Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain

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Pine, the Sacred Tree of Attis

Pine, another one of those hidden in the open, or as my Mom likes to say “if it was a snake it woulda bit ya,” plants that has a ton of uses but never really gets noticed…unless you are looking for a Christmas tree. Pines though, are a common species, and a very old species, used by many cultures since it has a pretty wide spread across the world with many different species. It is a relative of juniper, and of fir and cypress trees (which will be covered in later posts), and has species in every part of the globe.

Some more personal history of pines here, the tragic Bastrop fires in 2011 burned a massive amount of farm/ranch land, and houses, which was devastating enough. But it also burned some very rare pines called the Lost Pines, which is a group of Loblolly pines that were separated from their pine-y brethren in about the Pleistocene era. They are being replanted, but it will take a long time to replace these hardy, but beautiful trees in that area.

Loblolly pines, ancient, majestic, and useful!

Pine is one of those really great plants that is categorized as mostly harmless by most botanists and herbalists. In general, of course there are some that are exceptions. Since it is easy to find and most species are harmless I will not be differentiating between the different species (there are just too many!) But this is general information on pine and it’s uses, and I will list the most commonly used for each sort of preparation if there happens to be one. One of the best aspects of pine is, most pine species are high in vitamin C and vitamin A, and both are really important for your immune system.


Pines, being evergreen conifers, all tend to have cones of some sort, as well as needle like leaves, and the leaves contain the precious vitamins and oils used.

I am sure everyone has heard about getting enough vitamin C in their diet. The big C is such a vital vitamin it is why the term “limey,” a not so flattering term, was coined for Britishers. British sailors carried lime trees, sometimes lemons, with them to keep scurvy at bay, and improve the taste of stale water. Grog was the most well known dosing method, it was a mix of rum, water and lime juice. This disease was a limiter (besides water and food keeping) in the “Age of Exploration,” in its prevention of travel too far from fresh food.  Scurvy is a horrible disease, it is an incapacitating and painful disease of malnutrition. It is like gangrene in that your body is slowly breaking down, and is an extremely unpleasant way to die. In fact it wasn’t until the 18th century during the first travels of Captain Cook that it was recorded that not one man was lost to scurvy, which was quite remarkable at that time. Many colonies also suffered from scurvy during the colonial eras, and it was the Native Americans in the North American colonies that showed the new settlers how to eat pine needles in the winter to prevent Scurvy from taking its toll during harder food times.

Vitamin A is one you probably don’t hear a lot about, even though it is crazy important to have in your diet. Vitamin A, which is also prevalent in pine leaves (or needles), is vital to the immune system, the health of your retinas, and many other things. Vitamin A is the number one vitamin in the world that people do not get enough of, even in the “developed” world. It is really important to make sure that your diet has enough vitamin A, since it becomes harder to absorb if you get cortisone shots, also if you smoke tobacco, or drink frequently, which may cause a deficiency. If don’t consume enough fresh fruit and vegetables – which is a major issue in most countries that eat lots of processed food – you may be deficient and not even know it. So while vitamin A is not as well publicized it is just as vital as C in your diet to keep that immune system fighting strong. This becomes even more important if you are receiving cortisone shots, since your immune system needs to be strengthened as much as possible to help keep you from catching every bug that you happen to come into contact with.

For more information you can read on cortisone here, and vitamins and their role in the body here.

So, if you are ever lost in the woods, you could probably make tea or just eat pine needles (the young leaves, or tips are preferred to eat or make tea with) to survive and they would probably be safe. Unless you are Bear Grills, and then you will probably be too busy drinking your pee to make tea of pine needles. I say probably safe since some species tend to be a bit more resinous than others, if it smells like floor polish you probably shouldn’t drink too much of it, since it could be too much of a good thing. Though you probably won’t want to drink much anyway, it is very much like drinking pinesol and quite a turn off.

Not only are the needles good for vitamin C and A, as well as safe (most species), but the inner bark also can be used. It is known as the cambium in science terms, but it is the soft sort of stringy inner bark you see when you peel the bark off a tree. The stuff in between the outer rough bark and the inner wood of the tree. This inner bark can be dried and used as an ersatz (substitute or famine replacement) flour, or even as a gluten free option for thickening soups, stews, gravy, etc. The Adirondack Mountains are named after the Anglicization of the term that in the Mohawk language was a slightly derogatory term for Algonquian-speaking tribes that lived near them. It also happens to be the Mohawk word for the porcupine, who also eats bark. It was first coined due to the Algonquian tribes eating bark and buds of trees in famine times. It was also used by some Native American tribes as flea and lice repellents in bedding since adding pine needles to it can ward off insects.

In Western traditions its boughs and trees themselves were and are used often in Christmas decorations, or just in winter decorations due to their pleasant smell and long lasting green, which is so welcome in the white days of winters. Pine resin was also used to make rosin, for bowed instruments, as well as furniture polishes. Hippocrates studied pine for its respiratory (pulmonary) issues and found it useful for throat issues. Pliny the Elder also mentions its great therapeutic value, stressing how important it is for the respiratory system. Pine resin was used to line, and thus water proof, wine jars, and the taste of the pitch came to be a preferred flavor in most wines, just like some today may prefer earthy or leathery wines.

The Greeks also held pine to be sacred to the god Attis, which is part of some freaky-deaky mythology that seems oddly relevant after that one rapper that cut his junk off.

Warning : If you are sensitive to stories about knives and willies, you may want to skip to after the image, if you aren’t read on brave soul. 

So the myth goes, Attis was the lover of a goddess called Cybele (who was sort of an earth/mother goddess – most of her imagery was in the same style as Isis, or Mary – the mother goddess pictured seated with a child in her lap). One day Cybele catches Attis getting a little too friendly-like either with a nymph, or he was being married off to some mortal woman by his parents (it depends on who, when, and where you are asking). In her rage of jealousy she drives Attis mad. Since he is now “cray cray,” to use the parlance of our times, he then proceeds to cut his junk off. Which seems like a sensible way to deal with the whole situation, but at least it gets you into the eunuch club.

“Wooo Pink Wednesdays! Totes worth it guys” – Attius

One of the earlier rituals performed for Attis was a ritual cutting down of a pine tree, which became the symbolic phallus of Attis, and decorating it before it then ritually penetrates the earth by being planted. After planting it, you have a drink and a bit of a knees up. (Almost sounds like a fun Saturday night right?) But later on as the cult travels and evolves, soon since Attis became a eunuch, that meant all of his priests had to be eunuchs. And the initiation ritual became a sort of castration get-together. First you get really worked up, “into a frenzy,” and then just lop one’s junk off. There was a lot of junk cutting off, and symbolic willies related to this Attis and Cybele pair, as you can see, and the whole thing made the Romans rather uncomfortable with the whole business (which I mean, it makes me a bit uncomfortable, and I don’t even have willy to cut off). But they let it go on, because hey, who wants to piss off a guy that gets so worked up he cuts his junk off? And a goddess that seems OK with that sort of thing. No one with junk to cut off, that’s for sure.

Trust me dudes, you think I get cuckoo for coco-puffs? You don’t even want to see her flip her bitch switch.

If you are interested in other pine myths, that are a bit less freaky, check out this site for a quick overview, and there is always the story of Sinis.

As a cook I am very familiar with pine nuts. They are fairly common in a lot of styles of cooking, especially if you are making Middle Eastern food, or Mediterranean foods. You can’t make traditional kibbeh or pesto without them. There is also pine nut oil, made from pine nuts, it has a useful low smoke point, and was sometimes used during Lenten traditions when fats are banned. Pine nuts are a luxury item even today, commanding one of the higher prices for nuts since they are difficult to collect and pine trees generally have a low yield. Their flavor is very much worth the work to get them, and it was one of the foods gathered by almost every people that had edible-nut producing pines in their areas.

Chemically pine needles and pine essential oil (since it is a distillation of the oils from the needles) contain a lot of chemicals we have gone over already like α-pinene, limonene, terpineol (warming) and others. So we know it is a warming oil, with anti-inflammatory, mild analgesic and anti-spasmodic properties. One chemical that is frequently talked about in newer information is that some studies have shown that pycnogenol, found in pine leaves, has some inhibitory action on inflammatory chemical signals (COX-1 & COX-2) and could be useful in the treatment of inflammatory issues maybe even other uses but there is not enough scientific evidence to back this as a wonder drug or anything of that nature, though many sites will tout it as such.

Pine essential oil is a multitasker, besides all its great external uses is also a great scent, and can blend well with a lot of other scents just to relax, or for mixing oils that smell nice as well as increase the medicinal properties of the pine essential oils. It is also good for chest colds and congestion, rubbed into the chest as an oil or salve, or inhaled – as steam by dropping a few drops of the pure oils into a bowl of hot water and then breathed in with a towel over the head to trap the vapors. Most pine essential oils I have come across are made from Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), but there are others oils can be made of, make sure if you are purchasing essential oils you know which species of pine it comes from and do your research to make sure it is the right species for your issues.

Pine Essential Oil Rub for Joints and Muscles

  • 1 ounce Carrier oil (you could even use pine nut oil, but any good quality vegetable based oil will do)
  • 10-20 drops Pine essential oil

Mix well and store in a dark bottle. To use, massage into painful areas. Pine is great for aching joints, or just soothing muscles after a work out. I find this works great for minor spasm pain, and just to soothe achy muscles after injections or any sort of post-spasm pain. It can also help to alleviate stress, since its anti-spasmodic and slight sedative nature can relax the mind and body.

ProTip: if you want to add in eucalyptus, lavender, and rosemary they are all great scents that blend well with pine, and bring additional healing properties. Orange also smells great with pine.

You can make a pine pitch salves, which is not only good for pain, but great for wounds, and drawing out impurities (ie – splinters, gravel, dirt, really anything that you can get embedded in small amounts in a wound from a tumble). This is a very traditional medicine, something you could classify as “wise-woman” medicine, and was used by women in the frontier areas of America, possibly handed down through contact with Native Americans, to treat wounds that would otherwise have been a vulnerability for infection, gangrene, septicemia and other deadly infections.

Pine Pitch Salve

  • 1/2 ounce Bees Wax, granulated or grated
  • 2 ounces Pine resin
  • 4 ounces Oil (any good quality vegetable oils – jojoba, almond, coconut, olive, etc)

Heat oil in a double boiler, and add resin. Stir until melted and mixed thoroughly. Add in bees wax slowly, and continue to stir until it forms a uniform appearance. Pour into containers and allow to cool. Apply to wounds, and painful areas, as well as wounds with foreign objects, stys, splinters, and pimples. This is also great for fire ant bites, as it draws out the poisons, and regular bug bites.

You can also make pine tar tincture by dissolving it in a high proof grain alcohol (vodka, everclear, etc) in a 1 part pitch to 4 parts alcohol ratio. You can use the liquid to wash wounds, or as part of a warm water compress (a few drops on a damp hot towel or cloth) or as a sore throat remedy & cough remedy (recipes further down).

ProSurvivalTip: In survival situations you can also melt just the raw pitch, try to find large globs and remove them straight from the tree, and heat. Allow to cool until it is warm, and can be handled. While it is still pliable, apply to the wound to help heal and draw out impurities. The pitch once removed, will contain any foreign objects that were in the wound, and can be re-used to make a salve if conditions allow.

ProCollectingTip: Resin if you want to collect it yourself needs to be done in spring or summer when the sap flows in the tree. Usually you can find a tree that is producing sap from a naturally made wound, or you can cut the tree yourself and return to collect the resin. This is REALLY messy, sticky stuff, I suggest a dedicated collecting tool you don’t mind getting sticky or keeping kerosene or gasoline handy to remove it from hands and tools. It does well in parchment paper, and you can freeze it for easier handling.

Pine Resin and Raw Honey Salve

  • 2 ounces Pine resin (you can purchase this online, in some herb stores, or harvest it yourself)
  • 2 ounces Raw honey
  • 1 ounce Oil (any good quality oil will do)
  • Optional: 1/2 to 3 ounces bees wax, granulated or grated

Heat the oil in a double boiler, and add the pulverized resin slowly. Once it has melted and combined into the oil add in raw honey. If you would like a firmer salve, you can add in the bees wax, you would want to add it and do tests of cooling a small amount on a spoon to see how firm it will be. It is up to you, and the resin, how firm the salve will be. Pour into containers, and allow to cool. These always make great gifts for cyclists or hikers and ramblers 🙂

If you don’t have Pine resin available or you don’t want to bother with the hassle of collecting (or you don’t want icky tree bits in your resin) you can use essential oils to make an easy salve.

Pine Essential Oil Salve

  • 20-30 drops Pine essential oil
  • 1/2 ounce Bees wax, granulated or grated
  • 1/2 ounce of Oil (any vegetable oil)

Heat oil in double boiler, and slowly add in bees wax until it is melted and combined, remove from heat and hand stir in essential oils, pour into containers and allow to cool. This like the other salves is great for on the go applications for pain and wounds.

For a quick cheater version, you can use 2 ounces of any solid at room temperature oil and 10-20 drops of pine essential oils. Add the oils drop by drop as you whip the oil until it becomes creamy and like body butter.

Since it is such a great antibacterial, pine resin has been used for throat complaints for ages, an old recipe you see floating around a lot is for throat lozenges and cough syrups.

Pine Pitch Throat Sticks

  • 3 cups filtered water
  • 5 pounds sugar
  • 5 drops of pine tar tincture (the one mentioned above)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Wintergreen essential oil (133 drops)
  • Good sturdy pot
  • Accurate thermometer (preferably a candy thermometer)

Combine water and sugar, and boil to the hard crack stage. Once it reaches hard crack remove from heat and spread on a greased cake pan or cookie sheet (if you don’t care if it warps put it in the fridge first to cool it), or if you are lucky enough to have one on a marble slab. As it cools add in the drops of tincture and wintergreen, you will want to mix this with your hands as much as possible, pulling and stretching the sugar as it cools to make sure everything is evenly distributed and well mixed. This is sometimes easier to do if you have someone help you with this. Once fairly cool cut and roll into sausages about 1/4 to half an inch in diameter and cut into half inch sticks, or inch long sticks if you like, and allow to cool. You can also roll, or dust, these in corn starch to prevent sticking and store them in a jar until needed. These are wonderful for sore throats, especially the ones that are very painful to swallow due to infection.

Pine Tar Cough Syrup

  • 1 cup Honey (local wildflower honey is the best choice!)
  • 2 tablespoons pine tar tincture

Blend well, and dose is 1 teaspoon three times a day for sore throats and cough.

Tea, one of the more simple ways of using pine is easy to prepare and use as a gargle, drink or even to add to a bath. And since pine is pretty much everywhere, you should always have a handy supply of vitamin C at your finger tips even in very urban areas. So next cold and flu season, you are prepared since vitamin C and A are everywhere!

Pine Needle Tea

  • 2 teaspoons of Pine Needles (fresh or dried)
  • 16 ounces Boiling water

Steep for 4-10 minutes in a covered teapot or halve the amount (8 ounces water and 2 1/4 teaspoons) for an individual cup (Remember cover that teacup! You will lose all those oils that make this worth making int he steam if you don’t). If you want you can up this to 4 teaspoons (or 2 teaspoons per 8 oz of water) but I don’t suggest exceeding that. This is a great tea for stress or pain, or just to warm you and your joints up on a cold morning. It is also a great gargle for sore throats as well. For the best species to make tea with, it seems the general consensus is the Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is the best sort of pine for teas, and there are some pre-packaged forms of this (in pills, teas, and dried leaf forms) if you don’t have this species locally, though most pines will do just fine.

Remember if you are not sure of the species, which you should try to avoid this, unless in say a super desperation situation, and the tea smells too furniture polish-y add more water and only use small amounts of the needles. I also find that using fresh or dried needles if they are whole a rough chop is sometimes needed before using them. If it is really off-putting you probably should find a different tree.

Pine Bath Tea

  • 2 tablespoons of Pine needles (dried or fresh)
  • 16 ounces Boiling water

For this one the stronger the smell the better, steep for 10 minutes and add to bath. Soak for 20 minutes and enjoy the wonderful smell.

Pine Epsom Salt Soak

  • 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
  • 5-15 drops Pine essential oils
  • optional: any additional oils for any additional properties needed

Mix well, make sure you don’t have any lumps of oils, and store in a water tight container. Add about a cup full to a hot bath, and soak for about 20 minutes. Also you can include the previously mentioned herbs, or anything you thing would smell great with this to enhance the healing nature of the bath.

Holiday Epsom Salt Soak

  • 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
  • 10 drops Pine essential oil
  • 5 drops Orange essential oil (Sweet Orange or Bergamot would also work)
  • 5 drops Clove essential oil
  • 5 drops Cinnamon essential oil
  • optional: 5 drops Nutmeg essential oil

Mix well and store in watertight container. This is another great gift for the holidays or for relaxing during that stressful time of year. Gifts and a way to relax, told you pine was a great multitasker! 🙂

Remember everyone is different so make sure you do your own trials to see what works for you, and if you have any pine pollen allergies this might not be a remedy for you, do a small skin test before trying any of these remedies if you have that allergy. Make sure you check things like WebMD for interactions, and the like. And as always if you are ever in doubt, about anything at all, ask a professional!