top of page

Your Christmas Tree Gift of Health & Healing - Part One

Health and Healing Properties of The Pine Tree

An alternative title for this article could be: The Rediscovery of Wisdom and Healing of The Pine Tree. The more we connect with trees and our folklore and stories the more we tap into the timeless wisdom and healing of Mother Nature. Read on to find out what modern medicine is rediscovering that the ancients always knew.

Gods and Goddesses Associated with the Pine Tree

The pine tree epitomises the World Tree with the guiding star at its tip. It is regarded as a sacred tree throughout the world.

Below are a few gods and goddesses associated with the pine tree:

· In Finland Hongatar the emuu (creator) of bears and pine trees Ukko, the god of sky and thunder and bear, the mythical ancestor. Tellervo, daughter of forest god Tapio and huntress goddess Mielikki.

· In ancient Rome pine was connected to Mars, the god of war, Bacchus the god of wine and Diana the goddess of hunt.

Ancient Greek Vase depicting pine cones
Pine cones on vase Satyroi Mainade in the Louvre.

· In ancient Greece pine was connected to Artemis, the goddess of hunt and it was also connected to Hestia, the goddess of the hearth fire, Dionysus, Pan and Posidon.

· Vikings and Germanic tribes connected pine to the war god Tyr.

(I will explore these more in future articles.)

The pine tree is associated with healing, longevity and resilience against adversity to name just a few of its' wonderful properties.

These attributes attributed since ancient times should not surprise us since in Greece for example we find ancient amphoras sealed with pine resin, boats were sealed with it and pine in used in the production of the drink Retsina. As a historian and archaeologist I am fascinated by the links between ancient myth and the historical and cultural uses and applications of trees. We have so much to learn and rediscover from our ancestors.

Pines, Conifers and Firs, What Is The Difference?

Pine, Conifer and Fir are all interchangeable names for the one family of evergreens. They all bear cones, the yew however produces red berries although the male yews produce small, round pollen cones. The larch is not evergreen but does produce both needles and cones, losing the needles in the winter.

Pliny The Elder and The Pine Tree

Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, of AD 77-9 is perhaps the earliest written work on the much loved pine family:

It is a well-known fact that forests planted solely with trees from which pitch and resin are extracted, are remarkably beneficial for patients suffering from phthisis or who are un- able to recover their strength after a long illness: indeed it is said, that in such cases to breathe the air of localities thus planted, is more beneficial even than to take a voyage to Egypt or to go on a summer’s journey to the mountains to drink the milk there, impregnated with the perfumes of plants.

The use of pine oil, resin, needles and nuts for various diseases have been included in herbals across the centuries. Even today we associate the pine with health and healing of colds and lung conditions.

English Herbalism and The Pine Tree

Two English early modern herbalists, John Gerard (c.1545-1612) and Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654), recommended the use of pine for lung conditions. Gerard wrote that

‘it is a remedy against an old cough, and long infirmities of the chest’,

and that

‘it cureth the phthisic, and those that pine and consume away through the rottenness of their lungs’

Gerard 1633, 2nd edition, 1456.

Culpepper similarly argued that

‘Pine-Nuts, restore such as are in consumptions, amend the failings of the lungues, concoct flegm’ [sic.], which suggests that the pinecones were still commonly indicated for lung conditions at this time.'

Culpepper 1815 edition, original published in 1665, 17.

Culpepper also talks about the medicinal use of turpentine. This is made from resin obtained from trees such as pine and was used as a purgative. We can see that pine products have been used medicinally in various formulations since ancient times. It was therefore only a matter of time before pine forests became integral to the treatment of tuberculosis as that lung condition became a prime cause of death in the late 19th century.

German Forests As Sanatoriums

Therefore Alpine and forested locations came to be seen as ideal places for treating tuberculosis patients during the nineteenth century. In the British Isles pines are (or rather were during the last few hundred years due to deforestation) mainly located in the north up in Scotland. In Germany however the pine is much more widespread.

The first German sanatorium for tuberculosis patients was opened by Dr Hermann Brehmer in the mountains of Silesia in 1854. Not long after Otto Walther’s sanatorium was situated soon afterwards in the pinewoods of the Black Forest.

In nineteenth century Germany forests became part of a new national identity. The pine in particular became associated with the revival of folk ideas as well as the symbolism and use of forests for health in this period.

In 1872 and 1873 The Lancet devoted several columns to accounts of foreign spas and baths by Dr John Macpherson. He recorded a number of visits to different spa places including those at Gernsbach near Baden, which according to him had become popular due

‘to its extract-of-pine baths and inhalation rooms, and its surrounding pine forests’.[14]

The International Pine Tree

At the same time others including Charles Kingzett, a chemist in Britain, and John Day, an Australian physician, developed preparations using pine as both an antiseptic and disinfectant.

Painting of pine trees at Cannes in 1869 by Edward Lear
A View Of The Pine Woods Above Cannes, Edward Lear, 1869

Day advised that hospital wards ‘should be lined with fresh pine boards, so that the natural timber emanations would react with oxygen to produce hydrogen peroxide, and thus hinder the spread of disease.’[16]

The same advice given to hospitals was also used to promote places as health resorts in the late nineteenth century. Dr Horace Dobell in his 1885 book, ‘Bournemouth and its surroundings’, devoted whole chapters to the role of pine trees in health.

During my London practice, when advising patients with pulmonary complaints to visit Bournemouth or Arcachon, I, like most other physicians, always did so with a definite belief that one of the advantages common to these two places was the presence of pine trees.[12]

He said these ‘advantages’ were mainly due to ‘the balsamic emanations from the pines’.[13]

Outdoors To Indoors, Bringing The Healing Power Of The Pine Tree Inside.

At the 1899 at the Berlin Tuberculosis Conference Dr von Unterberger said that due to the pine TB therapy could be administered in

every hospital, and every house”’.

He suggested that to bring the woods indoors small pine trees in containers and also pine tree branches in vases. He said their smell should be increased by sprinkling scented oils onto them when the natural scent disappeared.

In this way the natural environment was brought indoors and enhanced where necessary. From being an immersive experience in the forest, pine tree therapy was brought indoors.

Open Air Therapy and Immune Places Theory

The UK among others adopted the open-air therapies and ‘immune places’ theory as pioneered in Germany and Switzerland, including the idea of the therapeutic pinewood. In 1902, The Lancet contained an article on a speech given by C. Theodore Williams, Consulting Physician To The Hospital For Consumption And Diseases Of The Chest, Brompton. He said,

It [the hospital] should be surrounded by extensive grounds, partly wooded, with fragrant pine groves, providing dry shelter and permitting exercise in all weathers, and partly with open spaces which should be carpeted, not with rank grass, but with the crisp herbage of the mountain side, abounding in thyme and other sweet-scented plants.

Sadly from the start of the twentieth century the a belief in the curative power of the forest faded beyond the products which could be obtained from the trees.

So with the development of treatments, including antibiotics for diseases such as tuberculosis, the pine tree had lost its significance as an essential part of the therapeutic environment in mainstream medical circles by the mid-twentieth century. Despite this the pine has always remained a much loved herbal remedy and its role as a scent in products to clean home and work spaces has continued. So much so that when in 2014 Pine-Sol in the US stopped using natural pine oil in its products due to a shortage and replaced it with an artificial substitute it led to complaints from its consumers!

We may not all be able to get out into the forest but we still connect to the pines through our sense of smell. So if you have brought a real tree inside for Christmas breathe in its healing aroma.

Next time in part two we will explore the use of the pine in modern times, it's scent, modern medical discoveries, forest bathing and more.



Want to learn more from me about trees, deepen your sacred connections, connect with history, archaeology and our ancestors? Sign up at Jack In The Green.

As the founder of Ancient and Sacred Trees, MA Archaeology student, land/forest guide & healer, I love trees, culture and history and the healing power of Mother Nature.

If you enjoyed this article you might like to be a patron and ‘put a penny in my hat’.

"Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat,

Please put a penny in the old man's hat

If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do

If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!”

(Traditional English rhyme)


bottom of page