PINE & Pine Oil

Conifers are favorite trees, and their essential oils and plant parts perform in many formulas, therapeutics, and blends — they are widely grown and healing to mind and body. There are many species called Pine; over 100. We will cover about half a dozen.

By Jeanne Rose ~ October 2021

Showing a branch of Pinus patula with its very long leaf clusters.
Pinus patula – photo by JeanneRose in SF Golden Gate Park – 2008

INTRODUCTION ~ Conifers are favorite trees, and their essential oils and plant parts perform in many formulas, therapeutics, and blends — they are widely grown and healing to mind and body. There are many species of one of the evergreen coniferous trees that is called Pine; over 100. In this article, we will cover about half a dozen. Sorry if this article is longer than usual, I just couldn’t stop writing about these favorite trees.

COMMON NAME/LATIN BINOMIAL ~ Pine trees, Pinus spp., belong to the Family Pinaceae. This family also includes Firs, Spruce, Cedars, Hemlocks, and Larch trees.  The common name, Pine, has been used for several types of trees that are very unlike a true Pine. We are only discussing the resinous, evergreen conifers called Pinus spp.

Family: Pinaceae (resinous trees or shrubs, cone scales numerous and woody or thin)
Genera include:
Abies (Firs or Balsam Trees)
Cedrus (True Cedars)

Larix (Larch or True Tamaracks)
Picea (Spruce)

Pinus (Pine)
Pseudotsuga (False Hemlock)
Tsuga (Hemlock-Spruce)

PINE COUNTRIES OF ORIGINS ~ There are over 100 species of Pine, and they grow worldwide but generally in the Northern hemisphere. There are small pine trees such as the Siberian dwarf pine and very large pine trees such as the Ponderosa pine growing in the Siskiyou Forest of Oregon. There are the longest-lived trees called the Great Basin Bristlecone Pines that live in the White Mountains of California, Pinus longaeva. ‘Methuselah’ is one specimen that is 4600 hundred years old.

ENDANGERED OR NOT: Of the 100 species of Pine, there are some endangered species such as the endangered Torrey Pine, Pinus torreyana, and the Iberian Pine. “Forests worldwide are experiencing die-offs on an unprecedented scale because of fire and acid rain.” So, before you harvest anything from the wild, please check to see if the tree is endangered or not.

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GENERAL PROPERTIES OF PINE, Pine OIL & NEEDLES

I cannot tell you everything that you can do with Pine needles, pine bark, Pine resin or Pine essential oil,

 I can only hint at the subject matter and give you a few of my favorite uses.

Showing a type of Pine leaf cluster
2-bunch leaf cluster

PHYSICAL USES ~ I love taking baths in the infusion Pine and conifer needles, and maybe with a small branch of pine as well. I enjoy distilling the needles for the hydrosol, I like to use the needles as a tea for the vitamin C content; I like the resin to burn for my mental and physical well-being as well as to make a wound-healing salve.  If you can, pick the freshly exuded resin after the sun has warmed it up for a few hours. The scent changes and becomes more floral and fruity-smelling and is sometimes described as smelling like caramel.

APPLICATION AND SKINCARE ~ If you have read my books, you already know that I strongly believe in the power of water and the power of bathing where every part of your part can be sequentially submerged fully in water. Water is life!  Hydrotherapy is the use of water in the treatment of disease. Hydrothermal therapy additionally uses its temperature effects, whether hot or cold, as in hot baths, saunas, wraps, masks, packs, hand soaks, foot soaks, etc. All creatures great and small go into water or SPAs to be restored. The importance of herbs, essential oils and hydrosols is not that they occur in products or product making or in the SPA, but the foundation of this work; water, herbalism, and essential oil therapy, is to revive and restore one’s personal nature and well-being.  Our/your key water words

Detoxify

Purify

Rebuild

Recreate what happens in the womb via pure water/hydrosols/herb or mineral water baths

Rejuvenate

Relax

Restore

Revive

            Please take an herbal bath, add Pine boughs or Pine needles; the scent will restore you and herbal power will improve your skin.

INHALATION ~ Inhale the scent of Pine in steam or use the essential oil of Pine to restore and heal your respiratory system.

DIFFUSION/Burning as Incense ~ Add Rosemary herb to some Pine needles, make tea, and the tea brings with it clarity and mental clearness. These two together or separately simmered gently on the lowest heat of the stove adds crisp forest odor to the air and will fragrance your home. A good simple or combination for the Holidays.

If you have any kind of resin or pine resin in the house, start a small piece of charcoal burning, and place a gob of resin on it.  It will fume and the smoke and odor can be used to waft about your person or home as a spiritual ritual of cleansing and/or to promote knowledge, healing, and wisdom. This is called smudging. This is a ritual way to cleanse a space and purify the environment of negative energy.

Resin chunks of Ponderosa Pine taken 10-15-16
Ponderosa Pine gum for Incense (10/15/16)

EMOTIONAL USE ~ There is great power in the scent of the conifers, particularly live while walking in the forest, it is uplifting and healing to the emotional psyche.  The scent of sun-heated resin wafting through the air is a particular delight and should be experienced at least once in a lifetime.2

CULINARY OR INGESTION ~ Pine honey is a particular type of honey that the honeybees produce, not based on nectar or pollen, as is the case for other types of honey, but by using the honeydew excreted by an insect, an aphid named Marchalina hellenica, which lives by sucking on the sap of certain pine species and leaves the honeydew on the trunks of these trees. Pine honey is produced in western (mainly southwestern) Turkey, in several Greek islands, and in New Zealand.

The pine species on which Marchalina hellenica can be found are the Turkish Pine (Pinus brutia) and, to a smaller extent, Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis), Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), and Stone Pine (Pinus pinea). The insects hide in the cracks and under the scales of the bark of these trees, beneath a white cotton-like wax they secrete.

GENERAL HERBAL USES OF PINE NEEDLES AND RESIN ~  
          Pine needles can be used as tea.  They are loaded with vitamin C, even more than Lemons, and they also contain some vitamin A. This tea will help your circulatory system, heart, veins, and blood, help you to relax and help with fatigue. It is an immune system booster.  Pine needle tea tastes and smells good and is used as an expectorant to relieve a cough and chest congestion.  Adding honey to the tea makes a good gargle for sore throat.  [How to make: take a small bunch of needles, that which you can hold between thumb and forefinger, place in a large cup, add boiling water, steep 5 minutes or more, take out the needles, add (Pine) honey, and drink.]

         Bathing in a bath of Pine needles, other conifer needles, Rosemary, and Lavender; all or separately is a delightful way to treat soreness of the skin, exhaustion, or to just have a lovely bath. [How to make: 3 cups or 4 oz. of herb steeped in 2 quarts of boiled or boiling water for 20 minutes, strain the liquid into the tub, and soak away your pain.] 

KEY USE ~ Oil of Respiration

a bottle of Pine oil from PrimaFleur.com showing the colorless and clear non-viscous essential oil.
Pinus sylvestris oil by PrimaFleur

GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF SOME PINES WITH PLANT HABITAT AND GROWTH

GROUP I. PINUS (PINES) Trees of the Genus Pinus have leaves that are persistent and of two kinds, the primary ones are linear or scale-like, and deciduous.  The secondary ones form the ordinary foliage and are narrowly linear, arising from the axils of the primary leaves in bunches of 1-5 leaf clusters enclosed at the base in a membranous sheath. These needles can be as long as 18 inches and narrow as well.

2-needle cluster of pine leaf

Mainly the trees that are harvested for the essential oil called Pine oil are Pinus mugo (Dwarf Pine), Pinus palustris (Long Leaf Pine) and Pinus sylvestris (Scotch Pine).

Pinus edulis, Piñon or Colorado Pinon Pine. Very interesting and historic tree whose needles and gum are steam- or hydro-distilled. Yield is about .05 to .1%.  It is a small to medium sized tree with a furrowed and scaly bark and whose needles come in pairs. The cones are green then ripen to yellow. The edible seeds are from many types of Pinyon Pine. There are many species used by Native Americans depending on the area of growth. The tree was described (about 1848). Pinon Pine is a historic tree of the Native Americans as it was a staple food, the resin was used in ritual, and the pinyon jay ate the nuts, and this was important in the dispersal of seeds and regeneration of the tree.

Pinus jeffreyi, Jeffrey Pine mainly found in California and was named to honor John Jeffrey, a Scottish botanist and plant-hunter who was active in California. He disappeared in the Colorado desert in 1854. Jeffrey Pine scent of leaves and resin is very pleasant and has been described as lemon, Vanilla, and fruits. Pinus jeffreyi wood is like ponderosa pine wood and is used for the same purposes. The resin distilled is of exceptional purity of n-heptane (a solvent) and led it being selected as the zero point on the octane rating scale of gasoline; but this resin is considered a poor source of turpentine.

“Before Pinus jeffreyi was distinguished from ponderosa pine as a distinct species in 1853, resin distillers operating in its range suffered a number of “inexplicable” explosions during distillation, now known to have been caused by the unwitting use of Jeffrey pine resin.” 1

            Jeffrey Pine needles can be used in tea, the resin when warmed in the sun is extraordinarily fragrant and can be collected and used as incense resin and the seeds eaten. (Do Not Distill),

Jeffrey Pine photo in Golden gate Park
Jeffrey Pine

Pinus longaeva, Bristlecone Pine lives in the Great Basin of California and are the oldest species on the planet.  They are fiercely protected, rather hard to get to, and gorgeous to behold. This is an artist rendition that I have of them by Claus Sievert and the entire print includes the tallest tree (Coast Redwood) as well as the biggest tree (Sequoia big trees).

Art by Claus Sievert of the Bristlecone Pine Tree.
The Bristlecone Pine Three Superlatives by Claus Sievert

•Pinus mugo, Mountain Pine, and Dwarf Pine Needle is harvested in the Swiss Alps. It is sturdy and shrub-like and is protected by the Swiss government and is harvested according to very particular rules and only at certain elevations. This oil has a particularly pungent odor reminiscent of both bark and needle oil. Entire branches including the needles are finely chopped up and thrown into the still for this essential oil. This combination of bark and needle makes up oil that is both airy and grounding. Components of Dwarf Pine Needle include l-a Pinene, b-Pinene, l-Limonene and Sesquiterpenes, Pumiliol, etc.

Pinus mugo branch tip
Pinus mugo

              In Europe, this plant is used for diseases of the skin and scalp and particularly at healing spas where it is inhaled for ailments of the respiratory organs, including pleurisy and tuberculosis. This is a powerful adjunct in therapies for all sorts of ear, nose, throat, and lung disorders. Pinus mugo is used as an aromatic stimulant, antiseptic, expectorant, and it can relieve bronchial and nasal congestion by inhalation of the needle infusion or the essential oil;  the tea has been used to treat upper respiratory tract infections, chronic bronchitis; bathing in the infusion treats rheumatism, muscle stiffness by improving blood flow.

 •Pinus palustris, Long Leaf Pine, Turpentine (See also Terebinth) is a tall, evergreen, up to 150 feet with attractive, reddish-brown, deeply fissured bark with long, stiff needles that grow in pairs. Is used mainly for the distillation of American gum spirits of Turpentine. This is a tall, evergreen tree native to the Southeast United States. The main component is Terpineol. It has been considered a powerful antiseptic spray and disinfectant, especially in veterinary medicine.  It has mainly external use in blends as a massage for arthritis, muscular aches and pains, and stiffness, and in the past, natural Turpentine was often inhaled for asthma and bronchitis.  This has been much used in the commercial industry to manufacture paint but has now been largely replaced by synthetic Pine oil (synth. Turpentine).

photo of Pinus palustris
Pinus palustris

 •Pinus pinaster the Maritime Pine contains Mono- and Sesquiterpenes. It is a powerful antiseptic used to disinfect the air locally. Good for chronic bronchitis, chronic cystitis, and anti-inflammatory for the lungs. Can be used externally in massage blends for rheumatism or aching joints. A particular chemotype of Pinus pinaster contains large quantities of terebenthine which is composed of 62% a-pinene and 27% b-Pinene. This oleoresin is used as a powerful expectorant, antiseptic, and to oxygenate the air. It is indicated for infections of the respiratory system. The EO or needle is used in hot water for steam inhaling treatments. Mainly used as an aerosol treatment but with possible allergies if used externally.

Pinus pinaster in Golden Gate Park
Pinus pinaster in Golden Gate Park

Scots Pine or Pinus sylvestris.

•Pinus sylvestris, Scotch Pine, Norway Pine is a tall, evergreen, up to 150 feet with attractive, reddish-brown, deeply fissured bark with long, stiff needles that grow in pairs. The essential oil is produced mainly in the Baltic states. The components are greatly influenced by geographical origin and consist mainly of Monoterpenes, Pinene, some Limonene.  Pinus sylvestris is considered to have hormone-like, cortisone-like qualities. It is indicated for convalescence, inhaled for bronchitis, sinusitis, and asthma. and is used to tone the respiratory system, balance the hypothalamic/pancreas axis as well as the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal). It is a hypertensive, tonic stimulant.

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PORTION OF PLANT USED IN DISTILLATION, HOW DISTILLED, EXTRACTION METHODS, AND YIELDS ~ It is the needles and sometimes the resin that is hydro-distilled. The yield can be quite good.

•• Please read the caution with Pinus jeffreyi.••

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Pine oil showing color and clarity against a white background.
Several Pine Oils

ORGANOLEPTIC PINE OIL CHARACTERISTICS ~ Pine oil from most species when distilled is clear, colorless, non-viscous, and with a powerful and oftentimes medicinal turpentine odor that is green, vegetative, and herbaceous. There are some species with a fruity back note.

downward arrow to the organoleptic chart of Pine oil
The basic 7 - Vocabulary of Odor copyrighted chart for two Pine oils. by JeanneRose
Basic 7 Vocabulary of Odor chart for two Pine oils

BLENDING FOR PURPOSE ~ I particularly enjoy blending various conifer needle essential oils together. I use the blend in a diffusor to scent my home, or I use it in an inhaler to cleanse my sinus, or I use the blend in certain body-care lotions for smoothing and healing.

HYDROSOL ~ Hydrosol Use of Pine: Most hydrosols have not yet been tested as to what components they do or do not contain. Contrary to what several well-known aromatherapy experts say, hydrosols do not contain the same components as their essential oils but in less quantity. In the case of Pinyon Pine, the EO contains mainly alpha and beta-pinene while the hydrosol contains alpha-terpineol, terpinene-4-ol, and borneol.  Using hydrosols is easy: baths, compresses, facial sprays, wound cleansers, etc.

            Spray hydrosols to refresh the air as the small airborne molecules disperse readily, particularly in cars or airplanes (don’t use too much), rinse to disinfect your hands, a slight spray on clothes after removing from the dryer creates a nice refreshing change, use in fingerbowls with a few pine needles after your formal dinner, use in small amounts in creams and lotions to add pine therapy to the product.

            PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.

INTERESTING AND HISTORICAL INFORMATION ABOUT TURPENTINE ~ There is plenty of very interesting information about natural turpentine online.  Here is one source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemical-engineering/turpentine.

References:

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_jeffreyi

2https://www.npr.org/2009/08/17/111803772/ponderosa-pines-rugged-trees-with-a-sweet-smell

Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.

Rose, Jeanne.  375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols.  Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999

Rose, Jeanne.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations.  San Francisco, California:

Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1992

Precautions for all essetial oils.
Precautions for all essential oils

DISCLAIMER:  This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor.  The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©

The biggest Pine tree in California before it crashed to the ground some years back.

2 thoughts on “PINE & Pine Oil

  1. Another excellent article! It’s early morning and I have just come inside from a walk through the mixed hardwood and conifer woods by our home. We have mainly Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus), which has needles in bundles of 5. It’s the first “big herb” I taught our children about and I have many fond memories of making all sorts of things, like tea and candied Pine needles (boiled in Maple syrup we had made by tapping a few of our Maple trees). One of my daughters chose a specific Pine in the wood as a very young child as “her” tree and private sit spot. Last year, when our German Shepherd was a puppy and prone to stomach upset, she would go to the wood when she felt off and chew Pine needles, promptly throw up and then was right as rain. If she could not find fresh green ones within reach she would leap up in the air to show me what she wanted and I would bend a branch down within reach. It has been almost a year since she has done this but I marvel at her wise instinct and the excellent digestion she has developed as she matured. I have plenty of resin and needles on hand and so I will plan a special bath to end this day later. I even have some fresh Rosemary, which will soon be lost to the cold so I may use that along with Pine. What a beautiful plant! Thank you for expanding my appreciation with your knowledge.

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