For those of you who’ve been following me a while, you’ll know this blog is all about how I get outside as a way of dealing with stress and depression. You’ll also know I’ve been going on lots of hikes, cycle rides and generally exploring the local woods and countryside where I live.
One of the things I’ve planned for 2020 is adding foraging and outdoor cooking to these trips. This is because it adds a whole new dimension to the outdoor experience. I want to be able to go on a day hike and gather wild edibles as I go, then cook them up when we stop for a break.
While researching the wild edibles available to us in the UK I came across pine needle tea. Although I’m planning on going on some proper foraging courses next year I wanted to try this one now as I’m confident I can identify local pine trees and differentiate them from the toxic yew tree.
So, this article is all about how I make pine needle tea outdoors on my new outdoor cooking kit.
Why I’ve been making Pine Needle Tea
During my research I noted there are many health benefits to drinking pine needle tea, which I will discuss in a moment. However, the main reason I jumped at the chance to try this out was the mental health benefits it supposedly gives.
According to a number of sources pine needle tea is great for promoting clarity of thought and mental clearness. And because of all the vitamins, minerals and other properties it can help with depression and other conditions.
So this particular wild edible is perfectly in line with what I’m trying to achieve when I get outdoors for my mini-escapes. My experiences with it so far have all been positive.
The video below shows you how I make pine needle tea when I’m out on a hike or exploring the local countryside.
Health benefits of drinking pine needle tea
Some of the other health benefits of drinking pine needle tea include:
- Pine needles are rich in vitamin C, which is great for boosting your immune system and helping you resist colds and other illnesses. Apparently there is five times the amount of vitamin C in one cup of this tea than there is in an orange or lemon. Great for coughs!
- Vitamin C is also great for relieving the symptoms of fatigue, skin problems and heart disease.
- Pine needles also contain massive amounts of vitamin A, which is great for things like your eyesight, hair and skin and the production of red blood cells.
- It is a fantastic antioxidant!
Be Safe When consuming wild edibles
Just a quick word of caution about eating wild plants and mushrooms. Make sure you’re 100% certain about what you’re eating. There are many deadly and poisonous plants and fungi out there, even in Britain. But don’t let this put you off! Just make sure you do proper research or maybe go on a foraging course or two like I plan to in the New Year.
I’ve recently bought a few books about trees, mushrooms and wild edibles but for me my favourite has been Wild Food UK’s Pocket Guide. I don’t think these can replace a good foraging course but I’m a big reader and I wanted to start learning. It is actually Wild Food UK who provide the foraging courses I am planning to go on next year. I recommend picking up some tree identification books to help you out in the field.
There are a few species of pine tree growing where I live. I’ve definitely seen scots pine trees, which is the only native pine tree in Britain. However, I’ve also seen what I think is the Austrian (or Black) pine and what I think is a Monterey Pine.
I won’t go into too much detail here about tree identification but here are some of the key points of the species growing around my area.
The scots pine tree is quite easy to identify because it has an orange/brown colour to its bark. This orangey colour gets even stronger the further up the trunk you look. It’s a big tree and can grow up to 40 meters high. The needles grow in pairs and are relatively short compared to other species, growing between 3 and 7cm long. These trees can live up to 300 years, so if you’ve got a big one just imagine how old it is and how long it has been there. It blows my mind.
The Austrian (or Black) pine can live up to 500 years! This tree doesn’t have the orangey/brown bark of the scots pine. Its bark is much darker. The needles of this tree also grow in pairs but are noticeably longer than those of the scots pine. They can grow between 5 and 8cm long.
The Monterey pine is apparently much shorter lived than these other two, although still a large tree. With this pine the needles grow in threes and they are 10 to 15cm long. The Monterey has unique pine cones which are present on the tree throughout the year.
As I mentioned before, I recommend getting a tree guide or doing some research to learn how to identify the pine trees growing in your area. I just wanted to highlighted the fact there are a number of species to choose from.
I believe all pine needles are edible so feel free to experiment.
Avoid the deadly Yew Tree
Try to avoid the yew tree as it is highly poisonous. I read somewhere only 50 small needles are enough to kill a man and just 2 of the pips in its little red berries can kill a horse!
In reality, as long as you have done your research I don’t think you will mistake the yew for a pine. It looks very different. The needles are short and grow singularly and they don’t really look like the needles of a pine in my opinion. The tree also has loads of these little red berries, which don’t grow on pine.
Nonetheless, just be aware.
It is probably much safer to stick with pine trees that have needles growing in twos or more – not singular needles.
Harvesting the needles and being kind to the tree
One of the great things about pine trees is they’re evergreen. This means there are needles on the tree all year round. A constant supply of immune system boosting tea, even in the winter months.
Harvesting the needles is very simple. Just start pulling them off the tree. As an approximation, you’ll need a handful for one cup of tea.
If you need a good amount of them (for example, if you are making tea for a number of people) why not pick them from different branches or even different trees? That way, any damage to the tree is limited. I think it’s important to respect nature and to try our best to reduce our negative impact on our environment.
I normally give the pine needles a quick rinse with clean water, just to remove dirt. The boiling process kills the germs but no one wants bits of dirt floating in their tea.
Once they’re clean I separate the needles and cut them into smaller pieces with my knife to make sure the juices are extracted into the tea when steeping.
That’s really it! Couldn’t be simpler.
I boil up some water on the stove but I don’t put the pine needles in yet. If you boil the pine needles for too long the vitamin C is destroyed and you won’t get all the health benefits out of it. So once the water is boiling, remove the pot off the stove and then add the needles to soak. This is where all the good nutrients and flavours are extracted.
Five minutes is enough steeping time!
Once the five minutes are up I pour the tea into a separate cup and it’s good to drink.
Drinking and what it tastes like
The different species of pine tree all have differing flavours, so it’s worth trying them all. I personally love the taste of this pine needle tea. It is refreshing and great for warming yourself up on a cold day. The only way I can describe it (and this does sound stupid) is a hint of pine. It’s not overpowering, just a nice refreshing hint of pine.
I recommend you give it a try yourself.
Equipment I used
Bushbox LF Stove
I used my Bushbox LF stove in this video and blog. If you want to have a look at this stove you can find out more here.
H&S Folding Windshield
From past experience it can be difficult trying to light a fire in windy conditions. This aluminium screen is made up of ten panels that fold together into a concertina type configuration for easier packing. If you want to have a look at this windshield you can find out more here.
Trangia Mess Tin
This is a small mess tin and is suitable for cooking for myself. It is made of aluminium and is lightweight and durable. This mess tin comes with a lid and handle and is ideal for my kit. If you want to have a look at this mess tin you can find out more here.
Nalgene Water Bottle
This 1 litre stainless steel water bottle is a key part of my outdoor cooking kit. If you want to have a look at this awesome bottle you can find out more here.
Tomshoo Pot and Mug
This is a nice little set made from lightweight titanium. The set consists of a 750ml pot with lid and handle, a 450ml cup with lids. If you want to have a look at this set you can find out more here.
Gerber Paraframe II Knife
I use this for cutting ingredients, fire wood and for eating too. This is currently the knife I am experimenting with and so far I quite like it. To find out more click here.
These were custom made by a friend of mine who happens to be a wood worker. It fits neatly into my Trangia Mess Tin and are actually quite light despite appearances. If you want a set of your own I’m sure Tony will be happy to hear from you. His email address is email@example.com – tell him I sent you.
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