Scots Pine

Despite its common name, writes Peter Wyse Jackson, Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is not only found in its native Scotland but across northern Europe and as far as Siberia and Asia. It is also naturalised in North America, Canada and New Zealand.

In Ireland, where pine populations have waxed and waned, the tree was known as one of the Seven Nobles of the wood. It yielded a valuable resin and pitch used by early inhabitants of Ireland for weatherproofing boats and preserving wood.

The number seven seems to have a special significance for the tree, for it was observed in groups of pines called Seven Sisters that the seventh tree always died no matter how often it was replanted. Let’s hope its wood went to good use in boat-building. 

Even in Scotland, the Scots Pine is not as widespread as it once was, writes Gabrielle Hatfield, and only remnants of its natural pine forests remain in the Highlands.

While the tree is still valued for its fine-grained wood, cones, and refreshing resins and oils, Hatfield reminds us that even walking through a pine forest is “undoubtedly good for the soul”.

The pine was worshipped in the same way as many other types of trees by different cultures, including the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans and Germanic peoples, and linked to the wider folklore of firs and conifers.

Scientific Name

Pinus sylvestris

Family

Pinaceae.

Botanical Description

This tall tree has a straight, cylindrical unbranched trunk with a conical crown. Pines grow up to 118 ft. The needles are arranged in bunches of twisted pairs along the twigs. The leaves, or needles, are grey-green or blue-green. The flowers are orange and scented, and the female flowers develop into green cones.

Status

Evergreen. Native.

Habitat and Distribution

Populates mountain regions, woods and forests.

Parts Used for Food

Seeds, young shoots, flowers (male), bark.

Harvest Time

Throughout the year.

Food Uses of Scots Pine

In many Mediterranean countries, pine has long been considered an edible tree. Its young shoots and male flowers were eaten as vegetables, and the seeds were eaten raw or as a condiment.

In eastern Europe, the young shoots and soft inner bark were harvested to grind into ‘famine bread’ during times of scarcity.

Pine nuts are a traditional ingredient in pesto sauce. These versatile seeds can be eaten raw as a snack or added to many sweet and savoury dishes.

Try adding pine nuts to soups and stews, roasting with vegetables or meat dishes, or baking in puddings, pastries and cakes.

Pine needles can be infused in olive oil to make an aromatic drizzling oil for meat dishes.

Young pine needles have a lemony flavour and can be chopped and added to dishes as a seasoning.

An invigorating tea can be brewed from pine needles and sweetened with honey.

Scots Pine Recipes

Nutritional Profile of Scots Pine

All pine nuts are nutritious, although the nutrient content varies according to species. On average, the kernels contain 40–60% unsaturated fat and 12–30% protein.

Pine pollen, gathered from the cones, is rich in oils and protein. It was once cooked and eaten by the early inhabitants of Ireland.

Herbal Medicine Uses of Scots Pine

Is it all that surprising that pine is a remedy for breathing, given the fresh mountain air in which it grows?

Since classical times, pine has been a cure for cleansing the lungs and easing respiratory ailments. In the past, the young shoots were also used as cough medicine.

The smell of pine is still recommended today to relieve colds, coughs, and lung complaints or infections. The tree was often planted around chest hospitals thanks to its reputation for bringing a breath of fresh air.

A pillow filled with pine needles would ease chestiness and bring a good night’s sleep.

Other Uses of Scots Pine

There are other uses for pine wood other than making furniture. In pastimes, pine was used for brewing beer and ale. For example, Pine chips helped stop the ale from turning sour.

The essential oil of pine has also been used as a flavouring ingredient in soft and alcoholic drinks and added to frozen dairy foods and baked goods.

A vanilla-type fragrance may be obtained as a byproduct of resins from the pulpwood.

Safety Note

The essential oil of pine may irritate mucous membranes and skin, increasing spasms in people who suffer from bronchial asthma or children with whooping cough.

Pine may also affect blood sugar levels and may not be suitable for diabetics.

Pine safety has not been established in pregnancy or breastfeeding and may be best avoided at these times.

References

Allen, D. E. & Hatfield, G. (2004) Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: An Ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland. Portland: Timber Press.

Baker, M. (2008) Discovering the Folklore of Plants. Oxford: Shire Publications.

Karalliedde, L. et al. (2008) Traditional Herbal Medicines: A Guide to Their Safer Use. London: Hammersmith.

Lim, T. K. (2012) Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants: Volume 1: Fruits. Dordrecht: Springer.

Mabey, R. & Blamey, M. (1974) Food for Free. London: Collins.

Sõukand, R. & Kalle, R. (2016) Changes in the Use of Wild Food Plants in Estonia: 18th-21st Century. SpringerBriefs in Plant Science. 1st ed. 2016. [Online]. Cham: Springer.

Vaughan, J. G. et al. (2009) The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vickery, R. (1997) A Dictionary of Plant-Lore. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Watts, D. (2007) Dictionary of Plant Lore. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Wyse Jackson, P. (2013) Ireland’s Generous Nature: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.

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