Pine needle tea is made from brewing the needles of trees in the genus Pinus. It has been used in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine for centuries to promote health. Recent studies looked at other potential health benefits of pine needles, such as increasing antioxidant defense and reducing inflammation. Read on to learn more!
What Are Pine Needles?
Pine needles are the needles from various pine trees. All conifers, including pines, use these needles as “leaves” to soak up the energy of the sun. They can be prepared fresh – for example, to make tea or honey with pine needles – or processed into extracts, essential oil, or other formulations.
Broadly speaking, pine needle tea is made by brewing the needles of any trees in the Pinus genus. There are over 100 species of pine trees within this genus, so the looks and composition of pine needles can greatly vary .
Historical reports indicate that pine needles were used by European explorers who reached the North American continent in the early 16th century .
One source described the use of pine needles for scurvy in Jacques Cartier’s critically-ill sailing crew in 1536. They supposedly used an Iroquois decoction from the bark and leaves of an indigenous white pine species that likely contained vitamin C – a nutrient that’s hard to find in nature during harsh Canadian winters .
Have in mind that pine needle supplements (including pine needle essential oil and tea) have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
Pine needles are composed of a variety of essential oils, acids, procyanidins, and flavonoid glycosides .
The compounds found in pine needle essential oil vary depending on species. Most pine needle essential oils contain the following compounds [4, 5, 6, 7]:
- germacrene D
Compounds extracted from pine needles are being researched for their potential antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties .
Generally speaking, antioxidants combat oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage and may contribute to inflammation and disease.
Proposed Mechanism of Action
The proposed mechanism of action of pine needle tea or essential oil depends on the active compounds found in the needles. For instance, α-pinene found in the essential oil of the needles is considered an aromatic antioxidant .
Phenolic compounds and other antioxidants from pine needles are being researched for boosting memory and protecting the brain, but these effects remain unverified [10, 11].
Scientists suspect that pine needle essential oil has microbe-fighting action, though this hasn’t been verified in clinical trials. The compounds (monoterpenoids and monoterpenes) in the oil are hypothesized to reduce energy generation in the bacteria and fungi [12, 13, 14].
Formulations & Natural Variation
The potential antioxidant properties of pine needle extracts can vary, due to [3, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19]:
- Pine species
- Age of the plant
- Geographical origin
- Growth stage of the plant
- Extraction process
- Harvesting and storage
Active compounds of pine needles can be extracted with [20, 21]:
- Alcohol (ethanol or methanol)
- Other (Ethyl acetate, n-butanol)
Purported Effects vs. Research Limitations
Many sources make claims about pine needle tea that have not been studied extensively in humans. For instance, drinking pine needle tea supposedly has a wide variety of health effects, including:
- Congestion and sore throat relief
- Increased mental clarity
- Combating depression
- Suppressing weight gain/preventing obesity
- Lessening of allergy symptoms
- Lowering blood pressure
However, none of these claims have been adequately tested in humans.
Animal and cell culture experiments suggest that pine needle extract may have memory-boosting, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidative effects. These findings cannot be applied to humans. Plus, no studies were done with pine needle tea specifically [22, 23, 24, 25, 26].
Clinical trials are needed to confirm the health benefits and safety of pine needles .
Potential Health Benefits of Pine Needles
Insufficient Evidence for:
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies.
There is insufficient evidence to support the use of pine needles for any of the below-listed uses.
Remember to speak with a doctor before taking pine needle essential oil, other pine needle formulations, or drinking large amounts of pine needle tea. Pine needles should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.
1) Antioxidant Effects
In a double-blind randomized controlled trial of 33 people with slightly unhealthy blood lipid levels, pine needle (P. koraiensis) increased superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant enzyme after 12 weeks. Pine needle also reduced VLDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference. Larger clinical trials are needed to verify these findings .
Researchers also examined the effects of pine needle (P. koraiensis) water extract on cells and in mice. In the mouse model, the pine needle extract protected against oxidative stress in the kidneys and liver (as measured by fat breakdown and activities of 2 proteins: catalase and glutathione reductase) [25, 28].
Another study hypothesized that pine needle extract (P. morrisonicola Hay. in ethyl acetate) may have antioxidant effects against free radicals in white blood cells .
Various pine needle extracts seemed to block damage (reducing reactive oxygen species, ROS) in kidney cell fragments. The ethyl acetate pine needle extract had the strongest effect .
In a different study, different pine needle extracts were tested for antioxidant activity. The hot water extract had the highest antioxidant levels. High levels of phenols (proanthocyanidins and catechins) were supposed to be responsible for the antioxidant action .
Scientists are also investigating whether pine needle (P. morrisonicola Hay.) water extract can protect against various harmful compounds (hydroxyl radicals, intracellular ROS, and superoxide anion) in cells, which theoretically indicates antioxidant action [30, 22].
Lacking Evidence (Animal Research)
Clinical evidence is lacking to support the use of pine needles for any of the conditions listed in this section.
Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts.
The effectiveness and safety of pine needles on memory, mood, inflammation, infection, blood pressure, and cancer in humans are unknown. Therefore, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
Pine needle extract seems to improve memory in lab animals. In one study, pine needle (alcohol extract) reversed memory impairment in mice [23, 31].
A specific pine needle (P. densiflora) extract also reversed stress-induced memory impairment in mice, supposedly by affecting a part of the brain important for memory (by reducing damage in the hippocampus) .
One study suggested that ethanolic pine needle (P. eldarica) extract reduced symptoms of depression in mice by increasing their physical activity in a stressful environment. The authors thought that pine needle extract deserved to be researched further in people with mood issues .
Scientists are investigating whether pine needle essential oil from three different species (P. heldreichii, P. peuce, and P. mugo) reduces IL-6 production in mouse white blood cells, indicating potential anti-inflammatory action .
4) Fungal and Bacterial Infections
The compounds found in pine needle essential oil are active against microbes in test tubes, but we don’t know if they can fight infections in humans. The essential oil of black pine (P. nigra ssp. dalmatica, ssp. nigra, ssp. pallasiana, and var. banatica) was researched against gram-positive bacteria and fungi [34, 35].
The essential oil from other pine species has also been studied for antibacterial (P. densiflora) and antifungal (P. koraiensis) effects .
7) Blood Pressure
A screening for useful compounds in pine needle extract found that catechin helped decrease high blood pressure (hypertension) in rat kidney, lung, and testes tissue. Clinical studies have yet to determine if catechin, found in pine needle, can reduce high blood pressure .
Pine needles have not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.
Pine needle (P. morrisonicola Hay.) contains compounds that were researched mostly in cancer cells. It was researched in leukemia and brain cancer cells. The essential oil (from P. densiflora Siebold & Zucc.) was investigated in breast and liver cancer cells [22, 38, 39, 9, 40, 41].
Scientists suspect that the compounds chrysin (in the extract) and α-pinene (in the essential oil) may have some value, but this is still highly uncertain [22, 38].
Remember that many substances have anti-cancer effects in cells, including downright toxic chemicals like bleach. This doesn’t mean that they have any medical value. On the contrary, most substances (natural or synthetic) that are researched in cancer cells fail to pass further animal studies or clinical trials due to a lack of safety or efficacy.
Side Effects of Pine Needles
Keep in mind that the safety profile of pine needle tea or pine needle essential oil is relatively unknown, given the lack of well-designed clinical studies.
The side effects described here are not exhaustive and you should consult your doctor about other potential side effects, based on your health condition and possible drug or supplement interactions.
Users should always take care of any type of essential oil, as an excessive amount or first-time use may irritate the skin and/or airways.
Also, many plants resemble pine trees, some of which are toxic to humans and animals. For example, Podocarpus macrophyllus, the Yew pine (not a true pine), is a class 2 level toxicity plant, and it can cause vomiting and diarrhea in humans [42, 43].
Ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) trees are known to cause abortions in pregnant cows. Not much else is known about the effects of the various species of pine on human health .
Currently, there does not seem to be any information on drug interactions with pine needle compounds.
Herb-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.
A natural source of pine needle is tea brewed from the needles of the genus Pinus, usually of the white pine, Pinus strobus.
Pine needles are also available as various extracts, tablets, or pine needle oil capsules.
Pine Needle Dosage & Reviews
Due to the lack of clinical studies, a proper pine needle dosage cannot be established.
In a study (DB-RCT) exploring antioxidant effects, participants were given four pine needle extract tablets daily (two tablets two times a day). Each tablet contained 300 mg of pine needle extract .
Users have reported improved cold symptoms, such as congestion relief, from drinking pine needle tea and from using pine needle essential oil in aromatherapy. One user claimed the essential oil helped their flu symptoms, reducing the illness period from a week to three days.
Other users reported a pleasant and refreshing taste and smell to the tea.
Some users reported that they could not notice any noticeable benefits from using the essential oil.
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