Over the last few years I have developed a very intimate and powerful herbal alliance with pine trees – in particular the pollen that they produce for just a few weeks every Springtime. Pine pollen has supported my own healing journey immensely and is now a staple source of food and medicine in our household. Just about every part of the pine tree has medicinal value – the needles, bark, seeds and sap, although the richest concentration of nutrients and medicinal compounds is found within the pollen. Pine pollen has been used in China and the east for millennia but has only recently come into focus in the west as a potent adaptogen and superfood.
There are many different species of pine, and all of them offer a similar degree of nutrition and medicine, but the sheer potency of the pollen is really the result of the pine’s evolutionary longevity and ability to adapt to any change they have encountered. Pines have been crafting and perfecting their ecological role for more than 150 million years and have now comfortably established themselves in a variety of different climates all throughout the northern hemisphere and even some areas further south. Their ability to reproduce and proliferate is unrivalled in the plant kingdom, which is where the outright abundance of annually produced pollen comes into play. The flowers of the pine tree – the catkins – produce all of the pollen which is in fact the ‘male semen’ of the tree (a clue to the species name Pinus!) which inseminates the ‘female’ cones through wind pollination so that the cones can mature and produce what we know as “pine nuts” – the tiny seeds that will ultimately grow into towering new trees.
As pines are wind pollinated they have evolved to produce an enormity of pollen each season so that the cones have every chance of becoming fertilised. An adult pine tree produces 2 to 3 kilos of tiny, microscopic pollen grains throughout the brief pollen season, which if multiplied by an entire forest often results in countless tons of pollen spread throughout the entire ecosystem! Pines have evolved to produce way more pollen than they actually need, firstly to ensure propagation of their seeds but also because they are a keystone species of diverse forest ecosystems – a species that many other plants and animals have come to depend upon. People everywhere tend to find the coating of their neighbourhoods with fine yellow pollen dust actually very annoying, with little regard for the fact that it is actually one of the most deeply nourishing and profoundly health promoting substances on Earth!
From a health perspective, pine pollen is one of the most complete sources of nutrition found anywhere. It is a complete source of protein with all 8 ‘essential’ amino acids plus others. It contains omega 3 fats (ALA) as well as vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B9. It also contains fat soluble vitamins A (bet carotene), E and D – pine pollen contains both vitamin D2 and the bioactive D3 which is exceptionally rare for a plant. It also possesses an impressive array of important trace minerals, immune-enhancing polysaccharides, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), DNA building nucleic acids, live enzymes and a mass of antioxidants. It actually stimulates the production of our body’s own endogenous antioxidants glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD).
The thing that pine pollen has become most renowned for in the west in recent years is its role as a powerful phyto-androgen – a plant that contains steroid-like compounds that are identical to testosterone and other androgenic hormones like DHEA and progesterone amongst others. This makes pine pollen a powerful medicine for the endocrine system, especially for those advancing beyond middle age whose levels of serum androgen hormones are rapidly decreasing. That said, low androgens and estrogen dominance are now increasingly more common in men and women of all ages – and even some children – from our cultural obsession with estrogen-mimicking soft plastics (xeno estrogen’s), non-organic agricultural foods grown with petrochemical additives and plant foods like unfermented soya products (phyto estrogen’s). These estrogen-like substances bind to hormone receptors in the body and can cause all kinds of problems, from increasing femininity in boys/men and increasing the risk of certain cancers in both men and women. Pine pollen has proven to be an invaluable strategy in helping us navigate the consequences of these things, but it has so much more to offer us than its androgen boosting properties alone…
It is a powerful adaptogen – a herb that supports our ability to adapt to stress and therefore reduce the unwanted toll that stress takes on us over the course of time – which is clearly the result of the tree’s ceaseless endurance and ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment – a quality that it offers to us as a gift through its reproductive pollen. It also has the ability to increase levels of important neurotransmitters such as dopamine – a chemical that acts as part of the brains reward mechanism and helps us to manage stress as well as concentrate, learn new things and experience equanimity. It also enhances immune function from the polysaccharides and mass of antioxidants, stimulates the regeneration of the liver and even possesses a number of anti-tumour compounds. Studies have also shown pine pollen to offer a lot of anti-inflammatory support and pain relief, not least for chronic arthritis. Pine pollen could also be a viable line of defence against much of the atmospheric radiation that is now travelling the globe from incidents like the Fukushima disaster. It is so rich in trace minerals that it can inhibit radioactive isotopes from binding to enzyme receptors, and it’s so saturated in powerful antioxidants that it can stop and reverse the cellular degradation that accompanies radiation exposure, and even EMF exposure from mobile phones and internet devices that are so unavoidable nowadays.
This is truly incredible medicine that is available to pretty much everyone in the northern hemisphere. If only people knew that this irritating yellow dust that carpeted everything for a few weeks each Spring could provide them with such immense benefit! When we buy pine pollen products we will either be buying it as a powder or an alcohol extract/tincture. The powder is extremely versatile and can be used as a superfood powder for smoothies and recipes, and it makes a great flour, soup thickener and is amazing in home-made desserts! It is perfectly safe for everyone to consume – men, women and children of all ages. The powder is deeply nourishing but doesn’t pack the same hormonal punch as the tincture since all of the hormonal sterols in pine pollen are alcohol soluble. This is why the tincture is not really suitable for children as they generally don’t need the increase in androgen hormones. The tincture still provides many of the other benefits but is much more medicinal when compared to the powder, which can be treated more like a food.
Pine pollen is coming to us at this time with an arsenal of much needed health benefits. It really is a powerful herbal ally – an alliance that more and more people are embracing as they deepen their relationship to pine pollen and experience its diverse majesty.