PINE (Pinus sylvestris – Coniftrae)

Pine belongs to a genus of more than 100 species of evergreen, conif¬erous trees. The Scots pine or Pinus sylvestris is the most widespread, being native to western and northern Europe and Russia. It grows in North America as well. It is said to be the sole north European pine to have survived the Ice Ages – it can be exposed to temperatures as low as – 40°C (- 40°F). It was once very common in Scotland, but early man was responsible for the destruction of many trees; later the tall straight trunks were the favourite source of masts for sailing ships, as the trees can grow to 36 m (120 ft) in height. The needles are short and spiky, there are both male and female flowers, and cones form and mature in about two years.

Pine kernel or nut husks have been found beside Roman dwellings excavated in Britain, and it seems they were used then for food as well as medicine. Hippocrates recommended pine for pulmonary problems and throat infections. In his Natural History, Pliny described the therapeutic properties of pine in great detail, stressing its use in all problems of the respiratory system.

More recently, Dr Leclerc agreed about its efficacy for the respiratory system, but added that it should be used as soon as the first signs of infection appear, in cases of ‘flu, bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma; he also considered it effective for all illnesses of the urinary system such as cystitis, and for leucorrhoea. Marguerite Maury considered it good for rheumatic conditions such as gout, and an effective diuretic as well as a treatment for pulmonary infections.


Description: Oil can be obtained from many pines, but for therapeutic value, the best is that distilled from the needles of Pinus sylvestris. Sometimes the distillation involves the cones and young twigs and branches as well. Pine oil from Siberia and Finland is the most appreciated.

The oil itself is colourless or a very pale yellow, and has a very strong aroma, a little camphory and quite balsamic.

The principal constituents: Bornyl acetate, approximately 30 – 40 per cent, which is what differentiates it from turpentine; others are the terpenes cadinene, dipentene and phellandrene, pinene and sylvestrene.

Dangers: It can often be adulterated or falsified with turpentine, so beware when buying, or use an infusion of pine needles (see below)


In illness
Pine is very efficient for pulmonary problems and as a sudorific. Thus it is particularly good for treating ‘flu and other virus infections.

When the first signs of a virus infection appear, mix together 50 ml (2 fl oz) soya and 5 drops of wheatgerm with 10 drops pine, 5 drops eucalyptus and 4 drops each of niaouli and myrtle. Rub vigorously on the chest and back until you have a real heat going, then wear something very warm to keep that heat in as long as possible.

You could also make a poultice of crushed linseed for back and chest, adding the oils as above, but omitting the soya and wheatgerm. Apply very hot, cover with a towel to keep the heat in, and leave for 10 minutes. Then rub in the oil above on chest and back and keep warm as instructed.

I always advise an infusion of pine needles for infections as well. Infuse a pinch each of pine needles and eucalyptus in 600 ml (1 pint) boiling water for 7 minutes. Drink strained and hot, adding honey to taste.

This infusion is also very good for cystitis and other urinary problems, but double the quantity of pine needles. About 5 drops pine oil in the bath also helps, as does a massage on the lower part of the spine and tummy. Mix together 20 ml (4 tsp) soya oil, 2 drops wheatgerm, 12 drops Siberian pine and 5 drops cypress. Other oils which work well with pine for cystitis are eucalyptus and niaouli.

(See also arthritis, backache, bronchitis, catarrh, chest infections, colds, colic, coughing, frostbite, lumbago, muscular pains, pneu¬monia, pre-menstrual tension and stiffness.)

Other uses
The pine nut or kernel which is eaten comes from the P. pinea. Pine cones can be used for yellowish dyes, or as aromatic fire kindling (the dried needles are good too). Pine needle pillows can be made to help breathing problems such as catarrh. The oil is used in many soaps, bath preparations, disinfectants and detergents.

I have heard from a Swiss friend that mattresses filled with pine needles are used for rheumatic conditions in certain parts of the Swiss Alps.

A to Z of Plants