Foraging for Conifer Teas

Updated: Apr 1

During these uncertain times on March 31st, 2020, herbs have been called to the forefront. It can feel worrisome to seek herbs right now due to the high demand. It can also feel stressful if one does not have the means to purchase.


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. Us silly herbalists tend to group a huge lump of things under the “herb” hat…


One of my favourite things to forage are conifer needles.


Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus

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 where I am in 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)


Sustainability

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.


Cautions

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



Canadian Yew, Taxus canadensis
Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis

*With any wild plant, if you don’t know what it is, don’t ingest 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. Remover cover and enjoy.


How to Prepare a Large Pot of Tea:

Gather 2 cups of needles. Place in pot with water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat. Allow to steep for longer or strain & consume. 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.



Identification Resources


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

  • Google Lens

  • Plant ID apps


Plant Snap

Picture This - Plant Identifier


  • 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.

Citations


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/.

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Curve Lake, ON

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Disclaimer Statement: I am not a doctor and legally cannot diagnose. Nor am I attempting to do that. This site provides information for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a diagnosis, cure or treatment of any specific condition. Blue Jay Botanicals does not claim nor imply that any information provided will treat, cure or prevent any particular disease states. Before using any herbal remedies please do your own independent research on dosages, contraindications and drug interactions. For chronic conditions or any health concerns I highly recommend you seek the help of a qualified health practitioner.