Updated: Jan 25, 2022
I want to share with you herbs that you can access outside your doorstep that can be used alongside or in replace of the common herbs you associate with colds & flus (i.e. Elderberries, Echinacea, Licorice Root). Conifer trees.
One of my favourite things to forage are conifer needles.
Conifers are great - they are around all year long, easy to identify, tasty and packed with vitamin C, vitamin A & flavonoids. All of which have immune system benefits.
Rumour has it, a cup of pine needle tea can contain 4-5 times more Vitamin C than a cup of orange juice!
It is said that when the Europeans arrived to Turtle Island, sick with scurvy, the Micmaq people administered cedar tea continually. These medicines have been used by people for thousands of years. Let’s welcome them back into our homes and nourish our mind, body and soul.
Let me make this clear – pine needle/cedar teas are not guaranteeing you protection from falling sick nor are they curing you. With any herbs, they are supporting your body through it’s natural healing process.
The trees listed below are common to Southern, Ontario. There are more edible conifer trees than listed below.
Common Conifer Trees:
Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus
Red Pine, Pinus resinosa
Balsam Fir, Abies balsamea
Spruce, Picea spp. (many varieties)
Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis
Tamarack, Larix laricina
Eastern White Cedar, Thuja Occidentalis (In the Cypress family, not a Pine)
These species are abundant in most areas. (Abundant here in Ontario!) Ensure you have permission to harvest from your choosen tree. For example it is illegal to forage in Ontario at National & Provincial Parks. It is important to be kind to the tree when harvesting. Do not rip them off the tree. Bring along scissors or a knife and gently snip the branches. It should not look like you were there after you leave.
With any herb there is caution attached. Even common herbs can have adverse reactions. There is a lot of worry around consuming Pine/Cedar/Fir/Hemlock teas. Understandably! All should be drank in moderation to prevent tummy aches. Due to safety not yet being established, those pregnant or lactating should avoid consumption.
Members of the Juniper family are not recommended for regular consumption due to their action on the urinary tract and kidneys. It is nice to flavour with them or to sample but their medicine is very specific.
Toxic Look-Alikes: Canadian Yew, Taxus canadensis. Can be mistaken for Hemlock. Yew lacks the white lines on the back and does not grow tall like a tree with a main trunk.
The Eastern Hemlock tree is not to be confused with the plant, Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
*With any wild plant, if you don’t know what it is, don’t ingest it!
How many needles do I add?
It's really all based on your personal preference! There isn't one "right" way to do it. If it's too strong you can always dilute it!
How to Prepare Tea for 1:
Gather a pinch of needles and place them in a teacup. Pour hot boiled water over them, cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Remove cover and enjoy.
How to Prepare a Large Pot of Tea:
In a pot boil 4-6 cups of water. Once boiled turn off heat, place a handful or two of needles in water and place a lid on top*. Steep for 5-15 minutes. Store extra in fridge to drink cool or reheat.
Flavour with honey or maple syrup, yum!
*Cover your tea while infusing to ensure you do not loose the beneficial volatile oils.
It is ideal to confirm with 3 different sources before putting it in your mouth, especially if you are unsure.
Someone you can trust (feel free to reach out!)
Plant ID groups on Facebook or Reddit
Plant ID apps
Bioregional field guides
Trees of Ontario by Linda Kershaw
Trees and Shrubs by Peterson Field Guides
Trees in Canada by John Laird Farrar
This post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. You are responsible for consulting a medical professional before trying a new herb. It is your duty to research information and verify information before relying on it.
Edwards, Sarah. “Phytopharmacy.” Google Books, Google, 2015, books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=KGu5BgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA280&dq=spruce%2Bcontraindications&ots=Z6EAIyRLOS&sig=yppUbVgRboj672vahjQHinzr1K0#v=onepage&q=spruce%20contraindications&f=false.
“Fir, Hemlock and Spruce Tips.” Wild Foods and Medicines, 3 Mar. 2020, wildfoodsandmedicines.com/fir-hemlock-and-spruce-tips/.
Garden, Creators. “Cedar.” Creators Garden, 1 Dec. 2016, creatorsgarden.blogspot.com/2016/12/cedar.html.
Geniusz, Mary Siisip, et al. Plants Have so Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask: Anishinaabe Botanical Teachings. University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Gray, Beverley. The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North. Aroma Borealis Press, 2011.
Musgrave, Caleb. “Wild Teas.” Wild Teas, 2000, www.wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/food/CMwildteas.html.
Naser, Belal, et al. “Thuja Occidentalis (Arbor Vitae): A Review of Its Pharmaceutical, Pharmacological and Clinical Properties.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM, Oxford University Press, Mar. 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1062158/.