Pine bark may not be the first thing that springs to mind when making a list of plants to forage. But if you can look past the fact that you are essentially eating wood, you’ll discover a food source that delivers carbohydrates, vitamins, and fiber.
Before you take your knife to the nearest conifer, make sure you know which species of pine it is. White pine is generally considered to taste the best, and you should avoid Norfolk Island Pine, Ponderosa Pines, and Yew trees as these can be toxic.
Once you’ve found a safe tree to eat, you need to properly harvest and cook pine bark, so it’s fit to eat.
Eating Pine Bark Isn’t New
If you think we’ve stumbled across a new prepping secret, unfortunately, you would be wrong. Pine bark was a staple part of the diet of Native American people and the Sami inhabitants of northern Europe.
Like other parts of the pine tree, the inner bark is a source of vitamin C. It may have provided indigenous people with other essential nutrients that were scarce, particularly in winter.
Pine bark was thought to have been harvested in spring when it was more easily removed from the tree. It was then dried and stored to be eaten throughout the year.
Pine bark is still consumed today in Scandinavia, particularly in Finland, as part of traditional bread recipes, and pine bark flour can sometimes be found in health food stores.
Which Part of Pine Bark Can You Eat?
The rough, dark-brown woody bark of a pine tree looks pretty inedible. While it is possible to grind it into flour, it’s not the best part of the bark to eat.
To get to the edible part of pine bark, you need to strip back the bark until you get to the inner layer. This is called the phloem and is a living part of the tree, unlike the outer gray bark. The phloem sits against the tree’s wooden core and is white or cream-colored with a rubbery texture.
This inner bark is made up of sugars and starches and is a source of nutrients and fiber. As it’s a carbohydrate, it packs a surprising number of calories, making it a worthy addition to any forager’s diet.
How to Harvest Pine Bark
You can harvest pine bark directly from a living tree or from a tree that has been recently felled or cut. The longer you leave it, the harder it will be to separate the bark from the tree.
Stripping bark from a living tree can kill it. When you peel off its protective layer, you leave the pine tree open to attack from diseases, insects, and animals.
If it is not an emergency, strip the bark from a tree that has recently fallen or been cut down rather than damaging a living tree.
To harvest the bark, cut straight through the layers of bark down to the wood of the tree. You’ll know when you hit the wood as it’s much harder, and your blade may slide along it. Slide a small crowbar or ax into the cut and use it to peel back the bark from the wood.
The best part of the bark for eating is that closest to the tree’s core. Use a sharp knife to separate this inner bark from the resinous outer. The thickness of the inner bark layer will depend on the tree’s age and width but can be up to a quarter inch.
If you’re harvesting bark directly from a tree that’s destined to be cut down, you could also use the opportunity to collect pine tree sap – a resin with multiple uses, including making pine pitch.
How to Cook Pine Bark
Raw pine bark is very fibrous. You’ll find it hard and quite unpleasant to chew. Fortunately, you can cook the bark to make it more palatable.
Method 1: Pan-frying
Frying slices of pine bark in a small amount of oil transforms them into crunchy chips. They may not taste like much but add a sprinkling of salt, and you could almost believe you’re eating a bag of potato chips.
Method 2: Dry roasting
Pine bark can be ground and mixed with other types of flour to make bread or cookies. It can also be used to thicken soups and stews.
To prepare the pine bark, you first need to dry it. This can be done by leaving it in the sun for a day or so. A quicker, more reliable method is to dry roast the bark on a flat stone over a fire pit. Once dried, pound the bark into a fine flour.
Method 3: Pine Bark Bread
The Nordic Cookbook, a comprehensive cookbook of traditional Scandinavian dishes, includes a recipe for pettuleipä, a type of sourdough bread made from rye and pine bark flours. As with many sourdough recipes, the method is detailed and lengthy, requiring four days of fermentation.
If you want to test out adding pine bark flour to your baking, start small, replacing up to 15 percent of the standard flour in your recipe. If you try it out, let us know how you get on!
What Other Parts of a Pine Tree Can You Eat?
The bark isn’t the only edible part of a pine tree. Pine needles are a great source of vitamin C and can be brewed into a nutritious tea. You can collect the seeds – pine nuts – of certain species for a protein-rich snack and even eat pine cones.
Note: You can also eat the bark from other types of tree – see here for a guide to edible bark.
Juha Kämäräinen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Wow this is an interesting article! Do you know why ponderosa pines are considered to be toxic? I’ve read that their needles can cause abortions in cattle, but do you know if there are any adverse reactions in humans specifically?
Thanks for the great read 🙂
“The toxic principle has been identified as isocupressic acid, a diterpene acid.” https://csuvth.colostate.edu/poisonous_plants/Plants/Details/68
I’m not sure about reactions to humans. Most of the research is on cattle. Better to play it safe.