Not all pine species are created equally. Sure, many (most?) conifers have vitamins C and A in their needles, but that doesn’t mean they’re all consumable. In fact, some species are downright poisonous for humans. If you’re brewing up pine needle tea for healthy purposes, then you’ll need to choose the right species.
Which Pine Species are Best to Use?
While many different pines have beneficial qualities, there are some that are quite toxic. As a result, it’s important to ensure that the species you’re using are the right ones. Buy your pine needle tea from an experienced herbalist, naturopath, or forager whenever possible.
Alternatively, if you’re foraging for your own pine needles out in the wild, make sure you identify the species correctly before making a tea from the needles.
The most commonly used pine species are as follows:
- Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), which is also called the Northern white pine, white pine, Weymouth pine, and soft pine. This is the one that grows prolifically on my land, and I use it for teas, tinctures, salves, and steams year-round. Look for five needles in each of the bundles, which are known as fascicles.
- Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), also known as Scots Pine, Baltic Pine, and European Red Pine.
- Most other pine species, except for those mentioned below.
toxic species and lookalikes
The species listed below can be toxic to humans, other mammals, and birds, and can cause long-term health damage or even death if consumed.
- Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) has been shown to cause miscarriages in cattle and other mammals
- Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested
- Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta v. latifolia) contains higher levels of isocupressic acid, which induces abortions in cattle
- Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla), also known as Australian Pine, is not a true pine at all and can be incredibly harmful if consumed
- Yew (Taxus baccata)1 is a poisonous conifer often found in graveyards
- Yew Pine (Podocarpus macrophyllus): a decorative shrub native to Asia
If you’re foraging for your own tea ingredients, get yourself an Audubon field guide for your area, and a plant identification app like PlantNet. These can help you identify species local to your area.
Additionally, if you have any doubts about the species you’re gathering, then just buy pine needles from a trusted source instead. It’s always better to err on the side of caution, especially if you’re trying to improve your health. The last thing you need is to accidentally poison yourself.
Who Shouldn’t Drink Pine Needle Tea?
Avoid drinking pine needle tea if you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or nursing. Some pine species can cause spontaneous abortion2 if ingested, as mentioned above, and infants may have severe allergic reactions if they ingest pine via breastmilk.
Additionally, people who are contending with kidney disease should consult with their healthcare practitioner before taking this tea. Pine and other conifers may irritate the kidneys, or can contraindicate with medications used to treat the urinary system.
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Once you have the right species at hand, you can make all the pine needle tea you like. Just make sure to only try a little bit at first to make sure you’re not allergic to it. It’s recommended that you try a couple of spoonfuls, or about 1/4 cup of tea and then wait an hour to see if you develop a histamine reaction.
If you don’t experience any throat or mouth itching/swelling or break into hives, then you should be good to go.
Check out our full article on how to make pine needle tea here, and you’ll get step-by-step instructions on preparing and brewing it.
Disclaimer: the information shared here is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. We recommend that you consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking any natural supplements or medicines, and consult with a herbalist or naturopath to determine whether any of the plants mentioned here are the right choice for you.
- Burrows GE, Tyrl RJ. Toxic Plants of North America. Wiley; 2012.
- Stegelmeier BL, Gardner DR, James LF, Panter KE, Molyneux RJ. The toxic and abortifacient effects of ponderosa pine. Vet Pathol. 1996 Jan;33(1):22-8. doi: 10.1177/030098589603300103. PMID: 8826003.