During the winter of 1536, Jacque Cartier and his men were stranded in a make-shift fort at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in Canada. All were sick with scurvy and twenty-five had already perished from the illness when Domagaya, a friendly Iroquois man told the explorer about Anneda, a local cure for the disease.
The Cypress or Northern White Cedar tree (Thuja occidentalis) leaf was used as a tea and provided enough vitamin C to knock out the illness.
Though the Cypress is not endemic or native to Arkansas, it does grow here, as do several variety of conifer. The conifers that are dominant in this area of the country are of the Pinus genus.
The Loblolly and Long leaf pine are found more often than their bretheren, the Slash pine and the Pinyon trees.
The difference between the Thuja and Pinus conifers is obvious once you start looking at the morphology, but prior to study, I think one just lumps them all together as pine trees of some sort.
The cypress (Thuja) do not have needles as the Pinus do. The pine needle tea that is predominant on the web is most likely not the pine needle tea that Cartier and his men used.
I made some pine needle tea recently, but wasn’t sure the tea was safe to drink. After washing and brewing the needles clipped from one of the P. taeda (Loblolly) there was a light colored film along the inside of the pan and floating atop the brew.
I skimmed the film off the top, tasted a bit of the clear liquid and felt no ill effects afterward, but didn’t feel secure enough with the brew to drink a full cup. I did have a few tablespoons full and the tea is bland to my taste.
There is so much written about pine needle tea with not much background information available. I didn’t find much anecdotal evidence in which authors actually drank the tea, however, Euell Gibbons experimented with the white pine (P. strobus) extensively and documents the experience in his book, Stalking the Healthful Herbs (1974).
Here’s an excerpt from the book that includes a recipe for Pine Needle Tea.
So though I may not find the pine needle all that palatable, it seems it is safe for consumption and quite healthy.
There is evidence that pine does contain constituents that boosts immunity. In one article written by Marsha Walton for CNN in 2006 shikimic acid, a main ingredient in Tamiflu was found in high concentrations in pine, spruce and fir needles.
If you do want to try the pine needle tea, be sure to collect from trees that have not been sprayed and are not in a high traffic area.
There are many variety of pine available in Arkansas, make sure you have identified your specimen correctly.
The Thuja genus of conifer is contraindicated as containing thujone and may be harmful to some people.