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 and in Europe, since the 1940s, to treat scurvy.
Studies recently revealed numerous health benefits of pine needles, such as being antioxidant, reducing inflammation and fighting cancer. Read on to learn more about the top health benefits of pine needles.
What is Pine Needle Tree?
Compounds extracted from pine needles have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-cancer properties .
Antioxidants combat oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage and disease, and help lower inflammation in the body.
- Pine species
- Age of the plant
- Geographical origin
- Growth stage of the plant
- Extraction process
- Harvesting and storage
- Water extraction
- Alcohol (ethanol or methanol)
- Other (Ethyl acetate, n-butanol)
Main Components of Pine Needles
Pine needles are composed of a variety of essential oils, acids, procyanidins, and flavonoid glycosides .
- germacrene D
Mechanism of Action
The 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, blocks cancer cell growth (by affecting gene regulation) .
Pine needle essential oil has microbe-fighting action Usually, the compounds (monoterpenes) in the oil reduce energy generation in the bacteria and this way kill the bacteria. These compounds (monoterpenoids and monoterpenes) also affect fungi in a similar way, by disrupting the structure of cells [15, 16, 17].
The antioxidant abilities of pine needle extract are attributed to the phenolic compounds (which can donate hydrogen atoms to the harmful free radicals) .
The memory-boosting effects of pine needle extract are most likely related to its antioxidant properties, which can protect the brain from damage (via reducing oxidative stress) .
Health Benefits of Pine Needles
1) Pine Needle Is A Potent Antioxidant
Another study 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) .
Human liver cancer cells were pretreated with pine needle extract and exposed to oxidative stress. The extract protected the cells, reducing the harmful effects .
In a different study, various 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 responsible for the antioxidant action .
Pine needle (P. morrisonicola Hay.) water extract also protected against various harmful compounds (hydroxyl radicals, intracellular ROS, and superoxide anion) in cells, which indicates powerful antioxidant action [23, 24].
2) Pine Needle Boosts Memory
Pine needle (P. densiflora) extract also reversed stress-induced memory impairment in mice, by affecting a part of the brain important for memory (by reducing damage in the hippocampus) .
3) Pine Needle May Reduce Depression
One study found that ethanolic pine needle (P. eldarica) extract reduced symptoms of depression in mice by increasing their physical activity in a stressful environment. This indicates that pine needle extract could be used as an antidepressant .
4) Pine Needle May Fight Cancer
Pine needle extract stops the growth of cancer cells. In one study, pine needle (P. morrisonicola Hay.) water extract blocked the growth of human leukemia cancer cells .
Pine needle (P. morrisonicola Hay.) water extract killed human brain cancer cells. The compound chrysin, in the extract, was the had the strongest effect against cancer cell growth and spreading .
2In another cell study, pine needle (P. densiflora Siebold & Zucc.) essential oil reduced growth, spreading, and survival of human breast cancer cells .
A few studies looked at the anti-cancer effects of a compound found in pine needle essential oil, α-pinene. All three studies found that α-pinene blocked human liver cancer cell rapid growth [14, 31, 32].
5) Pine Needle May Reduce Inflammation
Pine needle essential oil from three different species (P. heldreichii, P. peuce, and P. mugo) reduced IL-6 production in mouse white blood cells, indicating that pine needles may reduce inflammation .
6) Pine Needle May Fight Fungal and Bacterial Infections
The compounds found in pine needle essential oil can kill microbes. The essential oil of black pine (P. nigra ssp. dalmatica, ssp. nigra, ssp. pallasiana, and var. banatica) blocked both gram-positive bacteria and fungal growth [34, 35].
The essential oil from other pine species was also determined to have antibacterial (P. densiflora) and antifungal (P. koraiensis) effects .
7) Pine Needle May Reduce 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. Catechin, the active compound, is a new potential treatment for high blood pressure .
Due to the lack of studies on humans, there are not many known side effects associated with pine needle tea or pine needle essential oil. However, users should always take care of any type of essential oil, as an excessive amount or first-time use may irritate the skin.
Also, there are many plants that 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, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in humans [38, 39].
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 .
Limitations and Caveats
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, many of these claims have not been adequately tested in humans. Although studies have shown that pine needle extract has anti-cancer, memory boosting, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidative effects, none were done with tea. These studies were also mostly in mice models or on human cells [24, 25, 33, 20, 41].
More research should confirm the health benefits and safety of pine needles .
Currently, there does not seem to be any information on drug interactions with pine needle compounds.
A natural source of pine needle is a 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 as pine needle oil capsules.
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.