The Great White Pine: The Tree of Peace
Updated: Feb 24
When the first English settlers arrived in America, they faced unimaginable hardships. Amongst the challenges of navigating uncharted territory, the winter was bitterly cold and food was scarce. Records indicate that during the first year, many colonists suffered and died from a lack of vitamin C, also known as scurvy.
Until the Native Americans shared their knowledge of the medicinal and healthful benefits of the Eastern White Pine (Pinus Strobus); the colonists utilized the tree for practical, rather than medicinal purposes. The average height of an Eastern White Pine, also referred to as Northern White Pine, reaches 150 feet and is known to exceed 200 feet.
This amazing tree grows straight, is relatively light, sturdy, and basically free from rot, therefore the early colonists initially focused on the timber for building materials, primarily used for ship building, particularly masts for sailing ships.
England essentially depleted their forests by the 17th Century. In order to meet their demand for superior ship building they relied on the importation of white pines from the Colonies, hence the name “Kingswood,” which is common in many regions throughout New Hampshire. However, the Kings Wood was off limits to the colonists.
Agents of the crown actually branded the high quality pines as property of the British Royal Navy, regardless of where they were grown. This led to an event in 1772 in Weare, NH known as The Pine Tree Riot, one of the first acts of rebellion against the laws of England. The colonists illegally cut down white pine trees reserved for the British Royal Navy.
According to the town’s 1888 history, “The only reason why the ‘Rebellion’ at Portsmouth and the ‘Boston Tea Party’ are better known than our Pine Tree Riot, is because they have had better historians” (1). It is fair to compare the value of the white pine in the colonial era to the oil industry of today. It was a significant commodity that was in high demand, greed driven, and thoughtlessly harvested without considering the long term effects on the environment. The fallout from deforestation and disease are still a serious concern.
Wood was not the only useful component of this tree. Turpentine, tar and pitch for seam work, varnishing and sealing, were extracted and are widely used today.
Healing It is generally accepted that the word Adirondack is derived from the Mohawk Indian word
atirú:taks, literally meaning “tree eaters” (2).
In an effort to aid the suffering colonists, the Native Americans taught them about the numerous healing properties of white pine.
☼ The inner bark is used for treating flesh wounds, insect bites and impurities of the skin. It can be applied directly to the affected area as a bandage. Keep the bark moist and tie with a simple string covering the wound.
☼ The bark can also be used as cough syrup and to alleviate the pain of a sore throat by steeping the bark in a jar of hot water, honey and brandy for flavoring and preserving.
☼ Pine tea is a favorite, offering a rich source of vitamins C, A, and antioxidants.
½ cup of pine needles
1.5 pints of water
Bring water to boil
Add the pine needles; reduce heat to a simmer for 20 minutes to overnight. Over boiling will weaken the effectiveness of the vitamins.
Strain needles and drink warm or cold (you might prefer unbleached tea bags).
The tea should be reddish in color with a trace of oil floating on the surface
Adding honey, cloves or pure maple syrup to taste is an option, although pine offers a distinctive sweet flavor of its own.
Use your imagination.
☼ Preventative Measures. This delightful tea is also helpful during the winter months for colds, congestion and flu relief. If consumed before contracting an illness, it may help to strengthen your immune system.
☼ If you simply want a quick blast of vitamin C, you can chew on the pungent, sweet needles while hiking your favorite trail or within a sacred white pine grove.
☼ There are several products on the market that contain pine tar salve, which is commonly used for splinter removal, burns, insect bites, blisters, boils and animal wounds.
Caution: Pregnant women or women planning to get pregnant should not ingest white pine in any form. Educate yourself about all possible side effects. As always, it is recommended that you consult with your physician or qualified health practitioner regarding any and all medications or healing alternatives.
After the holidays, the traditional Christmas tree (white pine) is recycled. A few examples:
Kentucky wildlife officials place the trees in lakes to create new habitat for fish, while in Alabama, the trees are used to create dunes on the beaches to prevent erosion.
The most common use for retired Christmas trees in many towns and cities is to chop them into mulch with the intent to keep them out of landfills.
Naturally, it is crucial to completely strip the trees of any and all traces of decorations, which pose a potential threat to the environment.
If you are considering the possibilities of this remarkable tree, correct identification is imperative as there are various conifers which are poisonous. If you aren’t certain, you should go into the woods with an experienced wildcrafter or plant specialist to guarantee proper classification.
Like all members of the white pine group, […] the ‘needles’ are in bundles of five (rarely 3 or 4), with a deciduous sheath. They are flexible, bluish-green, finely serrated, and 5-13 centimeters (2–5 in) long, and persist for usually about 18 months (2).
East Meets West
Eastern White Pine is found across southern Canada from Newfoundland, Anticosti Island, and Gaspé peninsula of Quebec; west to central and western Ontario and extreme southeastern Manitoba; south to southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa; east to northern Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; and south mostly in the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia and northwestern South Carolina. It is also found in western Kentucky, western Tennessee, and Delaware. A variety grows in the mountains of southern Mexico and Guatemala (3).
Western White Pine (Pinus Monticola) is related to Eastern and Northern White Pine, with larger cones, slightly longer seasons and a somewhat denser and narrower terrain.
“Western White Pine is the key to a uniquely valuable, productive, and stable forest type that was once prominent in the Interior Northwest; in northern Idaho and contiguous portions of Washington, Montana, and British Columbia” (4).
Like many other species and fragile ecosystems that provide habitat and a food source for numerous creatures, the white pine in all of North America is threatened from over-harvesting, disease and exposure to environmental toxins.
Works Cited 1. Little, William. History of Weare, New Hampshire 1737 – 1888. Lowell, MA: S.W. Huse & Co, 1888.
2. Sulavik, Stephen. Adirondack of Indians and Mountains, 1585 – 1838. 2005. <http://www.catskill.net/purple/sulavik.htm>.
3. “Pinus Strobus.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pinus_strobus&oldid=526934853>.
4. Wendel, G.W. and Smith H. Clay, Pinus Strobus L. US Forest Service Manual Vol. 1. 2012. <http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/Volume_1/pinus/strobus.htm>.
5. Harvey, Alan E., et al. Death of an Ecosystem: Perspectives on Western White Pine Ecosystems at the End of the Twentieth Century. Fort Collins, CO: US Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 2008.