by Karen Talbot, wild gardener
The fragrance wafting up from my hot cup of tea conjures up favorite evergreen memories as I write. I can still smell the balsam firs where we camped in New Hampshire years ago; discovering a magnificent blue spruce on a South County RI trail; and the pleasure of harvesting pine needles for this cup of tea outside my door. Pines are also my medicine for preventing and easing the symptoms of a cold and cough, building the immune system, and especially preventing the flu. This DIY pine cough and flu remedy is a great herbal solution to survive winter and can be made with almost any evergreen available to you.
Pine: It’s not just about holiday memories
Evergreen needles are the main ingredient for this potent cough and flu remedy combined with wild and kitchen cupboard additions. You can also make this syrup with three basic ingredients: pine, water, and honey. This simple combination is very effective, but other ingredients combine to make it a super-potent elixir for colds, flu, building your immune system, and helping with winter blues in our sun-deprived days of winter…and it’s delicious.
To simplify, in this article, I’ll refer to all edible evergreens as pine. It is important to distinguish edible pine needles from poisonous varieties. According to Josh Tesolin, co-founder of RusticWise, a resource for home, garden, sustainability, and self-reliance knowledge, that yew and ponderosa pine are poisonous. If you are unsure about your identification, I rely on my copy of Edible Wild Plants by Oliver Perry Medsger. To learn more about white pine, an excellent option for this article, visit our post Winter Healing with White Pine.
Survive winter with this herbal remedy on hand
When my adult son came down with the flu two years ago, he decided to use over-the-counter medication and ended up going to Urgent Care. When I began having the same symptoms days later, I turned to this pine remedy right away. As a result, I was feeling myself again in three days, while my poor son had the flu for 1½ weeks. Herbs can work that fast if you pay attention to your body and take this elixir at the first sign of feeling wonky. Make it before you need it!
How to make a DIY Pine cough and flu remedy
- 4 or 5 cups of chopped pine needles and/or mixed edible evergreens
- 4 – 3 inch cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
- 1 cup or more of wild or garden herbs that benefit the respiratory system such as: mugwort mullein, goldenrod, hyssop or sage.
- 6 whole cloves
- A 3 inch or more piece of ginger, cut into chunks
- 2 quarts of Water (8 cups)
- Orange Peel from 1 or 2 oranges to taste, fresh or dried. Or slice the whole orange and add to the pot. (I usually try to peel the orange zest free of any white bitter pith, but it’s not necessary in this recipe due to the amount of liquid, multiple flavors, and honey.)
- A couple of star anise pods
- 1 cup fresh or dried rose hips seeded, or a mix of other wild berries such as staghorn sumac, Japanese barberries, autumn olives, etc.
- 2 cups raw unfiltered honey (in equal parts as the reduced decoction)
- ½ – 1 cup of brandy to preserve (this equals ¼-½ the amount of the final concentrated decoction. The more brandy, the longer the shelf-life).
Other Suggested Additions
- 3 cups wild grapes
- A spoonful of fennel seed
- A small handful dried reishi mushroom slices
- A hot pepper or two
- Place everything in a large soup pot and bring to just under boiling. Then reduce the heat to low.
- Simmer on low (very few or no bubbles) for several hours with lid ajar until concentrated into about ¼ of original liquid (about 2 cups).
This took me 10+ hours on my electric stove at the lowest possible heat to be extra careful to preserve the Vitamin C and other properties. Make sure the pot lid is ajar in order to capture most of the oils, essences, and Vitamin C but open enough to let the liquid escape to make the concentrated decoction.
- Add an equal amount of honey to the warm concentrated decoction and then add the brandy to make it shelf stable.
*If adding brandy is not an option, Pine Needle Cough and Flu Remedy will keep in the refrigerator for several months.
Do not give to children a year old or under. Their immune systems are not developed enough for never-before-eaten plants, honey, and especially alcohol.
- for children 12+ years, and adults: 1 tablespoon at onset of symptoms, 1 teaspoon 3-4 times per day or as needed thereafter.
- Acute: 1 teaspoon every hour to lessen symptoms and length of illness.
- For children 1+ to 12 years: ¼- ½ teaspoon every 2-4 hours to alleviate discomfort.
- For the winter blues: take 1 tablespoon occasionally to build the immune system.
The healing properties of Nature’s pharmacy
*Pine: Pine needles are high in vitamins A and C. The oil of pine is analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antineuralgic, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antiviral, bactericidal, cholagogue, decongestant, deodorant, disinfectant, diuretic, expectorant, insecticide, stimulant, and vermifuge.
According to the US National Library of Medicine,https//nim.nih.gov, Pine needles exhibit strong antioxidant, antimutagenic, and antiproliferative effects on cancer cells and also antitumor effects in vivo and point to their potential usefulness in cancer prevention.
The only pines I know of that need CAUTION are Ponderosa Pine (uncommon in our area), and the Yew Pine which are toxic.
Cinnamon: Antifungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. In people with type 2 diabetes.
Mugwort: Known as the “Dream Herb”, it has other benefits as well. Mugwort can alleviate chills, fever, and insomnia, helpful for when a cold or the flu makes you feel miserable and restless.
Mullein: Traditional uses have treated asthma, coughs, tuberculosis, and related respiratory problems. Mullein tea is a traditional treatment for chest colds, bronchitis, and asthma.
Goldenrod: A premier decongestant, alleviates upper respiratory congestion stemming from allergies, sinusitis, flu, and a cold. It causes sweating which is another way to rid your system of “bugs” aka toxins.
Ginger: Especially good at halting growth of bacteria like E.coli and shigella. May also keep viruses like RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) at bay.
Clove: High anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties beneficial for sore throat, cough, sinusitis that clears the nasal passage and gives relief from respiratory problems. It has a cooling effect on the nasal cavity and throat.
Star Anise: Kills off bacteria, rich in antioxidants, wards off fungal infections, natural flu fighter, can help regulate blood sugar and may boost heart health.
Rose Hips: High in Vitamin C, evidenced to strengthen the immune system, promotes circulation, reduces inflammation, and prevents heart disease.
Japanese Barberry: Excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that may help protect against cellular damage, which can lead to heart disease and cancer.
Orange: Vitamin C fruit whose zest blends in to add its lovely citrus flavor.
Discover your backyard pharmacy
Interested in a guide on your DIY herbal adventure? Karen Talbot leads property walks where she will help you identify the medicinal and edible plants growing there. She also leads in-home trainings on how to make herbal remedies and medicine. Contact her at KarenTalbotArt@gmail.com to learn more.
The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact your health practitioner to discuss your own health needs.