Pine Tar is one of the oldest, yet most commonly used product even today! You can usually find it in urban areas and tractor supply stores in the equine sections. But this simple little sap can be used for so many things, I am sure it’s going surprise you.
First, a little science and history to start you off….
Unless your living in a tropical climate, Pine trees are just about everywhere. All pines secrete sap/tar as a means of protecting and healing itself from a wound. It can even be used in lieu of stitches if out in the woods (Nature’s bandaid). Some pines are are more sweeter smelling, while others are more like turpentine, but the end product(s) are still beneficial if you can tolerate the strong aroma.
Early American Indians used it to heal wounds straight from the tree and rubbed on chest or boiled as tea for respiratory illnesses. It was chewed to ease sore throats (chewing gum anyone?) They even used the sap to seal their birch bark canoes. It is also reported that they taught the settlers to eat the pine needles during the long cold months of winter, to ward off diseases. (Basically, that means that the vitamin C contained in the pine needles built up their immune systems.) Many of us may even remember our grandparents (even their grandparents) using black tar salve in any manner of ways. It is still used to this day in soaps, shampoo’s, teas, salves and even sticky pitch. Another common use for pine tar was as a sealant for roofs (both yesteryears thatched and even more modern systems,) boats and barrels, as well as road adhesive.
It is even used by bees (amongst other things) to create propolis (which is a very stick substance that hardens, aka: bee glue) to seal off cracks and small openings in their hives against cold, wind, rain and predators. That is why we must use hive tools to ‘pry’ open the hives whenever we go in. And as soon as we close it up… they begin to reseal it. As a side note: Propolis also has many medicinal properties, which I can’t help but wonder if that may be due in part to the pine sap.
The pine trees in my area are Eastern White Pines (Pinus Strobus), which thankfully are the sweeter of the pines and there are many, many of them right in my back yard. They are strong, and very tall pillars of the land. Harvesting the sap wasn’t very hard either. I found one certain tree that a woodpecker had taken a liking to, over a long period of time judging from all the old holes. They do this to attract the insects to the tree so they can eat them. But this ol’ tree gushed out its sap on each and every spot. So with my old screwdriver in hand and an old tin can to collect it; I pulled the old tar from the bark. Now these were obviously old wounds and sap, so I was not opening up any wounds.( I am not an advocate of creating a wound on a tree unnecessarily, when most likely there is a tree close by with sap already on it. Just look around, that’s part of the charm in foraging.) The tar was in various stages of age… some where pliable tar while others where like rock crystals. The large crystals where broken up with a hammer to aid in their ability to dissolve in the solutions I had planned for them.
Now, before I share the menstrua and methods of its use, let me “pitch” you the many beneficial elements of the piney sap:
and some of its many uses are as follows:
- infectious boils and pustules
- deep cuts and wounds
- hemostatic (blood stopper)
- eczema and psoriasis
- skin rashes (including poison ivy/oak)
- sore throat, strep throat
- colds, flu and sinus
- respiratory ailments: bronchitis, pneumonia and other breathing difficulties
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it is also used as hoof dressings for those of you that have horses, cattle and the like. Although there is much controversy over its use, I would imagine if it doesn’t contain any solvents (petroleum, turpentine or lanolins), and used straight from the tree or has only natural healing ingredients (beeswax, natural oils, etc as in a homemade salve) it is most likely safe. But I am not an expert, so please consult your farrier or vet.
So now we move on to what to do with your stash of sap. First of all sort out the sap into two piles: soft and hard. Take the hard chunks and place between 2 paper plates and use a hammer to break up the pieces as much as possible. The smaller they are they quicker they will dissolve.
Pine Sap Tincture:
Fill a jar 1/4 to 1/2 of the jar (or as much as you gathered, but certainly not more than half) and then add highest grain alcohol (Everclear is the best) to just cover the sap. It is important to use an alcohol with very little water content (190 proof or higher), as the sap is hydrophobic and will not break down. Give it a couple good shakes and set it aside, shaking daily till it is almost to completely gone. You may notice three layers of separation. Alcohol, sediment and sap gravel (see photo). This is normal and once its done (anywhere from 1 wk to 6 wks, depending on how much sap you started with and the alcohol you use), you will strain off any debris (bugs, bark and dirt) before putting it in its final jar. Use a fine screen sieve with a couple layers of cheese cloth or a coffee filter to keep the sediment out of your final product. Susan Weed recommends 5 to 10 drops of tincture for most remedies. You can add it to a tea with honey or a homemade cough medicine for respiratory issues. It can also be used in a spray bottle as a wound cleaner, healer and sealer; and as a spray for the throat.
Pine tar infused oil:
Fill a ‘disposable’ jar (not your nice mason jars, I used an old pickle jar because more than likely you will have to throw the jar out as its too difficult to clean) 1/2 full with the harvested sap. Before adding the oil, I decided to add pine needles chopped up on top of the sap for both added medicinal benefits and more sweeter pine scent. Then fill the jar within an inch of the top with your chosen oil (I find that sweet almond oil is my usual oil of choice because it absorbs quite nicely into the skin without leaving you oily). Normally I infuse my oils directly into my tiny crock pot when using herbs, but because we are using a highly sticky material, I use the double boil method in my crockpot. (meaning I fill the crock with enough water to reach the oil line when I place the jar inside being careful not to fully submerge the jar) I leave the jar open and place it in the water with a folded up paper towel on the bottom so the jar doesn’t get too hot and turn the crock on ‘low’ overnight. Just before bed I make sure that there is enough water in the crock to sufficiently last all night. By morning, most if not all of the sap has dissolved into the oil with bits and pieces of bark/etc floating around. Now I used my canning jar funnel with 4 layers of cheesecloth slightly draped and rubber banded to filter out the now golden yellow oil into my jar.
If you don’t want to use a crock or the double boiler method, and have the patience of a saint (DEFINITELY NOT ME), you can just use the solar method by putting it in a sunny window for a few weeks. However you chose to make it, heat is the means of which to infuse the sap into the oil.
This oil has such versatility in use, make sure you keep a decent quantity on hand. And I have several plans in mind to use it. Salve is my primary utility first aid, and by substituting 1/4 (pine oil) of my total oil recipe requirement (i.e. 4TB = 1TB pine oil and 3TB other infused oil), I can make an incredible healing salve with my Calendula, Yarrow, Plantain and Lavender infused oil. For instructions on making herbal infused oil click here, and to make a salve (remember what I said above when adding pine oil to the recipe) click here.
This salve makes for great chest congestion relief when applied to the chest during colds, bronchitis or any respiratory ailments, and any typical salve applications such as splinter, wounds, eczema and other dermatitis afflictions.
I may also use it in a face wash for someone with acne or facial eczema, or in shampoo for dandruff or scalp issues.
It seems almost endless, the possibilities and uses of natures most easily available healer. So grab a can, screwdriver and take a walk in the woods. Enjoy!!