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An Afternoon Tea:

Rediscovering the Pines of my Backyard

Shelby Elizabeth Miller

The perfect setting for nostalgia is reflectively peering out a window with a cup of tea, wrapped up in a warm blanket as you allow your gaze to soften into a blur while the leaves of the tree foliage outside start to blend together. The wispy cloud of steam rising from the tea perfectly emulates the meandering memories that are both comforting and saddening. As one longs to return to days that resonate in their heart, they simultaneously appreciate them for the good times that they were. Last Sunday afternoon as I sat in this atmosphere while warming my hands around a mug of tea, I nostalgically reminisced on childhood memories. I was able to look back with a new perspective on the influence of trees as they were integrated in my life. As I have ventured into the realm of my past relationship with Longleaf Pines, I have also found ways to rediscover their role in my life, even through a simple recipe for tea.

Through discussions in class of Janisse Ray’s memoir, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, I have been intrigued by my own personal connection to Longleaf Pines. In her memoir, Ray remembers the land of Appling County, Georgia where she grew up and describes a place where nature and her personal life intertwined. Growing up, I did not have much scientific or even general knowledge about pines. However, after reading this book and learning more about pines in the academic setting, my eyes have been opened to the unusual presence of a Longleaf Pine forest right in my backyard. I grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which is the home of the large army base of Fort Bragg, and I never took notice of the exorbitant concentration of pines around my home. I remember them as a defining quality and characteristic of the area around my house, but I never noted that this was any different than any other wooded area. Now that I think back to my childhood experiences and the presence of the pines in my own backyard, I can pinpoint multiple instances where the two intersected and left an indelible impression upon me. This course has provided an outlet for me to re-evaluate my relationship with the pines that I have always had. An intimate relationship, even while it was not conscious one.

In order to provide the necessary impetus for my reflective session, my first step towards redefining my interaction with the pines was to try Pine Needle Tea. Among various options including eating pine park, pine nuts, and other ways to make the pine tree a nutritional part of your diet, I was particularly drawn to this possibility and made it my endeavor to brew up this intriguing concoction (“How to Eat a Pine Tree”). I discovered that Pine Needle Tea contains four to five times the Vitamin C of freshly squeezed orange juice and is also high in Vitamin A. Plus it can be used as an expectorant, decongestant, and antiseptic making it the perfect aid for a common cold (Starnater). Making my way out to the woods to collect my pine needles, I could hardly contain my excitement.

After harvesting a fresh bunch of Longleaf Pine needles, I removed the brown tips and chopped the green needles into one-inch pieces. While savoring the scent of the freshly wounded needles, I brought my water to a boil. Adding in about a teaspoon of needles, I let the tea steep for about ten minutes before straining the tea into a fresh mug and adding a squeeze of lemon, per the recipes recommendation (“How to Make Pine Needle Herbal Tea”). Inhaling the piney scent, I relished in the perfect combination of the pine tea and the cozy warmth of the holiday season atmosphere that surrounded me. Though I was skeptical at first, my first sip of Pine Needle Tea was surprisingly delicious. It tasted just as a Christmas tree smells, with a citrusy and refreshing flavor. After brewing and enjoying a fresh pot of Pine Needle Tea, I was ready to delve into rediscovering the pines of my backyard.

One way that the pines made their existence noticeable during my childhood was the excessive amount of sap and pollen that permeated every facet of our daily life. In fact, we even constructed an additional two-car garage onto our house directly because of this sap and pollen. Every year, we knew exactly when spring had arrived because of the thick yellow coating of film that covered our cars if they were not consistently parked under the shelter. Similarly, the sap that would drip onto our windshields could not be simply swiped away by the average windshield wiper. An afternoon of washing the cars in the driveway with hoses and huge buckets of soapsuds was a common family bonding experience.

A minor nuisance to us, the sticky sap was actually harnessed as an economic endeavor throughout North Carolina beginning in the 19th century. The extensive use of pine trees can be seen in the naval stores that were shipped from the coast of eastern North Carolina. Their use for the production of turpentine, rosin, pitch, and tar, the sap of the pine tree was invaluable (Earley 100-104). Even today, turpentine has multiple medicinal uses and can be used as cleaner and polish. Additionally, rosin is used for cooking potatoes, de-skinning pigs, de-feathering fowl, polishing violin bows, enhancing ballet shoes, and producing cosmetics, perfume, fiberglass, chewing gum, glass, and gunpowder (Earley 100-104). According to an 1840 census, the naval stores of coastal Carolina produced economic gains of hundreds of thousands of dollars and played essential roles in the colonial economy and the American Revolutionary War.

Another way we interacted with the pines in my childhood was our collection of pine straw from the thick carpet covering the ground behind our house. We would commonly burn this pine straw and pinecones in bonfires that gathered friends and family around the warmth. I have so many fond memories of the fun we had on these summer nights and cold winter evenings. I never even recognized the contribution of the pines that dotted our property to these heartwarming events.

I’ve learned that there is actually a huge industry of pine straw harvesting that is a source of income for some North Carolinians. I never knew we were getting this valued landscaping for free for all those years, and to my surprise the pine straw industry is a multi-million dollar industry that provides the number one mulching material used in landscape planting. Since pine trees shed their needles every year, the production is sustainable on a consistent basis (Starbuck and Kirk). Sold for around $12 for a 20 pound bale, pine straw provides landowners a great opportunity for income depending on the market and demand (Dyer and Barlow). However, harvesters must be careful about their approach to avoid loss of vegetation species to the understory of Longleaf forests, decreased soil infiltration rates, increased runoff volume, greater sediment loads, and increased soil erosion. Less frequent harvesting and utilization of best management practices, such as raking earlier in the season so additional straw can accumulate following the harvest, can easily manage these risks. One other thing to be conscious of is the prevention of invasive species such as cogongrass through the use of equipment (Dyer and Barlow).

My afternoon tea left me satiated and with a new appreciation for my own backyard that contains at least twenty of these majestic Longleaf Pine trees just outside my window for me to gaze upon as I enjoy the citrus flavor of the tree’s very own needles. Not only did I find a new recipe, I learned of rich history and intriguing current industries that are influenced by the pines that I have always known. I encourage you to try the Pine Needle Tea recipe for yourself and see what you are able to discover by nostalgically reflecting to connect memories to new knowledge.


Class of 2016

Exercise & Sport Science and Religious Studies

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Works Cited

Dyer, Janice, and Becky Barlow. “Harvesting Pine Straw for Profit: Questions Landowners Should Ask Themselves.” Auburn University, Feb. 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1418/index2.tmpl>.

Earley, Lawrence S. Looking for Longleaf: The Fall and Rise of an American Forest. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004. 100-04. Print.

"How to Eat a Pine Tree." Tactical Intelligence. Tacticalintelligence.net, 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.tacticalintelligence.net/blog/how-to-eat-a-pine-tree.htm>.

"How to Make a Pine Needle Herbal Tea." Tea Zone. Teazone.org, 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://teazone.org/make-tea/pine-needle-herbal-tea.html>.

Starbuck, Chris, and Steven D. Kirk. "Pine Straw: A New Mulch for Missouri."Centerforagroforestry.org. University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry, 19 Nov. 2010. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. <http://www.centerforagroforestry.org/profit/pine/pine.php>.

Starnater, Eddie. "Pine Needle Tea." Practicalprimitive.com. Practical Primitive, 2010. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.practicalprimitive.com/skillofthemonth/pineneedletea.html>.