There are 126 known species of pine including evergreen trees and shrubs. They are gymnosperms and produce their seeds in cones. Their leaves are bundles of green needles called fascicles. Their branches spiral along the trunk according to the Golden Mean and their bark is usually thick and scaly.
Many pines are adapted to extreme conditions. Some pines have adapted to frequent forest fires and actually require them to complete their life cycle (Canary Island Pine, Bishop Pine) There are pines that will grow at extreme elevations and can survive seasonal temperatures that would quickly destroy other trees. Siberian Dwarf Pine, Mountain Pine, Whitebark Pine, Bristlecone Pine can tolerate extreme cold and wind on mountainsides, while Turkish pine and gray pine tolerate desert conditions.
Pine cones provide an important source of food for many species of bird and small mammals and some Lepidoptera species eat pine needles. They are also extremely important to humans as a source of lumber and resin for pitch and turpentine.
Species of Pine
Siberian Dwarf Pine is the smallest species of pine.
Ponderosa Pine the tallest living pine tree is a ponderosa pine in Oregon’s Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
Pinus longaeva Great Basin Bristlecone Pine. One of the oldest living things in the world is a 4,900 year old Great Basin Bristlecone Pine named “Methuselah” who lives in the White Mountains of California. “Promethus”, who lived nearby was 4,900 years old, but has been cut down.
Pinis pinea Italian Stone Pine, Umbrella Pine, Parasol Pine, is grown for its large, tasty nuts, and also for its beauty.
Pinion Pines- are native to the American Southwest and produce tasty pinyon nuts. There are 8 species in this group.
History and Folklore of Pine
The word “pine” derives from the Latin pinus which in turn comes from the Proto Indo European root *pīt, meaning “resin”, hinting at its ancient use.
Germanic names for this group of trees derive from the Old Norse fura and often sound like “fir”, but the English fir references a different tree.
Pine is one of the Three Friends of Winter Suihan Sanyou or shōchikubai (together with bamboo and plum) in Chinese tradition. They symbolize steadfastness, perseverance and resilience, virtues of the gentleman scholar according to Confucian ideals and are popular subjects of Chinese art.
Pine trees generally prefer acidic, sandy soils with good drainage, though Lodgepole pine will grow in wet soils. Pine needles that drop will further acidify the soil, so you must keep this in mind when choosing neighbors for your pine tree.
New plantings should be mulched and kept watered as well as protected from predation. Once the tree is established, it should need little or no care, though you may wish to prune it in the winter.
Make sure you choose a variety of pine that is suitable for your area, there are many to choose from.
If you are harvesting pine nuts, you will need to remove the cones from the tree before they open and lay them in the sun on a tarp. Guard them against birds and squirrels. They will open and drop their nuts. You can put the open cones in a sack and smack them against something to knock out any nuts that don’t come easy. The edible nut is inside a hard shell, it’s not hard to open it, but it’s fiddly as they are small and smooth. Stone Pine, Korean Pine, and Pinion Pine all have decent sized nuts, but do some research for what grows best in your area.
To harvest resin for incense, you can normally find a few gobs along the trunk of a mature tree, or you can make a small cut and wait for the resin to form around the wound. Only do this with mature trees.
Culinary Uses for Pine
Pine nuts come from some species of pine, including Korean pine, Pinyon pine (there are several types, mostly native to the American Southwest) and Stone pine. They all have edible seeds, but they’re not all very easy for people to get at. Pine nuts are great on salads and in pesto.
The white inner bark, the cambium, is edible and nutritious. It can be eaten fresh, or ground up and used as a thickener or to bake bark bread.
A nutrient-rich tea can be made from fresh, green pine needles. This is called tallstrunt (Sweden).
Medical Uses for Pine
Pine oil can be added to a chest rub to help loosen phlegm or pine needles may be simmered in water to make a steam inhalation for the same purpose and to relieve sinus congestion. Be aware that some people are sensitive to pine and it may make these people worse instead of better.
Pine oil can be added to skin preparations to support treatment for itchy conditions, external parasites, and acne.
Pine oil can also be added to massage oils and liniments for treating muscle and joint pain.
Do a skin patch test before using pine oil and dilute well with a carrier oil as pine oil can cause skin irritation in some people.
Magical Uses for Pine
The pine tree represents rebirth and immortality and strength in adversity, overcoming hardships through optimism and inner strength. I feel it’s a solid Saturn tree, though most folks seem to feel Mars for it. The plant itself seems to correspond to the element Fire because of the resin and its quickness to burn as well as its protective and transformative nature, though its scent is quite Earthy. I’ve also seen Air.
Pine cones represent masculinity (even though they are essentially the womb of the tree) and fertility and may be used to tip wands and staves. They are used in midwinter or yule decor, as are pine branches, wreaths and entire pine trees.
A pine branch hung over the door will invite joyful energy inside and a pine branch hung over a bed will ward against illness.
Burn pine needles and pine cones to protect your hearth.
Use a pine branch like a broom to brush away negative energy from your home or from surfaces (like your altar) and objects.
Use pine oil in your wash water to wash away troubles that have been disturbing your household, including illness or just general doldrums.
Meditate under a pine tree or walk through a pine forest to get a new perspective on a situation and emerge with a renewed sense of purpose.
Pine Incense and Oils
Pine essential oil is an ingredient in many cleaning solutions as it has a fresh, uplifting scent and has antibacterial qualities and is said to repel insects, particularly lice and fleas. Pine oil can be inhaled to help clear sinus blockage and loosen phlegm as well as to provide a general lift to the mood and spirit, but its action is quite strong and can cause respiratory irritation in sensitive people.
The oil is usually distilled from the Pinus sylvestris species.
Pine incense is made of pine resin and is traditionally burned in the winter to clear negative energy and lift the spirit. It is stimulating and encourages optimism. Pine incense can be burned during reversal spells designed to turn a negative spell into a positive one. Pine can be burned for general healing, (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual,) for grounding and general strength.
Pine resin can be used as a substitute for copal or combined with it for a powerful purifying incense. Combined with camphor, it can be used to aid exorcism operations.
The book Thrice-Greatest Hermes mentions pine resin as an incense useful for creating a healthful atmosphere and helping to the body and spirit wake up in the morning in the morning. It also mentions burning pine and other fragrant woods such as cypress and juniper in sickrooms to help cure the plague as well as an ingredient in other fragrant healing blends1.
Everyone has a different correspondence for this oil and I can see everyone’s point. I am feeling the element of Earth for the fragrance of Pine because it is so grounding and associated with health, but I can see Fire because of its banishing and protective qualities. And I feel the planet Saturn because I feel its connection to the God Saturn and its ability to turn a negative into a positive feels Saturn-esque to me, but I see the suggestion of Mars from others, and I can agree with that for the same reason I can agree with Fire, though I think Mars might be a little too harsh- it’s not that hot. But Pine is uplifting, stimulating, warming, abundant and loving like the energy of the Sun. After all, Sol Invictus. And is not the Sun the greatest disinfectant? Why can’t it be Sun AND Earth? It totally can.
Remember to always use good ventilation when burning any incense. In the winter this can be tricky.
Other uses for pine
Pine is a wonderful ornamental tree for your garden and serves as a great windbreak.
Pine cones can be used in many crafts. You can pack them in lard and roll them in birdseed to make bird feeders to hang outdoors in winter, cover them with glue and glitter to make indoor winter decorations, or use them as tinder for your fireplace or fire pit. Rabbits like to play with and gnaw on them too.
Pine oil is antibacterial and is great for use for general cleaning, provided nobody in your household is sensitive to it.