White pines are one of the largest trees in the Eastern United States. They play an important role in the lumber industry but have had many different uses throughout the centuries.
The tallest white pine in the United States is located at Mohawk Trail State Forest in Charlemont, MA. It stands at 174 feet tall and before the settlers cut most of the white pines dow down they stood as tall as 230 feet. Due to their large size, this made them optimal for building ships. It’s a possibility that white pine lumber played a role in sparking the American revolution. Since Britain was short on lumber, King George I claimed the tallest white pines for the British Royal Navy. Three hatchet slashes known as The King’s Broad Arrow was used to mark the King’s trees. The settlers wanted to keep their livelihood alive and disregarded the marks and cut them down anyway. After finding out what happened, the British tried to charge those who stole the trees and the town rioted.
White pine trees have a long historic use by the Native Americans. The Ojibwa Indians have a legend about a chief whose dying wish was for his son to plant a seed from a tree he collected a long distance from their home every time a child in the tribe was born. His son did as his father wished and planted these seeds every time a child was born. After some time these trees grew into great white pine trees and he began to collect seeds from these trees.
One night his father and two other past chief appeared to him. His father told him to pick the finest seed he had and plant it at the highest point in honor of the greatest child that was ever to be born. He immediately did as he was asked and planted the finest seed in his collection. That tree grew three times as fast and towered over all the other pine trees. This tree was named the Great Papoose Tree and provided shelter for lost Indians and animals until it was struck down by a terrible storm 30 years after it was planted.
The white pine tree was an important resource for the settlers. The Native Americans showed them that drinking tea made from the needles would help keep disease away. This did have truth to it as the needles are high in vitamin C which helped with scurvy. All parts of the tree have been used medicinally at one point or another. It isn’t a very popular herb today compared to elderberries, a similar herb high in vitamin C, but is prized as a survival food. The needles are used to treat colds, the inner bark turned into flour, and the pitch used as medicine and in construction.
Common Name: White Pine
Scientific Name: Pinus strobus
Leaves- 2-4 inches long, fascicle of 5, straight, soft
Bark- smooth, gray to black when young, slightly furrows as it ages
Branches- appears to grow in a whorled pattern
Fruit- elongated, brown, often covered in white pitch, up to 8 inches long
Height- 50-150 feet
Parts Edible: leaves, bark, twigs, pitch, seeds
Found: Native to the Eastern United States down to Georgia and west to Illinois; likes full sun and well-drained soil
-Leaves were traditionally used to treat coughs, colds, influenza, sore throats, and scurvy
-Leaves were once used as an incense to prevent diseases
-Pitch was traditionally used to treat kidney and bladder complaints, wounds, sores, burns, boils
-A poultice made from the pitch was used to treat rheumatism, broken bones, cuts, bruises, sores, and inflammation
-Inner bark was made into an infusion for sore throats, colds, and was once added to cough syrups
-Bark was also used to treat cuts, sores, and wounds
-Young twigs were once used in an infusion to treat kidney disorders and pulmonary complaints
-Dry, rotten bark was powdered and used similarly to baby powder and was used to treat a baby’s chaffed skin, sores, or improperly healed navels
-A tan or green dye can be made from the needles
-Pitch from the tree has been used to waterproof items
-Wood has been very valuable timber especially in building ships
Vitamins, Minerals, & More
-High in vitamins A & C
Properties: antiscorbutic, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, pectoral
Properties: antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, rubefacient, and vermifuge
Properties: demulcent, diuretic, and expectorant
-Leaves used in tea
-Pitch is added to steam baths and salves
-Pitch can be made into a poultice
-Inner bark is made into infusions and added to cough syrup
-Bark powder can be made into a poultice
-Do not take if pregnant or breastfeeding
-Possibly unsafe for children
-Do not take pine products if you suffer from asthma or pine pollen allergies
-All parts of the tree could cause dermatitis in some people
-Could cause stomach discomfort
-Needles can be harvest year round but are best when there is new fresh growth in the spring
Practicing Sustainable Wild Harvesting
- Only harvest plants you know are safe and can identify
- Only harvest plants in safe areas that are not contaminated or polluted
- Do not harvest on private property without permission
- Harvest no more than 10% or use the method: take 1 leave 2
- Know how to handle and prepare the plants you are harvesting
- Always check the legal status of the plant you want to harvest (is it endangered?)
–Missouri Botanical Garden White Pine
–THE TREE THAT SPARKED THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR: EASTERN WHITE PINE’S COLONIAL HISTORY
–The Legend of the Great White Pine
–PFAF White Pine
–EASTERN WHITE PINE’S USES AS A HEALING NATURAL MEDICINE
-Foster, Steven, and James Duke A. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 341-42. Print.
-Profant, Dennis. Trees, Shrubs, and Vines of Southeastern Ohio and Appalachia. By Bill Perine. 4th ed. N.p.: n.p., 2007. 45. Print.