Pine Trees, How to Eat One

pine trees

A few years back I talked with a Korean who told me that during the Korean War they ate pine bark when food was in short supply.  It kept them alive, when times were tough.  Now eating pine trees has not been high on my list of things to do, but I have eaten pine nuts and drank pine needle tea in the past.

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 I 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.




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3 thoughts on “Pine Trees, How to Eat One”

  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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