When Trees Hug Back – Pine Resin Salve

september 2013 005We are usually all about edible landscaping at the Tropical Homestead, but in this post we pay homage to the pine tree and natural remedies. I found a website, Bear Medicine Herbals, extolling the virtues of Pine Pitch Salve and was intrigued.

But first, some disclaimers. I am not a doctor. I don’t know if this will help you heal or make you break out in gory pustules. You alone know your tolerances. So don’t sue me.
Also, pine sap is part of the tree’s natural defenses. Take only what you need and avoid new wounds on the bark, if possible. I don’t want the Arbor Day Foundation suing me, either.
fire antI haven’t ventured into natural medicine before except for the gaggle of aloe vera plants we have around the house, but this salve piqued my interest. The salve utilizes the pitch, or hardened sap, as a natural counter-irritant that increases blood flow around wounds (like splinters or bug bites) drawing the irritant or foreign object to the surface. Aside from a great splinter remedy, I wondered if it would help with healing fire ant bites. For anyone who’s experienced a bite, you have to appreciate something that might draw that burning itchy stuff out of your skin faster than normal. This is even more attractive to me because I refuse to wear anything more an flip-flops on my feet while working in the yard and the fire ants are wise to this. Their ambushes are the stuff of legends, leaving my feet itchy, scabby and scarred. Is it any wonder I was drawn to a hope that the scourge living in my backyard could also be cured by something else living in my backyard?
pine tree sapOur Florida pines aren’t the family Christmas tree types. They are called slash pines. They are big and gnarly and have out-lived more hurricanes, floods and droughts than all your Grandpappies combined. Good news for me, because the backyard is full of beat-up pines trying to heal. Finding wounds was easy. Nature has its own redunant systems and the pines create lots more sap than needed, making knots and bumps in the bark.

pine geodeAfter finding a good bump, I took a bit of drippy sap, some tacky sap and a few big chunks of hardened resin. The resin was suprisingly beautiful, with veins and textures like little tree-geodes. Though tempted to display these natural works of art, I couldn’t. They had a date with a hammer.

I wrapped the chunks in a tea towel. With a few blows of the hammer, my geodes were reduced to sticky fairy dust and I was ready to make the salve. pine meltThis is where my instruction turns down the path I like to call: “What Not to Do.” I read several different articles on pine pitch salve, and blended the recipes provided together. I melted one part sap and resin dust with two parts beewax in a makesift double-boiler set up. Or rather, I attempted to.  Beeswax melts at about 145 degrees fahrenheit. Pine resin, well…does not.  This resulted in a gooey ring of pitch around the bottom of the jar.

What I should have done is added the sap and crushed resin into olive oil (or any other stable oil) and waited. A long time. Until the pine infused into the oil. THEN I should have added the melted beeswax to make the salve. Live an learn, and no real damage done. I slowly added 4 parts oil to my melted-ish mixture and stirred. After 2 weeks, the salve has finally taken on a pine scent, which is a good sign it’s infusing nicely.

pine finishedI’m disappointed (but not sorry) to report that this remedy acts more as a talisman then a medicine. Since making it, I haven’t been bitten once, so I can’t tell you about its effectiveness on fire ant bites. But it has worked wonders on dry skin, a small scrape, and heat rash thus far. We’ll be keeping this messy but useful remedy on hand and when we use it up, I might follow directions for the next batch. No promises.

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