Pine pollen has been used for a long time in Eastern traditions as a tonic for enhanced vitality and longevity. Why did they use it for that purpose and does it work?
It is proposed that pine pollens longevity and vitality properties came from their healthy mix of androgens, phytosteroids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Of course the nutritional content varies by species, location and season. There are over 200 bioactive nutrients in pine pollen and it is considered a complete protein. Pine pollen contains a healthy array of hormones and hormone precursors with studies showing it has growth stimulating hormones (Brassinosteroids) and hormones necessary for the building of testosterone and progesterone (Brassinolide, castasterone, typhasterol and several glutathione transferases). In the past two decades numerous studies have and are being conducted on its use for use in dopamine and adrenaline synthesis, testosterone stimulation, reducing cancerous cell proliferation in breast and prostate cancers and treatment of anti-inflammatory diseases. Pine pollen has a sweet and mild flavor, is non-toxic (only avoid if allergic) and warming.
While these are all very interesting studies, I would consult your healthcare professional if you want to know more or use for any of these purposes. There are other more common uses of pine pollen that I wanted to discuss in this post.
In Chinese medicine, pine pollen is used for dry lung conditions, skin conditions, prostate, immune system, cardiovascular system, and digestive support.
Dry lung conditions would be where you have a dry cough where no mucus is present or more seriously, where the tissues surrounding the alveoli are inflamed and scarred and/or the smaller airways to lungs are closed or reduced in size. Pine pollen helps reduce the inflammation that is the main causative factor in the decreased function of the lungs.
Pine pollen can be applied topically to the skin for diaper rash, acne, eczema, sun damage, shingles, lupus and wounds. This is mainly due to their steroid, amino acids and mineral content. Reducing inflammation in these conditions and aiding in healing and regrowth of healthy skin. In the Chinese Materia Medica it lists use of pine pollen for bleeding from injury, impetigo, and skin erosions or sores with pus.
For supporting the immune and cardiovascular systems, studies show pine pollen protects the liver (main organ in cleaning you blood and lymph systems of invaders and toxins) from the effects of excess environmental chemicals, easing fatigue, reducing inflammation and reducing LDL cholesterol levels. Additionally, studies show pine pollen will help people with fibrotic liver conditions. (see article, "Golden Dust" for specific study details).
So how do we harvest and prepare pine pollen? Among Native American tribes, pollen-swollen pine catkins were regularly harvest as a primary springtime food, cooked alone or with meat. It has a slightly sweet and mild flavor.
Pollen is collected during early to mid April, when pollen production is most robust, this is early April to May for us in Minnesota. Ripe catkins will release a puff of pollen smoke when poked. If they are not ripe yet, you can still collect them in a paper bag and let them sit and ripen for a few days.
Make sure you are wearing old clothes, a mask, bandana and maybe even goggles when harvesting. You will end up coated in layers of fine yellow powder when you are done harvesting. Also bring along some rubbing alcohol or turpentine to wipe the sap off your skin when done.
While you can use a bag or small glass jar to place over catkin and shake out the pollen, that is time consuming and more popular method is to harvest the whole catkins in a bag. If bag is attached to your waist, you can work quickly with both hands to pick the catkins with a small twist to remove them from the branch.
Commercial harvesters let the catkins dry on trays, then shake them to extract pollen and filter to remove debris not wanted.
How do I prepare and take pine pollen? You can put the pollen into capsules, or more commonly, make a pine pollen oxymel or tincture. The pollen oxymel is made by mixing pine pollen in honey or honey and vinegar. Take a spoonful or more.
Pine pollen tincture is prepared by combining pollen (1 part) to 60-70% alcohol (5 parts) in a glass jar. Cover tightly and shake daily for 2 weeks. Strain through cloth over a funnel into a glass jar. Squeeze all the liquid out and put the Marc (leftover plant solids) into your garden to feed your plants as well.
You can also make a basic tincture using the catkins directly by packing the catkins into alcohol and let them macerate for several weeks.
Try it this spring and see how it makes you feel. As always, contact a health professional for advice on use of pine pollen. Happy harvesting.
Ullian, Naomi. (2020). Golden Dust Pollen of the Humble Pine. The Herbal Academy.com.
Groves, Maria Noel (2016). Evergreen Healers: Medicine from the Winter Forest. The Herbarium. https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/2016/03/evergreen-healers-medicine-from-the-winter-forest/