Is Pine Needle Tea Good for Your Health?
If you've ever walked through a forest of cedar, pine or redwood trees, you know coniferous trees exude freshness and beauty. A hot cup of pine needle tea smells like a pristine forest, offers a mint-fresh taste and is chock-full of antioxidants. People have used the bark, cones and needles from pine trees as medicine for hundreds of years. In this post, you'll learn why pine needle tea is making a modern comeback and how you can best enjoy the benefits.
What Is Pine Needle Tea?
Pine needle tea is brewed using the needles harvested from specific pine trees, typically white and red pine. Older pine needles have a bitter "green" taste and boast higher concentration of nutrients. Young pine needles are packed with sweet, citrusy and spicy flavors. To preserve the most antioxidants in your tea, pine needles should be steeped in hot water for up to ten minutes, instead of boiled. Pine needles were used in Eastern and Native American systems of traditional medicine for their impressive healing effects.
Health Benefits of Pine Needle Tea
Research shows pine needle tea not only lowers stress, but also inflammation and high blood pressure. These are the proven health benefits pine needle tea drinkers stand to gain:
Rich Source of Vitamin C
White pine needles harvested after 2 years contain 3.5 times the vitamin C in oranges, making pine needle tea a great natural source all year round. When French explorer Jacques Cartier landed in modern-day's Quebec City, the Iroquois people offered Cartier and his crew white pine needle tea to cure scurvy — a disease characterized by severe vitamin C deficiency. Impressed with the transformation, Cartier dubbed pine the "tree of life." While scurvy is rare today, the Center for Disesase Control and Prevention estimates 10% of Americans are deficient in vitamin C.
Vitamin C plays a crucial role in cardiovascular health and immune function. Getting 1 to 2 grams of vitamin C daily (around double the daily minimum requirement) has been shown to reduce the duration of colds and the severity of symptoms.
Over seven hundred compounds have been identified in pine needles over a century of research. Many of these ancient plant compounds are found to have anti-inflammatory effects. In animal studies, pine needles reversed ear edema by directly modulating the inflammatory response. Given its anti-inflammatory effects, drinking pine needle tea could help protect your heart, brain and other organs from inflammatory stress. In fact, authors of a 2021 study published in Antioxidants concluded the anti-inflammatory flavonoids that give pine needles their rich green color likely have anti-aging benefits.
Improves Heart Health
Pine needle tea is a rich source of arginine — an amino acid responsible for dilating blood vessels to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Arginine metabolizes synergistically with vitamin C in a way that relaxes stiff arteries and improves the flow of blood to vital organs [source]. Notably, the vasorelaxant and anti-hypertensive effects of pine needles are known in the pharmaceutical industry for inspiring the blood pressure medicine Pycnogenol.
The numerous antioxidant compounds in pine needle tea also protect your heart by combating oxidative stress — a known contributor to the development of heart disease and metabolic diseases. One study on rats given a high-fat diet found that pine needle powder and exercise reduced markers of metabolic disease better than exercise alone.
The flavonoids in pine needles have been studied for their tumor-fighting and anti-cancer effects. These are water-soluble plant pigments found in various concentrations throughout the plant kingdom. A lab study inspired by Traditional Chinese Medicine found that myricetin, quercetin, kaempferol, isorhamnetin and other flavonoids in pine needles stopped the proliferation of human cervical cancer cells in test tubes.
The antioxidant power and anti-inflammatory properties of pine needle tea offer protective benefits for your brain. It's been put forward as a potential treatment for amnesia in patients with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. Pine needle tea works in a way that's similar to acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors, which are pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to treat cognitive decline or impairment. Drinking it regularly, in addition to supplementing with omega-3 fish oil, may prevent or slow the onset of certain neurodegenerative diseases.
Stress Relief and Anti-Anxiety Effects
Pine needle extract is shown to prevent the loss of cognitive and memory function during acute stress. It works by promoting homeostasis in the hippocampus, resulting in less release of cortisol — a stress hormone that keeps your body and mind in a "fight or flight" state. Chronically high cortisol levels are linked to impaired memory recall, anxiety and depression. Drinking pine needle tea regularly can keep high cortisol levels at bay and prevent the harmful effects of chronic stress on your mental health.
The Best Pine Needle Tea
According to some experts in herbal medicine, white pine needles are the only safe pine needles for tea brewing. Needles from certain types of pine harbor toxic compounds. Most pine needle tea on the market you'll find comes from Eastern white pine needles, which are generally considered the best-tasting.
Pine Needle Tea Risks and Precautions
Whenever you try an herbal tea for the first time, you run the risk of an allergic reaction. Try a small amount first, and avoid pine needle tea if you have adverse effects. As long as you stick with white pine needles from a source you trust, there are no risks or side effects. However, pine needle tea should be avoided during pregnancy due to the risk for miscarriage. Pine needle tea acts as a mild diuretic, which could interact with certain prescription medications at higher doses.