Category Archives: Skepticism

Vitamin C content of Pine needles

*** This post originally had an error in the calculation, and have been corrected based on John’s comment ***

Pine Needle Tea

Saw discussion about native Americans treating Scurvy with Pine needles.

A quick search on the Internet gives you lots of sources claiming that Pine Needles have three times as much vitamin C as various citrus fruits. The type of Pine is rarely given but usually the white pine is referred to, the fruit is variously Oranges, or Lemons.

I tried to find a source, or even the source, for the threefold claim. Found some interesting stories, including reports of successfully treating scurvy, but I was skeptical of that threefold claim. Found wonderful letter from Richard Feynman to his mother where he reports that pine needle tea tastes of pine needles.

The vitamin content of common foods questions can be answered by the Google search engine itself, it has the USDA food content information available. as a result a suitable query will give rough nutritional guidance.

The nutritional need of a full grown man is just under 100mg vitamin C a day.

Oranges 0.45mg/g
Lemons 0.53mg/g
Limes 0.29mg/g

So eating an average Orange a day isĀ about 80% of your vitamin C requirement.

Finding reliable data on the vitamin C content of Pine needles proved a lot harder, not least most of it is buried behind academias’ paywalls and I can’t be bothered to fight that for a trivial question.

USDA Forestry Service Research Note SE-124 “Seasonal changes in carbohydrates and ascorbic acid of white pine and possible relation to Tipburn sensitivity” found an Ascorbic acid range of 0.7 to 1.9mg/g

Results vary with assay technique, season, location, etc. Highest number is more than three times the average orange, you then have to extract the vitamin C, and whilst water soluble a long boiling will probably only extract a proportion of the available vitamin C and will start to degrade it. That said if most of the water you drank each day was boiled with pine needles, this could be a sufficient source of vitamin C alone.

Some sources refer to tea made with Pine needles and bark, and to flavinoids in the bark preserving vitamin C. I’m guessing much of the marketing hype around “bark extracts” is probably just hype. The chemicals involved are all Tannins, and as such likely to make your pine needle tea bitter. Both pine needles and the bark contain a whole host of chemicals, and whilst a lot of folk have drunk quite a bit, there are some questions over safety in pregnancy. So by all means try pine needle tea, but have realistic expectations, and avoid large amounts if pregnant.

As regards rescue by native Americans, I suspect if you are vitamin C deficient in such areas it is likely that you lacked the skills to get an adequate diet from the local area, whilst the tea probably helped, it may well be that the big contribution from the native Americans to folk in such a quandary was basic survival skills for the harsh north.

Curious fact, some citrus fruit have more vitamin C weight for weight in the peel than the fruit, good luck eating comparable amounts.