Benefits of Drinking Pine Needle Tea

Food + Drink Lodging & Camping By Emily Leikam

Hike through any evergreen forest filled and breathe in that refreshing pine scent that permeates the air. There is something so natural and cleansing about walking among the fragrant trees as you feel the crunch of needles under your feet. Did you know that these distinctive-smelling trees and their needles can provide benefits beyond their beauty and scent? 

Pine needle tea – yes, tea made from pine needles – has a mild, almost sweet taste and is known to have potent healing properties. Learn how to turn what you find on your hike through an evergreen forest into a soothing and healing beverage.

What are Pine Needles?

Pine needles are the leaves of pine trees. They contain vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B12, iron, and manganese. They are also a source of protein, dietary fiber, and minerals. Pine needles are commonly found in herbal teas and used as a substitute for Camomile. They have a similar flavor to their aroma – earthy, piney, and somewhat citrusy – but the taste is milder than what you may imagine.

 Close up of spruce tree branches
 Spruce tree branches. Photo by: Besjunior.

What are the Benefits of Drinking Pine Needle Tea?

Pine needle tea is beneficial for a number of reasons. From immune boosting and cold prevention to sleep and stress relief, pine needles contain key healing properties to assist with:

  • Boosting Immunity - Pine needles are rich in vitamin C, a key ingredient necessary for boosting immunity and helping to prevent colds.
  • Soothing Colds - This earthy tea helps ease colds and coughs by thinning mucus and drawing phlegm from the lungs.
  • Relieving Menstrual Cramps - Pine needle tea, with its anti-inflammatory properties, helps relax muscles.
  • Better Sleep - Pine needle tea contains melatonin, a natural sleep aid. It will help you feel more relaxed, less stressed, and allow you to sleep soundly.
  • Stress Relief - Pine needles contain properties that, when brewed in hot water and consumed, help relieve stress by relaxing the mind and body.
Pine Needle Tea
Always easy to make while camping. Photo by: Tom Check.

Which Pine Needles are Safe for Tea? 

Most popular pine trees will be just fine to use for your tea, but there are some that you need to avoid.  

Are All Evergreen Trees Pine Trees?

Pines are the most notable of evergreen tree types, but fir and spruce trees are also part of the evergreen family. Pines, firs and spruce are frequently mixed up because conifer trees (trees that produce cones) are not always pine trees and some evergreens are not always coniferous. An easy way to identify pine trees is that their needles come in clusters, while those of spruce or fir will be attached individually to the branches. 

Each tree's needles offer a unique taste, so try different varieties and discover your favorite tea!

Common Trees to Use for Pine Needle Tea

  • White Pine: Long, thin, flexible needles that appear in bundles of five.
  • Eastern Hemlock: Flat and short needles that are less than an inch long. 
  • Yellow Pine: Needles arranged in bundles of three.
  • Red Pine: Needles arranged in bundles of two.
  • Spruce: Single needles with a sharp point and roll easily between fingers.
Spring branch with cone and flowers of coniferous Eastern Hemlock tree
Eastern Hemlock tree, also called Canadian Hemlock. Photo by: zayacsk.

Trees to Avoid for Pine Needle Tea

The best way to avoid these toxic pines is to study a field guide and make sure you understand which trees are in your local area. 

  • Ponderosa Pine: Has a distinct smell and bark smells like vanilla or butterscotch. 
  • Norfolk Island Pine: Branches arranged in a symmetric whorl, with the needles curving upwards with a point.
  • Common Juniper: Identified by their small and yellow cones and bright blue berries.
  • Yew: Long, narrow, and flat needles with rounded tips. Similar to Eastern Hemlock except the needles longer than an inch.
  • Loblolly Pine: Grow in bundles of three with long slender needles that are stiff and thin.
  • Monterey Pine: Bright green, long needles growing in clusters of 3 on upward-pointed branches.
  • Lodgepole Pine: Needles in pairs,1-2 inches long with sharp ends.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are pregnant, do not drink pine needle tea.

Blue Berries On Brown Tree Branch
A tree to avoid, a Common Juniper tree. Photo by: Sébastien Noël.

How to Make Pine Needle Tea

First, identify which pine tree you’re gathering needles from by referencing a field guide. Avoid pine trees sprayed or treated with pesticides. The best trees are found in the middle of a dense forest.

Once you’ve identified the pine tree for your tea, gather fresh needles. Forage light green needles: the lighter color means they are younger and will provide more flavor. Dark green needles will be more bitter but may hold more vitamins than younger needles. 

Pine needle tea is a very simple tea to make and is prepared the same way as many other herbal teas. The flavor of the tea will be subtle, almost earthy and grassy, with just a hint of pine. Some needles produce a sweeter, citrus flavor. Here’s a simple recipe to use while at home or on the trail:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon fresh-picked pine needles, washed and chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • Optional: lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, and/or sugar

Directions:

  • Wash and chop needles to release pine juices and essential oils.
  • Bring water to a boil in a pot.
  • Pour over needles in a cup.
  • Let steep for 10 minutes.
  • Strain, add lemon and sweetener, if desired, and enjoy!

Tips for Making Pine Needle Tea

There are a few things you can do while harvesting pine needles to make sure they are good quality. 

  • Choose pine needles from trees that are between 10 and 20 years old. 
  • Make sure your pine needles are nice and fresh by smelling them. If they have a strong pine smell, they are fresh and ready to be used. 
  • Look at the color of your pine needles. Dark green needles are older with potentially more vitamins, whereas light green needles are younger with more flavor. 
  • If you’re harvesting pine needles from your backyard, make sure the tree isn’t treated with pesticides.
Close up view of woman person hand picking fresh young spruce tree
Picking a fresh young spruce tree. Photo by: FotoHelin.

Side Effects of Drinking Pine Needle Tea

Pine needle tea is safe to drink and doesn’t have any major side effects. If you are allergic to pine needles, avoid drinking pine needle tea. If you have any health conditions, consult your doctor before drinking pine needle tea. Always make sure you identify the tree before collecting your pine needles, and avoid toxic varieties.

Drink Up the Forest

Pine needle tea is a beverage that is both delicious and healthy. It can help you sleep better, reduce stress, and boost your immune system. The benefits of drinking pine needle tea are numerous, and it's so simple and easy to make. What better way to connect with the forest than by benefiting from what it has to offer? So, gather up some fresh pine needles on your next hike, and make yourself a hot cup of tea for a soothing, healthy way to end your day!

Featured image by: Chamillew.

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Enameled cup of tea, backpack of traveller on wooden board in summer forest outdoors
Emily Leikam
Emily is an avid traveler and has been all around the world from Alaska and Iceland to Peru and Bali. Her home base is Nashville, TN and when not traveling you can find her hiking, practicing yoga or cooking/baking!