Herb: Ponderosa Pine

Latin name: Pinus ponderosa

Family: Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Medicinal use of Ponderosa Pine:

Ponderosa pine was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes, who valued it especially for its antiseptic and vulnerary properties, using it to treat a range of skin problems, cuts, wounds, burns etc. It was also valued for its beneficial effect upon the respiratory system and was used to treat various chest and lung complaints. The turpentine obtained from the resin of all pine trees is antiseptic, diuretic, rubefacient and vermifuge. It is a valuable remedy used internally in the treatment of kidney and bladder complaints and is used both internally and as a rub and steam bath in the treatment of rheumatic affections. It is also very beneficial to the respiratory system and so is useful in treating diseases of the mucous membranes and respiratory complaints such as coughs, colds, influenza and TB. Externally it is a very beneficial treatment for a variety of skin complaints, wounds, sores, burns, boils etc and is used in the form of liniment plasters, poultices, herbal steam baths and inhalers. The branches are used in herbal steam baths as a treatment for muscular pains. A decoction of the plant tops has been used in the treatment of internal bleeding and high fevers. An infusion of the dried buds has been used as an eye wash.

Description of the plant:


25 m
(82 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Found in a variety of soils from sea level to 2800 metres, though mainly inland and in drier areas. The best growth is from trees growing in deep well-drained soils.

Edible parts of Ponderosa Pine:

Inner bark - raw or cooked. Mucilaginous. Best harvested in the spring. The inner bark can be eaten fresh, but is more often dried, ground into a powder and either used as a thickener in soups or is mixed with flour for making bread etc. Seed - raw or cooked. Rich in oil, the seed has a slightly resinous flavour. Quite small, it is only about 8mm long. The seed can be crushed into a meal and used in making bread etc. The resin has been chewed as a gum. Young male cones have been chewed for the juice. A vanillin flavouring is obtained as a by-product of other resins that are released from the pulpwood.

Other uses of the herb:

A tan or green dye is obtained from the needles. A yellow dye can be made from the pollen. A blue dye can be made from the roots. The needles contain a substance called terpene, this is released when rain washes over the needles and it has a negative effect on the germination of some plants, including wheat. The branches are used as a strewing herb. A decoction of the plant tops has been used as a conditioning wash to give a person a fair and smooth skin. A fairly wind-tolerant tree, it can be used in shelterbelt plantings. This tree is a source of resin, though it is not exploited commercially. Oleo-resins are present in the tissues of all species of pines, but these are often not present in sufficient quantity to make their extraction economically worthwhile. The resins are obtained by tapping the trunk, or by destructive distillation of the wood. In general, trees from warmer areas of distribution give the higher yields. Turpentine consists of an average of 20% of the oleo-resin and is separated by distillation. Turpentine has a wide range of uses including as a solvent for waxes etc, for making varnish, medicinal etc. Rosin is the substance left after turpentine is removed. This is used by violinists on their bows and also in making sealing wax, varnish etc. Pitch can also be obtained from the resin and is used for waterproofing, as a wood preservative, adhesive etc. It burns well and so has been used to make torches. The root fibres have been used in making baskets. Material for insulation and a tinder are also obtained from the tree. The cones make a quick fire, whilst the scales from the trunk bark burn easily, give off no smoke and cool quickly. Wood - light, strong, fine-grained and pleasantly aromatic, the wood can vary from soft to hard. An important lumber tree, it is used for making furniture, boxes, toys etc, and it is also used for fuel. For reasons that are unclear, some tree stumps contain high concentrations of pitch - this makes them very rot-resistant and inflammable and therefore useful for fence posts and kindling.

Propagation of Ponderosa Pine:

It is best to sow the seed in individual pots in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe if this is possible otherwise in late winter. A short stratification of 6 weeks at 4C can improve the germination of stored seed. Plant seedlings out into their permanent positions as soon as possible and protect them for their first winter or two. Plants have a very sparse root system and the sooner they are planted into their permanent positions the better they will grow. Trees should be planted into their permanent positions when they are quite small, between 30 and 90cm. We actually plant them out when they are about 5 - 10cm tall. So long as they are given a very good weed-excluding mulch they establish very well. Larger trees will check badly and hardly put on any growth for several years. This also badly affects root development and wind resistance. Cuttings. This method only works when taken from very young trees less than 10 years old. Use single leaf fascicles with the base of the short shoot. Disbudding the shoots some weeks before taking the cuttings can help. Cuttings are normally slow to grow away.

Cultivation of the herb:

Found in a variety of soils from sea level to 2800 metres, though mainly inland and in drier areas. The best growth is from trees growing in deep well-drained soils.

Known hazards of Pinus ponderosa:

The wood, sawdust and resins from various species of pine can cause dermatitis in sensitive people.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.