Imagine it’s been days since you last saw a road.
A full week since your last human contact.
You’re stranded. Lost. Alone.
Without amenities, and worst of all, without food.
Only vast seemingly endless wilderness surrounds you. Birds, bees, animals, emptiness, and pine trees as far as you can see.
Your stomach rumbles, a growling reminder that your last meal was a very long time ago. And that meal was the last of your meager rations. There are no more potato chips, no more snickers bars, and no more trail mix.
Imagine that you don’t have any food acquisition survival gear. No fishing pole, no Yo Yo reels, nor any reliable means of trapping, snaring or killing wild game. In such a dire situation, what’s options remain?
Lucky for you, almost everything around you is edible because what so many people are unaware of is that the pine tree is an edible plant.
And while eating a pine tree is no substitute for fresh trout (or better yet, survival food), in a pinch, it can keep you going. When your life depends on getting sustenance and nutrients, pine trees are there to lend some.
Knowing how to eat a pine tree is the kind of survival skill that could very well save your life. But it is not quite as simple as one might imagine. Believe it or not, you cannot simply chop down a lodge pole and begin chomping down. There is a method to it.
But fear not! That is what I am here to explain. What follows is a comprehensive guide to eating yourself a pine tree. And you may be pleasantly surprised once you put this survival knowledge to the test. Pine trees are astonishingly palatable.
Why Eating Pine Trees Is Good For You
Getting lost in a vast pine forest what I call a “fortunate curse”. Sure, it sucks getting lost but it’s also nice that you’re not destined to starvation.
But this outcome is only available to those who learn how to eat a pine tree. Most people don’t see a bountiful source of sustenance when they look at a pine tree.
Besides being naturally beautiful, pine trees are a wonderful source of nutrients and vitamins. No matter which part of the tree you eat, or how you prepare it, consuming pine will provide a healthy dose of vitamin C and fiber. And when properly cooked it will also taste amazing (especially if you’re fending off late stage starvation).
Because of their vitamin rich nature, pine trees also help prevent scurvy. In the 18th century, scurvy was a very common affliction, especially with sailors. Scurvy is a nasty illness. It causes weakness, fatigue, soreness in the limbs, bleeding through the skin. It also can cause personality changes and eventually death. It’s no joke.
But it’s easy to prevent – just eat a lot of fruit! Scurvy is essentially a vitamin C deficiency. So by consuming fruits like limes, oranges, or apples people can avoid getting sick.
Similarly, if you’re surviving in the woods with few or no traditional sources of vitamin C, get at those pine trees! They will save you the torment of scurvy.
The History of Eating Pine Trees
The native tribes of The Great Basis Area took advantage of the pine tree as a major food source; specifically the pine nut.
This food pine tree food resource also allowed for extensive travel distances without fear of food shortages.
Native tribes could spend weeks or more in the wild tracking animals or enemies without carrying extra food. They could live off the pine trees to get them through.
Getting Started The Right Way
Always respect the trees! They are awesome. Don’t kill them.
If the tree is saving your life from starvation, it’s only right to do your best not to murder the tree. To me, that seems like a fair deal.
I encourage you to try eating pine before you end up needing to eat a pine. Practice makes perfect, but practice also entails mistakes.
So try to avoid dismembering a bunch of pine trees in your efforts to learn how to gather morsel of food.
You should also only select mature pine trees to help preserve its health and to maximize your bounty. Pine trees can grow old – healthy ones can live between 100-200 years! So pick the large, tall ones for your meal. The more mature trees also provide great amounts inner bark while minimizing overall harm to the tree.
White pine is widely considered the best tasting pine tree. But most other pines (Slippery Elm, Black Birch, Yellow Birch, Red Spruce, Black Spruce, Balsam Fir, Tamarack, etc.) also have edible barks.
Watch out for the inedible pine trees. Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla), the Yew (Taxus) and Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa — aka Western Yellow Pine, Blackjack Pine, or Bull Pine).
Avoid these poisonous bark or needles! Learn which trees are edible and which are not before you go chomping down. Lest you compromise your health.
For example here’s how you identify the poisonous Yew tree.
Make sure you learn how to identify an edible pine tree from one that can kill you.
Once you have your edible pine tree picked out, use a knife to cut small strips out of the bark. I emphasize “small” because if you gouge out large sheets of bark, the tree may succumb to disease and die. Or collect only small handfuls of needles from each pine tree.
By dispersing your harvest, you’ll mitigate lethal damage to the trees.
Edible Parts of The Pine Tree
1 – Eating Pine Nuts
Almost all pines have edible seeds. But the size and quality of those seeds depend on the species of pine tree. Pinyon seeds are my favorite and are nutrient dense (not to mention mouthwateringly delicious).
But pinyon pine only grows in western regions of the US. And bountiful pinyon nut harvests only happen every 2-7 years. So it’s unlikely that Pinyon Seeds will be available in an emergency survival situation, but not all pine nut are so rare. Many are available yearly.
But with that said, all pine nuts are seasonal. So they won’t be available year round. September and October are the best times of year to harvest pine seeds. That’s when the trees are most productive. They also produce the best tasting seeds, with the most nutrient value.
To collect pine nuts, simply scour the ground for open, round pinecones and collect them. Once you have a pile of cones, you can collect the seeds and chow down. With a large enough quantity of pine cones, you can end up with a significant amount of pine nuts.
Enjoy your nuts raw, or toasted. Either way, they taste splendid and will provide you with necessary survival nutrients.
2 – Pine Pollen
Pine pollen is only available in the spring when the male cones flower. You can tell the male cones because they usually look like an upturned bunch of bananas covered in pollen. And that pollen is what you want.
Shake the pollen from each male pine cone into a container (it may take a while, but a determined survivalist can successfully gather a lot of pollen this way).
The yellowish powdery substance makes for a stew thickener. It can also work as a flour substitute, which can be used to bread and deep-fry other foods. Similar to pine nuts, this pollen is full of protein and vital nutrients that your body needs.
3 – Making Pine Needle Tea
Pine needle tea, is without a doubt, my favorite way to enjoy a pine tree. It’s something I enjoy on a regular basis when backpacking. It’s simple, fast, and packed with vitamins and minerals.
But more than its nutritional value, this tea tastes great. Not as bitter tasting as you’d imagine.
Gather a handful of pine needles (without the branches they’re attached to and without male or female pine cones) and use a knife to dice them up into the smallest possible pieces.
Drop those pieces into a cup of boiling water and let them steep for several minutes. The water should turn a yellow-green color (like green tea). Strain out the needles and drink up.
Pine needle tea is an excellent drink to warm your spirits and your body during cold nights and bitter winters. If you find yourself lost in a cold weather survival scenario, there are few things as comforting as a hot mug of tea to toast your hopes as you curl up in your TACT Bivvy for the night.
4 – Eating Pine Bark
It often comes as a surprise to people, but pine bark is an excellent survival edible. It tastes good when harvested and prepared correctly.
Cut small strips out of the bark from a multitude of pine trees. Each strip should be about 1/10th the circumference of the mature trunk. These little strips will eventually heal itself. And small strips from lots of trees is plenty to make a survival feast. So don’t go cutting large sheets out of one single pine tree!
The outer bark of the tree IS NOT EDIBLE. Do not eat it.
It’s the inner, soft, white bark that you want. To harvest this, use your knife and drive the tip of your knife into the bark hard with a rock or stick. With the same rock or stick, pound on the flat side of your blade, forcing the edge downwards, scoring a vertical line in the bark.
Do this again only an inch or two away, and connect the two cut lines at the tops and bottoms with horizontal scores. This bark cut out makes a long, thin, vertical rectangle.
Pry the top of this rectangular strip away from the tree, and peel the entire strip off. Be sure to get both the outer bark, and the inner bark as best you can! The tender white meat between the outer bark and the inner trunk is what you want. You can use your knife to scrape away any leftover inner-bark once you remove the entire bark strip. Repeat this until you have enough inner bark stop your hunger.
There are three ways to prepare the inner bark for consumption.
1 – The first is to eat it raw
Digesting raw pine bark is so fibrous it can give you stomach cramps. So consuming it raw is possible, and an excellent way to get nutrients fast in a pinch, it’s not how you want to eat pine bark if there are other options available.
2 – The second is to boil the bark
Boiling the inner bark of a pine tree is the second least palatable preparation option on the menu. But it gets the job done and without a lot of effort! Boiling helps reduce the threat of stomach cramps, while still offering a quick easy way to prepare the bark. Plus, you can use the leftover water to boil up some pine needle tea!
3 – The third is to fry the bark
Frying pine bark is one of the best ways to prepare it. Cut or rip the strips you collected into thin, pasta-like pieces. Throw them in the frying pan with a little oil, butter, or animal fat over low heat, stir to prevent burning, and add salt to taste. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the flavor – like potato chips!
Dry and Pound it Into Flour
Pine bark can also be turned into a flour; which is awesome! Flour opens the door for a wide array of survival culinary options.
Lay thin strips of inner pine bark out to dry. Smaller pieces dry faster, and direct sunlight helps too. Heat from a fire will assist in drying the inner bark quickly as well.
Once the strips are completely dry, you can begin pounding them (between a couple of rocks, or with a mortar and pestle if available). Grind the dried strips into a fine pine powder. And that is it! You have got yourself pine-flour. Go crazy.
The Final Word
No one expects you to serve up grilled pine loin, pine needle tea, toasted pinyon nuts, or pine pollen deep fried pine bark strips for regular meals.
Eating a pine tree is the kind of thing that’s fun when out camping or backpacking, and very helpful when hopelessly lost. Don’t be one of those unfortunate souls who has died of starvation surrounded by a forest of edible pine trees.
Be inventive, be creative, and be tough. A human can survive for a long time on nothing but pine trees. That may sound ridiculous, and like a poor diet, but it will sure as hell beats the alternative.
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