Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Pine, the remedy for those suffering feelings of guilt, is made by the boiling method.
The bark of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) is orange-brown and scaly, developing plates and fissures with age. The trees are occasionally termed European redwoods and are the only truly native pine trees in the UK. They were abundant in the Caledonian Forest and those in the remnants of the Forest descend from trees which arrived in Scotland about 9,000 years ago. Today, the trees are widely planted to provide timber – Scots pine timber is one of the strongest softwoods and is used in the construction industry and joinery. It is also used to make telegraph poles, gate posts and fencing.
The tree can be tapped for resin which is distilled to make natural turpentine. This was used in traditional medicine to treat wounds and taken internally for parasites. It was considered to have antiseptic and diuretic properties and also used in an inhaler or chest rub to relieve cold symptoms. A pillow stuffed with pine needles was believed to soothe chest conditions. Today, the well-known chest rub Vick’s VapoRub still contains oil of turpentine. However, the major uses of turpentine are as a solvent for example to thin paints and as a source of starting materials for the chemical industry. This latter use is due primarily to the major components of the turpentine, α- and β-pinene.
These closely-related, volatile monoterpenes have the same formula but differ in the position of the double bond. They are also found in oils of rosemary, orange peel and eucalyptus. When given off by the tree, they interact with other compounds in the atmosphere, such as ozone, to produce nanoparticles. These are Rayleigh scatterers and split light from the sun into its component colours. As blue light is scattered most, the trees are surrounded by a blue haze – the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia get their name from this effect and the trees are protected from high temperatures.
Pine tar is made by burning the wood in a closed container. Tar was used on ships to waterproof ropes and sailors’ hands would become stained – British Navy seamen became known as Jack Tars or simply tars, as a result. Pine tar has also been used in the form of a soap to treat skin conditions including psoriasis and eczema. In veterinary medicine, it is used to treat cattle and horses’ hooves.
Pine essential oil is used in aromatherapy to reduce inflammation, treat respiratory and skin conditions, boost the immune system, stimulate the mind and body and protect the home and body from a wide variety of germs. The smell of pine is associated with cleanliness and its fragrance often added to home cleaning products.
Beers made with spruce or pine needles or shoots were introduced to the UK by the Vikings. They contain vitamin C and were sometimes drunk by sailors to help them avoid scurvy. Teas made with the needles could also be used. Shetland spruce ale was said to “stimulate animal instincts” and make you have twins.
Groups of conifers, particularly pines, often occur in groups of seven, known as Seven Sisters. Legend has it only six will flourish and the seventh will die, no matter how often it is replaced.