Fiann Ó Nualláin discovers a source of natural aromatherapy in the garden that’s available all year round
I am a fan of pine trees. I think they look great, I know not everybody will agree and some think conifers are old fashioned in a garden setting. Sure they are prone to being in and out of trend but what never goes out of fashion is their productiveness. And boy are they a real boon to have around.
Okay — when you come to taking up the challenge of growing your own food and useful plants — be it on an allotment or in the backyard veg patch or even a balcony or tiny patio — it is all about maximizing yield from your space. So you tend to be precious about what you grow and throwing a tree into the mix for many is just reckless or indulgent. That is far from the case with pines — especially as they come in all shapes and sizes and are easily accommodated into whatever space you have.
Thinking of a tree as a purely ornamental affair is a default of many productive gardeners but if you can harvest from it then the right tree is a valuable crop. It could be a hawthorn for the edible foliage and the medicinal berries; it could be a lime tree for delicious floral tea and medicinal foliage or even a hazel for the bounty of nuts and some hazel rods to prop up your runner beans.
Definitely, a tree is a useful thing and worth the space. It will bring in the birds that feed on your garden pests too and provide shade for an extension of growing zones. So why might you consider a pine tree as an addition to your sustainability?
Pure and simple — it’s a natural aromatherapy on tap 24/7, all year round. All varieties of pine emit a fresh, resinous and camphor-like aroma that promotes deep breathing — pumping oxygen into the lungs and up to the brain but its ‘fresh ‘ connotations psychologically rejuvenate our spirits and activates our physicality. You don’t need an energy drink or a vitamin boost when you can simply nip outside and inhale some health.
I studied aromatherapy many years ago as an adjunct to my horticultural therapy studies and I’ll be honest a lot of its therapeutic validation is actually how the essential oils interact with your body chemistry once absorbed through the skin and not really the scent experience. But there are some plants that the smell alone alters body chemistry — true aromatherapy. As a gardener and as a productive gardener at that, I gravitate towards those gems that need no processing — just a natural interaction; You, your nose and it.
I am no stranger to bouts of depression and throughout my life, one of my tricks to decommission it or shorten its sojourn is to use natural mood alteration that I can get from food, herbs and fragrances.
I’m not saying go off the meds,, but I am also saying that there are plenty of options to regain and strengthen mental health in ways that mimic how meds work or help focus clarity of thought. Pine is in my mental health tool box.
For thousands of years, Pine
was long celebrated as a mood elevator to help alleviate stress and depression via its clean uplifting, sweet woody aroma, until it became more associated with clean floors and furniture polish.
But real pine foliage retains that anti-depressive potential by its ability to boost respiratory function and oxygenation of the brain and so energize you out of stagnation. And while an essential oil distilled from its needles is utilised in clinical aromatherapy to treat adrenal fatigue — a nostril near a sprig of foliage is as helpful.
In classic aromatherapy, pine is availed of for its decongesting action and respiratory health benefits and also to improves concentration and mental clarity as well as stimulate circulation, treat muscle ache and inflammation.
[timgcap=Extraction of natural resin from pine tree trunks in Portugal.zzzPineFeatureOutdoors240617a_large.jpg[/timgcap]
So be it a sprig freshly snipped from your own plant or a few essential oil drops in the bath — it does wonders for gardeners’ aches and pains and also our lagging motivations when the weather is not right or the day has been long. The aroma and the aromatic oils absorbed through the skin via bathwater or a footbath are relieving of stress, anxiety and nervous tension picked up outside the garden too.
There is a balsamic quality to the pine aroma that is grounding of the spirit but also that slight turpentine-like edge is energising and stimulating.
In holistic terms it is utilised to motivate the self beyond self-obsession into unity will all aspects of life.
I just love that its fragrance is also helping to heal climate change — in regions where pines grow en masse those aromatic vapors transform themselves into an aerosol layer above boreal forests and deflect sunlight, thus cooling the forest and allowing cloud formation (rain, carbon cycle etc).
Pine tar was once traditionally used as a treatment for coughs and bronchial ailments as well as a topical antiseptic and remedy for dry and irritated skin. Extracts of pine often appear in skin care and cosmetics and a pine tea of the needles infused in hot water for 10-15mins and suitably cooled can be topically applied as a great facial and skin cleanser for blemishes, blackheads, acne and for dry skin and psoriasis.
Pine we know as fragrances or disinfectants — because our earliest disinfectants were real pine essences and the mass production manufacturers wanted to keep and benefit from that association.
A brew of the foliage or the essential oil actively kills germs and breaks down mildew. So it’s a handy one for cleaning gardening tools and in the first aid kit too.
The needle tea is safe to drink too – it is full of vitamin c and beneficial phytochemicals and has a history of therapeutic use, particularly with viral treatments and to alleviate urinary tract infections.
In keeping with its aroma benefits, a cup of pine needle tea is used in complementary treatments to remedy all sorts of anxiety, fatigue and emotional concerns.
I think of a crop as being any group of plants that are ‘of use’, it doesn’t have to be edible just a plant I grow for a purpose.
So while I grow pine for aromatherapy and bath time and for gardening hygiene, it is also an edible crop. The seeds of all pine species are edible. I say seeds, as depending on your species, it can be more of a waver seed than a nugget nut for making pesto.
I won’t lie — I still have to go shopping for pine nuts but I’m glad I grow my pine for all its other uses.
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