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How to Harvest Your Own Pine Nuts in the Wild

How to Harvest Your Own Pine Nuts in the Wild post image

Along with water and shelter, food is one of the most important pillars of survival.  Maybe you are get lost in the wilderness and need something to eat.  Maybe you want to be prepared for a SHTF disaster where food isn’t readily available anymore. Or maybe you just want to save some money.  For these reasons (and many more) it is really important to know what wild foods you can eat. I’ve talked about urban wild edibles before, and also eating bugs for survival.  Today, I want to let you in on one of my favorite wild edibles: pine nuts.

Yes, Pine Nuts Come from Pine Trees!

It should be obvious, but those expensive pine nuts we buy in supermarkets actually come from pine trees.  Considering that pine trees are all over the place, it makes you wonder why pine nuts are so friggin’ expensive.  The cost mostly has to do with how difficult it is to shell pine nuts.  As you will find out, there is no easy way to shell them.  In a survival situation, you probably won’t mind.  But, for everyday eating, you might give up and just go buy a pound of shelled pine nuts rather than do the work yourself.

Step 1: Finding Pine Cones for Harvesting

All pine trees produce nuts which you can eat.  However, some species have much smaller nuts.  It is worth it to scout out the species which have larger nuts and save yourself some trouble with shelling.

In North America, the species of pine trees which are most commonly used for pine nuts are:

  • Colordao pinyon (pinus edulis)
  • Single-leaf pinyon (pinus monophylla)
  • Mexican pinyon (pinus cembroides)

If you are serious about harvesting your own pine nuts, you should scout out some pine trees in early summer.  Pine cones are usually ready for harvesting from August to September, depending on where you live.

How will you know that the pine cones are ready to be harvested?  Take a look at the tree.  If some of the pine cones are open and some are still closed, then it is harvest time!  If all the pine cones are still closed, then the seeds probably haven’t formed yet.  If all of the pine cones have opened, then critters have probably already eaten all of the seeds.

Step 2: Gather Your Pine Cones

Pine sap is really sticky (read how to make pine pitch here).  It is recommended that you use GLOVES when picking pine cones.  Gather the pine cones which are still closed or barely open. Twist the pine cone to get it off the tree.  Try not to break any branches.  You don’t want to damage the tree.  Put your pine cones into a bag and bring them home.

Step 3: Getting the Pine Nuts Out of the Cones

There are two things that will make a closed pine cone open up: dryness and heat.

The easiest way to get the pine nuts out of the cone is simply to lay the pine cones out and let them dry out on their own.  It will take a few weeks, but the pine cones will open up.  Then you can tap the pine cones and the seeds will fall out.

If you don’t feel like waiting 3 weeks for your pine cones to open up, then you can use heat.  Lay the pine cones out flat and roast them in the oven (or over a fire).  Let the pine cones cool down.  Then tap them and the pine nuts will start to fall out.  Don’t try to microwave pine cones.  They’ll start to smoke and ruin your microwave!

Alternative Collection Method:

If it is already late in the season and the pine cones have opened up, then you can use this method for gathering the pine nuts.  Put a big tarp under the pine tree.  Then shake the branches of the pine tree really hard.  This will make the remaining pine nuts (the ones which haven’t been eaten by critters yet) fall out of the cones and land on your tarp.

Step 4: Sorting the Pine Nuts

Even if you harvest your pine nuts on time, there will still be a lot of bad pine nuts.  It is really frustrating to shell the nuts only to find out it is bad.  Here is a simple way to sort out the bad pine nuts from the good ones.

Put your pine nuts in a big bowl of water.  The bad pine nuts will float to the top.  The good pine nuts will sink to the bottom!  Most of the floaters are going to be bad.  Some will still be good, but I’d rather toss some good pine nuts than waste a lot of time shelling bad pine nuts.

If you don’t want to toss the bad pine nuts, you can use them to make pine nut vodka.  In Russian, it is called kedrovka.

Pine Nut Vodka Recipe:

  1. Fill a bottle about 1/3 full of pine nuts in the shell.
  2. Fill the rest of the bottle with vodka.
  3. Close the bottle and let it sit in a dark area for at least 3 weeks. The essential oils from the pine nuts will leach into the vodka.
  4. Drink and enjoy! There is no need to filter or do anything else!

Step 5: Shelling the Pine Nuts

As mentioned before, shelling pine nuts is a big hassle and there isn’t a fast way to do it at home.  Apparently there are some industrial machines which use rotary friction to shell pine nuts, but I doubt you are going to buy one – or have one with you when you’re starving in the wilderness!

Most people just shell pine nuts with their teeth, much like how you’d eat a sunflower seed in the shell.  That makes them great for snacking.  Or, you can use your fingers to crack the pine nut shell.  Here is a good video showing how to shell a pine nut.  I wouldn’t recommend smashing the pine nut shell because you’ll probably smash the small nut inside too.

Have you harvested your own pine nuts?  What other wild edibles have you tried?


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