These needles are not difficult to find in any haystack.
Around this Island, you can easily find pine needles under, over and around you almost anywhere. They cover the ground in our woods, litter our trails and roadsides, and are plentiful everywhere the mighty pine tree is found.
The abundance of pine needles has me intrigued. I have often thought there must be something interesting to be done with these abundant green bundles.
And there is!
Tea for two or twenty can be tried with the green needles of the white pine tree. This tree has needles in bundles of five, unlike pitch pine needle bunches, which are in threes. Collect, cut up and boil needles in hot water for a medicinal mug of tasteful tea.
Lots of folks swear by pine needle tea. Tom Brown Jr., outdoorsman and author of the Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants, enthuses, “What I drank was an absolutely delicious cup of tea. It was like none I had ever tasted before. Its wild but mild taste seemed to bind us to the forest and to the tree itself.”
In the book Voyages to Canada, explorer Jacques Cartier credited an herbal tea made from the needles and bark of a Canadian pine tree with saving the lives of his crew when they were stranded by ice on the St. Lawrence River. “Of his 110-man crew, 25 were dead, 50 were seriously ill and the remainder of the crew was too weak to even bury the dead. All looked lost until they were rescued by friendly Quebec Indians who were experts on the medicinal properties of the local plants. The Indians told the Frenchmen how to brew a tea from the bark and needles of pine trees growing in the area. They tried the tea on two of the sickest crew members; they improved so quickly that Cartier gave the tea to all the surviving members of his crew. All the crew members recovered from the dreaded scurvy due to this tea.”
It is not surprising that pine needle tea did the trick, since it is known to have more vitamin C than a lemon, and vitamin A to boot!
Some prefer not to drink their pine needles, but to sleep on them. Native Americans filled their bedding with pine needles to repel fleas and lice. And the comfort of needles was still appreciated in recent times by Helen Keller, who believed that “a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”
Plants, too, derive great benefits from a bed made of pine needles. The plentiful needles can be composted or used for mulch. Pine needle mulch helps soil retain moisture and resist erosion.
Needle mulch creates nitrogen during decomposition, and enriches soil for acid-loving plants. Azaleas, rhododendrons, roses, mums, holly, tomatoes, garlic, onions, blueberries, herbs, raspberries and cranberries are all thought to enjoy a cozy covering of pine needles.
Now you know, there are riches in your yard beneath your feet. Or, as American poet Denise Levertov observed, “You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night.”
Take to heart Denise’s appreciation of this tree and don’t pitch the pine.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.