Updated: Nov 12
Pine pitch (resin) has been used for thousands of years as both a raw resin and a processed tar to preserve wood, as an adhesive, for waterproofing, to make torches and for medicinal or topical uses such as soaps, salves and more. Today I am collecting pine pitch to make a salve. When you think about the purpose the pitch serves the tree, you begin to see the benefits it has for us topically as well.
Pine pitch oozes from wounds in trees to help heal and keep out out pests and disease. When we use it topically as a salve, or even straight from the tree in the woods, the resin's anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antioxidant properties benefit our own skin, muscles and joints. Used historically has a drawing salve, it's benefits extend far past pulling out infection or foreign objects. This salve is excellent at providing relief from bug bites, stings, minor scraps and cuts. The slightly warming effect of the resin makes it a soothing choice at the end of a work day for aching and tired joints and sore muscles.
The pinene terpenes (the wonderful forest smell we love) are are not only found in coniferous trees, eucalyptus, sage, juniper, parsley, basil, rosemary, and dill- just to name a few. These pinene's repel insects and are often part of many natural bug sprays because of this. The have been show to improve respiratory function and are being studied for use with inflammatory diseases. They are a bronchodilator, meaning they have the ability to improve the airflow to your lungs. For those with respiratory conditions or asthma, pinene terpenes my be beneficial.
Pinene terpenes may improve or boost memory and cognitive function, as they posses antioxidant and neuroprotective properties. Studies have shown that these terpenes can offer protection against oxidative stress brought on by obesity, processed foods and poor diets, alcohol consumption, tobacco products, radiation and environmental conditions like pollution or pesticides. When you think of walking into the woods and smelling the pine trees, what does that feeling envoke? For me, it's instant stress relief. The aromatic benefits of these terpenes is just as valuable to our body as the topical application. Are you ready to roll up the sleeves and make some Pine Pitch Salve yet? I bet so, let's go! For those not feeling ready to DIY yet, don't worry! I have this available in the shop here.
Where can I find pine pitch?
Pitch can be used from trees that belong to the Pinaceae family such as pine, fir, and cedar. I find that in the hot summer months my pine and fir trees are dripping with pitch. This makes collecting the pitch easy and I can even find large clumps in the needles on the ground as a result of the hot temperatures. Collecting pitch from the ground is perfect, as I don't have to worry if I am leaving a wound on the tree open. But don't worry, rendering the pitch will remove any debris such as needles and bark. When I do take pitch directly from a tree, I only take a small amount and make sure I leave no open wounds on the tree.
A Word of Caution:
Tree resin is highly flammable. To render it, a double-boiler is recommended and not over an open flame. While I have rendered it next to a campfire in an austere setting, it was outside and placed on the outer ring of the stones, not in the fire itself. A can was kicked over once by a student stoking the campfire and the entire can was lost to the fire. C'est la vie. It's not worth being burned to retrieve it.
Here’s how to do it:
Collect your pitch using a sturdy stick and a tin can or glass jar (use a pickle jar or sauce jar, but don't use a canning jar unless you are prepared to give it to this purpose for life). You will need one for collecting and melting, and another to strain the rendered pitch and oil into to remove debris.
For this recipe, I use a folk method because the pitch is difficult to measure out. Here I am using a 16 oz can to collect. I brought this can inside, and dug out about 1/4 of it and placed it into another 16 oz can. I then added my carrier oil to that same can until about 1/2 in below the top. This allows me to stir the resin and carrier oil to ensure the resin is fully melted down.
I place this can into a pot on the stove with enough water to help melt down the resin in the tin. Once liquified, I can now pour the resin and oil mixture through 2 or 3 layers of cheesecloth. I do this several times depending on the size and amount of debris in the mixture. But I find starting with only 2- 3 layers allows the resin to flow through the cheesecloth faster, then toss the last layer and start fresh again, straining it a second time, a third time if needed and gradually add more layers each time. You will likely have to return the jar and tin in between each straining to the double boiler to keep the resin and carrier oil hot enough to flow through the cheesecloth.
Tip: These pieces of discarded cheesecloth full of resin and debris make excellent campfire starters!
Once you have it sufficiently strained out and rendered to your liking, now you will add your beeswax. The general rule is 1/2 ounce to every 4 ounces of resin/ carrier oil base. I add this beeswax to the same tin or jar, and return to the double boiler and stir until the was is melted. Once completed, pour off into tins or jars, label and store in a cool place. Will keep for 12+ months.
Two ways to make your salve:
1 ounce by weight of rendered pitch
2-3 ounces by volume of carrier oil such as olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 ounce beeswax
The easiest way to get the measurement of pitch correct, is to place your tin on a scale that has been tared. Pour your rendered pitch into the tin until you hit the weight you would like to use; 1 ounce for example. Then measure out 2-3 ounces of carrier oil in a measuring cup and pour it into your tin.
Fill a jar or can 1/4 of the way with resin.
Add carrier oil to the jar to the 1/2 to 2/3 mark.
Beeswax as needed
Gradually add small amounts (think teaspoon) of beeswax and test it on the back of a spoon for the right consistency. If it's the salve is too soft, add more wax. Hot summers mean more wax, cooler seasons mean less wax. A chest balm should be easy to apply, so I like to go light on the wax when it's purpose is for soothing congestion.
Don't be afraid to adjust the ratio of resin to carrier oil by simply adding more carrier oil if needed, or more pitch. Although the oil will keep the pitch from feeling sticky, there will be a point that the ratio of pitch to oil will create a sticky feel that won't be absorbed into the skin after several minutes.
I hope you enjoy this salve as much as my family does! Don't be afraid of infusing your carrier oils with healing herbal allies like yarrow, calendula, comfrey or plantain for example. You'll boost the healing properties and enjoy creating salves for your family.
Let us know, what infused oils will you be trying with this salve and pleave, leave us a comment below- it helps our blog to grow!
Kirsten and Co.