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Herbs and trees offer us many health benefits. But, what about the months when everything turns brown and withers? The trees that never turn brown–pine, spruce, fur, juniper–offer us exactly what we need. In this article, we will discover how to make a nutritious, healthy pine needle tea.
How to identify a pine tree
Before we can make pine needle tea, we must first accurately identify a pine tree. Take a look at these photos of spruce, juniper, fir, and pine trees and notice the differences in the leaves. Juniper leaves spread fan-like intricate patterns from their bushy branches and offer bluish berries in late summer. Blue Spruce and Pine have similar, needle-like leaves, but Spruce leaves are shorter, closer together, and bluish. Fir trees follow a similar circular leave pattern, but the fat “needles” come to a short, blunt tip. If you are unsure, consult a field guide to help you.
These trees generally grow in the temperate northern regions and mountainous areas of the world. They are prolific in Europe and North America and parts of Asia.
All of these trees are evergreen. That means their leaves don’t fall off in winter and they continue to perform photosynthesis all year round. There are several reasons why this is possible. First, their leaves are covered with a thick, waxy cuticle instead of the usual thin one you see on other trees and plants. You also notice how tiny their leaves are. With tiny leaves, they retain more water and better resist temperature changes. Lastly, these trees have thick, resinous, sap. This, too, allows them to survive cold temperatures and hold on to moisture.
Which species of pine?
First, make sure that what you are looking at really is a pine tree and not a look alike. As mentioned above, proper identification is essential. This source cites Eastern White Pine as the superior species and even mentions Balsam Fir needles as possibly more beneficial.
Benefits of pine needle tea
We obviously make pine needle tea from the fresh pine needles (not the dead, dry ones that fall to the ground). But, should we use young needles or older ones? According to a study done by the U.S. Forest Service, the best time to harvest pine needles is when they are at least one year old. Pine needles contain high amounts of vitamin C, just the thing during the winter cold and flu season. However, older pine needles might not taste so good, yielding a more bitter pine flavor.
According to this study, the Chinese have used pine needles for centuries for its anti-tumor, anti-oxidant, and anti-mutagenic effects on tumor cells. And, pine needles contain flavanoids that protect the heart and boost the immune system. In addition, pine essential oil is a powerful antimicrobial.
How to make pine needle tea
Remember not to boil the needles! Boiling will destroy the vitamin C content and make the tea more bitter.
To make one 6 ounce cup, use 2 Tablespoons of fresh, slightly crushed pine needles and 6 ounces of boiling water. Get the water boiling first, then add the needles and turn down the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes, carefully monitoring the heat and water level. Then, remove the mixture from the heat and pour into a mug. You can either remove the needles or let them steep a bit longer, whatever is to your taste. But, if you choose to let them continue to steep, cover the mug. Add honey or other additions and enjoy!
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