pine Cones: Everything You Need to Know

pine trees

When most people think of pine cones, they think of Christmas decorations. However, did you know that you can also eat pine cones? Believe it or not, pine cones are a delicious and nutritious snack!

We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about eating pine cones, from where to find them to how to prepare them, as well as the benefits of eating pine cones and the possible side effects associated with consuming them.

So if you’re looking for a new and exciting snack to try, look no further than the humble pine cone!

Now eating pine trees has not been high on our list of things to do, but have eaten pine nuts and drank pine needle tea in the past.

What Are Pine Cones?

Pine cones grow on pine trees and are seed-bearing cones. There are female pine cones and male pine cone . The female pine cone is larger than the male pine cone and contains the tree’s seed. On the other hand, male pine cones produce pollen, which fertilizes the female cone’s seeds. Female cones grow at the top of the tree while male cones grow below the female pine cones.

Lets Look at What is Edible on Pine Trees

First pine nuts, just about everybody has eaten these and knows how good they taste.  Here is a link to a previous article we wrote on How to collect Pine Nuts.  The nuts or pine seeds are found on the inside of the pine cones.  You will recognize the nuts because they look sort of like an insect wing. The bump at the base is the nut.  When the pine cone dries, the nuts are released.

To get at the nuts, the pine cone can be broken open and the nuts removed.  But an option is to heat the pinecone by setting them near a fire which speeds up the drying and releases the nuts.  Now you need to break the nuts out of their shells.  One easy way is to place the nuts between two pieces of cloth on a flat surface and pound on them until the shells crack.  Discard the shells and the nuts are ready to eat.  Once shelled the nuts must be eaten within a few days.

pine trees
Male pine cones

In the springtime, the pollen from the small male pine cones can be gathered and used for flour. This is a good protein.

Pine needle tea is A good Source of Vitamins C and A.  This is a great way to prevent and cure scurvy which has killed thousands of people.  Pregnant women should avoid drinking pine needle tea; it can sometimes cause an abortion.  A few words of caution: while there are over 100 different varieties of pine trees, the Ponderosa, Norfolk Island and Yew needles should be avoided, as the teas can prove toxic.

pine trees
Tree Layers – starting from the outside of the tree, the second and third bark layers are the edible, living portion of the tree

Eating pine tree bark has been a survival food for many of the Native American tribes.  Now you are not eating the old dried bark on the outside of the tree, but the cambium layer which is the soft inner bark.  The tree needs to be fresh, an old down tree will not have good soft edible bark.

Peel of the outer bark and underneath you will find a soft thin layer of edible bark that tastes quite good.  When you cut off the bark of any tree be sure to never completely girdle the tree or you will kill it. The best option is to cut a small strip of several pine trees.  The trees will then be able to heal themselves.  To learn how to do this you need to go out and try it.

Once you have the bark you can eat it raw or cooked.  The tastiest method is to fry it if you have any fat.

Just remember that while all Pine trees are evergreens, not all evergreens are Pine trees!  So be sure you have positively identified your tree before eating it.

Where Can You Find Pine Trees?

Pine trees are coniferous trees that can be found in the northern hemisphere. Not all pine trees produce cones. However, there are over 20 different pine species that bear cones that are worth harvesting, and they vary in size from the tiny Schweinitz’s pine tree to the giant sugar pine tree.

There are four main types of pine trees:

  • Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
  • Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta)
  • Pinyon pine (Pinus edulis)
  • Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)

Interesting fact: The coulter pine (Pinus coulteri) is known as the widowmaker because its heavy cones can fall and kill people!

Can You Eat Pine Cones?

Yes, you can eat pine cones! In fact, pine cones have been a part of the diet of humans and animals for millions of years. Fossil evidence shows that even dinosaurs ate pine cones! Dinosaur teeth were great for ripping through the tough pine cones.

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Animals such as squirrels, birds, and even bears eat pine cones. However, it’s best to avoid having your pets eat them as the sharp edges of the cones can cut their mouths.

The Eastern white pine is considered to be the best tasting by most people.

Benefits of Eating Pine Cones

Pine cones are a good source of vitamins and minerals and contain antioxidants that can help boost your immune system.

Best benefits:

  • Vitamin C
  • Copper
  • Potassium
  • Manganese
  • Fiber

Pine cones are also known for their healing properties. The sap from pine cones is used to treat wounds, burns, and skin infections.

Ways to Eat Pine Cones

It’s best to eat young pine cones, as they are softer and have a milder flavor. You can eat them raw, or boil or grind them into a powder.

However, pine cones can be hard to digest, so eating the individual parts is better than the whole cone.

Pine Cone Sap

Pine cone sap is known for its medicinal properties and can be used to make tea, honey, jam, and even wine!

Pine cone jam is a popular recipe that boosts the immune system and treats bronchitis, asthma, cough, TB, cancers, arthritis, and respiratory diseases.

Pine Nuts/Pignoli

Pine nuts are the edible seeds inside the hard outer shell of pine cones and are also known as pignoli. They are a good source of protein, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins B, K, and E.

Store-bought pine nuts are expensive because of how long it takes to harvest them, but you can also harvest your own pine nuts by cracking open the cones and extracting the seeds.

Pine nuts have a sweet and nutty flavor and are often used in baking or as a topping for salads and pasta dishes.

Popular pine nut uses:

  • Pesto
  • Granola
  • Cookies
  • Muffins

Eating pine nuts can also help improve your cardiovascular health and can reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes.

Pine Pollen

Pine pollen is the yellow powder that comes from pine cones and is full of nutrients, including proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Many call pine pollen a secret superfood.

Pine pollen can be taken internally as a supplement or used externally to treat skin problems and allergies.

Pine pollen is commonly used as a thickener in soups, stews, and sauces. It can also be used to make pasta, bread, and pancakes.

Possible Side Effects of Eating Pine Cones

Although pine cones are safe to eat, there are some potential side effects to look out for.

Allergic Reactions

Some people can experience allergic reactions to pine cones, such as skin rash, sneezing, and watery eyes. This is more common in people who are allergic to pine trees.

Pine Mouth

Pine mouth is a temporary condition that causes a metallic taste in the mouth and can last for days or weeks. It’s caused by the sap from pine cones and is more common in people who eat a lot of pine nuts.

Other Uses for Pine Cones

In addition to being a food source, pine cones can also be used for other purposes.

They can make a great fire tinder because they are full of resin.

Pine cones can also be used to make bird feeders, bowls, ornaments, and even furniture!

Can You Eat Other Parts of a Pine Tree?

Yes, there are other edible parts of a pine tree. The pine needles can be boiled and eaten as greens or used to make a pine needle tea high in nutritional value.

The inner layer of pine bark can be stripped and eaten raw or cooked. The inner bark is a good source of vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The outer bark should not be eaten as it can be toxic. You should never harvest bark from a living tree though.

Make sure what you’re eating comes from certain pine trees though, some species of pine are not edible pine trees. Trees such as the Norfolk Island pine, Rocky Mountain juniper, Yew trees, and Ponderosa pines (Bull pine, Blackjack pine, and Western Yellow pine) are generally not recommended for human consumption.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know everything there is to know about eating pine cones, why not give it a try? Just be sure to start with a small amount to see how your body reacts. And if you’re allergic to pine trees, it’s best to avoid them altogether. Happy eating!

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3 thoughts on “Eating Pine Cones: Everything You Need to Know”

  1. Thanks for the note that ponderosa pine tea can be toxic. I have acres of ponderosas but no other pines UNLESS one wants to count Douglas fir as a pine. In some areas I’m told they are called Oregon pine. Do you have any info regarding teas made from Douglas fir, white fir, or western red cedar?

    Hangtown Frank

  2. Howard– another source of food is the grubs found inside the bark at the cambium layer on dead trees. Fresh dead are probably the best. They taste like the nuts do.

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