How to Eat a Pine Tree
This post is a follow-up to the The Fantastic Four – 4 Essential Wild Edible Plants that May Just Save Your Life article. In it I demonstrate how to process and eat one of the core four essential survival plants: Pine.
When you look at your average pine tree, rarely does one think that it has the ability to sustain you in a survival situation if the need ever arose. It’s sharp needles and gnarly bark give off the impression that it’s a less-than-friendly flora. On the contrary, pine provides some of the most readily available food sources in nature.
All pines contain edible seeds in the late season cones. The only issue is the quality and size of those seeds are highly dependent upon the species of pine.
As someone who lives in the Northeast, species of pine available here do not offer up seeds big enough to warrant the effort required in gathering and processing them. However, if you live in the Great Basin areas where Pinyon pine grows, you have an excellent source of food in the fall time.
Gathering and Processing Pine Nuts
The best time to gather pine nuts is in September and October. Look for the round open cones. Simply gather the cones, remove the seeds and shell before eating raw or roasting.
Pine Needle Tea
The needles of all pine make an excellent mild tea (not at all pitchy tasting as you’d expect) that is loaded with Vitamin C.
To make the tea, simply gather a good handful of fresh green pine needles. With a knife or sharp stone, dice the needles as fine as possible. Next, take these needles and put them directly into a cup of boiling water, letting it boil for a minute or two. The water should turn a light yellow color. Add some honey, drink and enjoy!
Male Pine Cone Flour
In the spring time, the pollen from the small male pine cones (as pictured below) can easily be shaken from the cone into a container and used as a stew thickener, or flour substitute that is a great source of protein.
Edible Pine Bark
You can eat bark? Absolutely! When first learning about wild edibles this comes as the biggest surprise to most people. But when I make it for them at home they’re actually amazed at how good it actually tastes.
Keep this in mind. When you cut off the bark of any tree be sure never to completely girdle the tree or you will kill it. The best option is to cut a small strip at most 1/10th the circumference of the tree. This will allow the tree to easily heal itself. Pine should be plentiful, so a small strip from each tree is more than sufficient to make a survival meal.
Choosing your tree
The first thing you’ll want to do is to choose a large, mature pine tree since it provides the most inner bark without harming the tree. If you have white pine in your area, consider yourself lucky since it’s one of the biggest and tastiest of all the pines.
Collecting out inner bark
With a heavy duty knife, drive the tip of the knife through the outer bark with a strong stick (this is where a good survival knife comes in handy).
Then begin to pound the back of the blade with a strong stick to drive the edge of the knife down the bark. Continue doing this until you’ve made a decent size rectangle.
Peel away the outer bark making sure to peel off the tender cambium layer (the inner bark) that comes with it.
Continue peeling the larger sections of the inner bark.
With a knife or other sharp object, scrape away the remaining inner bark stuck to the tree (this is the most tender and sweetest part of the inner bark).
Cooking the inner bark
There are three ways to eat the inner bark:
- Drying and Pounding into Flour
I’ll be covering the first two.
I find this the least palatable of all the options. Just peel the inner bark collected from the last step into thin pieces and boil them. The end result is a softer, less chewy version of the raw inner bark. Only slightly better than peeling it off the tree and stuffing it in your mouth.
This is by far the best tasting way to prepare pine bark (even my wife likes it :)). Like in the boiling step, peel the the inner bark into thin strips and simply fry them in some butter or oil until medium brown and crispy. Add a little bit of salt and it tastes like potato chips.