This is an easy foraging recipe for the nourishing and vitamin C-packed pine needle tea.
I've been pining for pine.
Awhile back, I was reading a foraging cookbook (as one does), and saw a recipe for pine needle simple syrup.
I apologize to the cookbook author-- I can't remember which book it was in.
I immediately started hunting for pine trees, but at the time, I lived in West Virginia. West Virginia is pine tree deficient.
I couldn't find a single pine tree.
And then, we moved to Kentucky.
Kentucky has tons and tons of pine trees.
There are pine trees everywhere!
And so-- my pine tree experiments began.
Why Drink Pine Needle Tea?
Instead of pine needle syrup, I've been making pine needle tea. Mostly because I've had a cold, and pine needle tea is a delicious way to get some vitamin C.
It also feels amazing on a sore throat.
Learn more about the nutritional value of pine needles here.
Identify the Pine Tree Before Harvesting
The number one rule of foraging is to positively identify the plant. Don't skip this step-- not all types of pine are edible.
We'll talk about one type of pine that you can definitely forage for pine needle tea, and a few more types of pine (and pine look-a-likes that you should avoid.
Use a field guide to help you positively identify the type of tree you're looking at. I recommend the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees.
If you're planning on using a type of pine tree for pine needle tea that we don't discuss, make sure to do some research about the specific type of pine that you want to forage.
Edible Eastern White Pine
For my pine needle tea, I used needles from the Eastern White Pine tree.
The Eastern White Pine has edible needles, and is easy to identify.
Look at how the needles are formed on the tree-- Eastern White Pine trees grow needles in groups of 5.
Keep in mind that needles also fall off the tree, so it's a good idea to check several needle clusters for the grouping pattern.
Inedible Pine Trees to Avoid
Some types of pine have poisonous needles.
Avoid harvesting from the Ponderosa Pine, especially if you're pregnant or might be pregnant.
Learn more about the Ponderosa Pine here.
Avoid harvesting from any type of Yew tree. Yew trees are not actually pine, but they're often confused with pine.
How to Forage Pine Needles
After you've positively identified the type of pine tree, and are sure it's edible-- it's time to forage.
You'll be cutting off green pine needles, not the brown ones that have fallen to the ground.
If some of the needles are a lighter green than others-- use those. They're the freshest growth.
Next, remove the green needles from the woody branch. Trim off any brown, dried off needles.
If you want, cut the needles into smaller pieces.
How to Make Pine Needle Tea
Simply bring water to a boil, and then let the water cool for one minute.
I like to avoid pouring boiling water directly on the needles to preserve all the nutrients and vitamins.
Pour the water over the tea, and then steep covered for about 15 minutes.
You can steep the needles in a covered saucepan, teapot, or make a small batch in a teacup.
Next, strain out the needles. I do this by pouring the tea through a mesh sieve.
Tip: You could also use a tea ball or tea bag, but since the needles can be a little long and unwieldy, I usually just leave them loose.
Want more tea ideas? Check out this guide to herbal teas.
What does Pine Needle Tea Taste Like?
Pine needle tea is an enjoyable if slightly bitter tea.
It reminds me of holy basil tea or nettle tea.
It's also a very mild tea-- to add more flavor, try adding extra herbs (like mint or thyme).
For a stronger tea, you can add also more pine needles than the recipe calls for, and steep it longer.
Pine Needle Tea
- ½ cup (~3 needle clusters) Eastern White Pine needles See Recipe Notes
- 3 cups water
- 2 slices lemon, optional
- 1 teaspoon sugar or honey, optional (use more or less to taste)
Herbal Tea Variations (Choose 1, or use smaller amounts of each):
- 2-3 springs fresh thyme
- 2-3 springs fresh mint
- Remove pine needles from the woody stems. Trim off any brown needles. Rinse needles with cold water. Set needles aside to dry.
- Bring tea water to a boil. Pour into a teapot, saucepan, or a French Press.
- Add needles to the water. Add any additional ingredients (except lemon). Cover pot. Steep about 15 minutes.
- Strain out the needles by pouring tea into glasses through a mesh sieve.
- Serve hot, with lemon if desired. For iced tea: make a larger batch of tea, let the tea cool slightly, and then store in a pitcher or glass jar in the fridge. Use within 2-3 days.
- Ponderosa Pine: May be harmful, especially to pregnant women
- Yew Trees (Pine Look-a-likes): Poisonous
- Any type of pine tree that you have not positively identified