Explore Tahoe: The interesting lives of our plentiful pine cones | SierraSun.com

Explore Tahoe: The interesting lives of our plentiful pine cones

Toree Warfield
Toree’s Stories
Brewing a batch of pine cone extract, using Jeffrey pine cones.
Courtesy Toree Warfield |

We collect them by the bushel to display in baskets on our porches or living rooms. We smear them with peanut butter and sprinkle them with bird seed to function as natural bird feeders. We spray paint them gold and hang them as ornaments or weave them into wreaths.

A pine cone gets its start as an organ that contains reproductive structures. Pines trees produce both female — the traditional, woody cone, usually located at the top of the tree, and male cones — herbaceous and less conspicuous.

Every spring, as those who live here know very well, the male cones release pollen, which is blown by the wind and accepted into the female cones, fertilizing the seed scales.

The scales are spirally arranged, and open temporarily to collect the pollen. Once fertilized, the scales close during the maturation period, which takes 18-24 months.

Once mature, the seed scales open during dry weather, allowing the seeds to escape. Dry conditions allow the seed to be dispersed as far from the parent tree as possible.

Cones close during wet weather to protect the seeds. Cones may open and close several times after maturity, depending upon the moisture in the air or on the ground.

Pine cones may stay on the tree for several years after dispersing the seeds.

Pine trees, besides being stately, aromatic, providing wood for burning and furniture, creating nesting sites for birds and other animals, also have medicinal uses.

The needles can be steeped as tea, which is high in vitamins A and C, effective as a decongestant and can be used as an antiseptic wash when cooled.

The pine cones can be boiled to make pine cone extract, containing these healthful properties and more.

Pine cone extract has a medicinal history dating back to the ancient Greeks. The Greek physician, Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 AD) first documented the health benefits of pine cone extract in De Materia Medica, a five-volume work detailing herbs and plants and the medicines that can be made from them.

This work was widely read for 1,500 years, making it one of the longest-lasting of all natural history books.

There are a wide number of health-beneficial constituents in pine cone extract:

Polysaccharides: common sources of energy; soluble fiber which binds to bile acids in the small intestine, making them less likely to enter the body.

Tannins: biomolecules that bind to proteins, amino acids and alkaloids.

Lignins: part of the cell wall in plants; may help combat gallstones, high cholesterol, colon cancer and diabetes.

Phenolic acids: antioxidant and antimicrobial.

Health benefits of these properties found in pine cones:

Promote immune cell development.

Facilitate the transformation of blood cells into dendritic cells (the most potent antigen-presenting cells of the immune system.

Antiviral effects.

Suppress the growth of influenza virus.

Anti-tumor substances.

Inhibit HIV replication.

Stimulate the production of white blood cells.

Antioxidant qualities.

Help to eliminate pathogens from the body.

Rebalance the immune response.

Anti-inflammatory.

What to do with pine cone extract?

Pine cone extract can be purchased at a premium price, but it’s easy to make it yourself, since here at Lake Tahoe, we live in the land of abundant pine trees. Choose the large pine cones of the Jeffrey pine. The optimum pine for this process is the Scotch pine, as yellow pines are slightly toxic. The Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines are yellow pines.

With all these health benefits, and only slight toxicity, I decided to make a batch of pine cone extract. To begin, choose the plump and fresh pine cones of the Jeffrey that are all over the ground right now.

First step, a cold-water bath containing castile soap, then a good rinse.

Next, eight large and clean pine cones into a 20-quart stock pot and fill with water. High heat until the water boils, then reduce as needed to simmer. After four hours, the water had reduced by about two thirds and was a rich amber color.

Allow to cool on the stove top for about four hours. Remove the pine cones, pour into bottles. Store in a cool, dark place. I ended up with close to a gallon and a half of slightly syrupy liquid.

The pot was left with a ring of resin that I could not get off. In the future, I would perhaps wipe oil around the sides of the pot before adding the pine cones and water.

Commercially prepared concoctions give dosages of 5 ml, which is about one teaspoon, per day. It has a strong, woody flavor with a definite tang—I plan to mix the teaspoon with orange juice.

It may be wise to check with your doctor before trying any natural remedies. The only warning I found was that pine cone extract is not recommended for pregnant women.

Research indicates that the properties present in pine cone extract can help people with allergies, inflammation, immune system issues and other ailments. I’ll be trying the potion on a few people I know with these conditions and will be blogging about the results at tahoetshirtsandgifts.com.

Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. See the new website: saveourplanetearth.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.