Monthly Archives: May 2011

Eat it or Lose it: Pine Nuts

Tue, 03/05/2011 – Michel Fanton

The better I can identify trees, the better my diet becomes, and the more diversity I replant in the garden, orchard and forest. If you recognise useful trees you can squirrel their seeds away, a free source of planting material, as well as food. Here we look at conifers that have edible nuts, specifically Pinus of the northern hemisphere and Araucaria of the southern hemisphere and finish with five film clips that we made pine nuts and mushrooms of pine forests.
There are many more species of edible pine nuts than the commercial Stone Pine, Pinus pinea, a handful of whose nuts costs a small fortune. If you have land and space, the seeds of dozens of edible pine species are well worth replanting for later selection. They take their time to bear, from 8 to 25 years, but take heart: Bill Mollison of Permaculture fame planted in his 70s a whole grove in Tasmania.

IMAGE: Here is Bill Mollison in his oak and chestnut forest, not far from his conifer forest. Note the mushrooms already growing ten years down the track.
If you step inside a forest of conifers you will find they often have associated edible mushrooms such as Boletus and Chanterelle. Lacterius spp. are a delicious orange mushroom that I have found in Europe and in Australia growing in Pinus radiata forests. See film clips listed at the end of this Blog.

Provenance is everything with many species and very true for conifers. Therefore a good seed harvest starts as local as possible: they may in addition have location-specific mycorrhizal associations already in their soils and humus. Pine groves can grow up to 40 metres tall and last up to 160 years.

Pinus are all native to the northern hemisphere and all ninety five species of them bear cones with edible kernels : a favourite of squirrels. Of these about twenty-two are big enough for use as human food and have provided sustenance for tens of thousand years. Pine oils, that have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, are extracted from some species while the sap of other Pinus provides a base for natural varnishes and turpentines. The sap of Pinus edulis, native of south-west USA is effective for sore throat.

Eurasian Pine Nuts
The main commercial pine nut is Stone Pine, Pinus pinea, endemic to Portugal and around the Mediterranean and an essential ingredient in numerous dishes. The trees look like Pinus radiata, the pine plantation king, but are bigger and more handsome, have a flat top and horizontal branches.

Asians have their Pinus koraiensis (White, Korean or Japanese Pine) is used for weight loss mainly in the West. One word of caution. Chinese White Pine, Pinus armandii, is reported to cause a change in taste that can last one week.

From Western Europe to the Siberian taigas to Manchuria , Pinus cembra, also known as the Swiss Pine, has numerous sub species, variations or even cultivars. The Siberian cedar nuts, Pinus cembra var sibirica, are the food of the poor, sometimes the only source of food in the winter, and also the jewels of a lucrative and ancient global health market. They fall to the forest floor, not needing shelling from the cone, normally a sticky task.

The Chir Pine, Pinus roxburghii, is a life saver for indigenous people in Northern India, Southern Tibet, Kashmir andSikkim. It grows right up to 2800 metres altitude. The nuts are ground and added to chapatti flour.

North American Pine Nuts
There are many species of edible pines native to North America and used by Amerindians and the health conscious: Pinus sabiniana and P. coulterii in Oregon and California were an essential winter food with harvest rituals. They are the largest of the pine nut as large as or larger than a thumb nail. Here are some more for you to Google.

Pinus flexis from West USA with large seeds
P. edulis from SW with resin chewed for sore throat P. cenbroides also from SW USA nuts are eaten roasted
P. monophylla from Baha California has sweet resin, nuts are made into cakes
P. quadrifolia from California, with good nuts
P. torreyana, California, known for its edible seeds
P. ponderosa also from California has rather small but sweet tasting seeds
P. albicaulis where inner bark is eaten
In Mexico, Pinus lambertiana is a famous timber tree, but is also known as sugar pine with sap exudations that become sugar-like when dried. The tree has huge cones up to 40cm long and nuts.

Southern Hemisphere Pine Nuts
Of the nineteen species in Araucaria of the southern hemisphere, we look at the three with palatable nuts here. Most cones contain 80-200 large seeds, similar in flavour to pine nuts but more floury.
Araucaria araucana (Monkey Puzzle Tree) of Chile
Araucaria angustifolia (Parana Pine) of Brazil
Araucaria bidwillii (Bunya Pine) of Australia
We eat Bunya Nuts here in Australia. They are as large as a small potato, and taste like a cross between a pine nut and a potato. Before boiling or roasting it is necessary to pierce a hole in the tough skin so they don’t burst. The leathery skin is difficult to peel so we also eat them sprouted like Aborigines do.

Pine Nut Travels
Pine nuts, like most other useful plants, have been moved extensively around the world and will adapt to other climates given time generations. Botanic gardens were once called acclimatisation gardens, doing the job of introducing new plants to a location. Of course, edible Pinus species have found their way to most botanical gardens but are often conceived of only as an ornamental or a source of timber. Pine nut species are these days most often bred for timber commercially so these cultivars may not be suitable for nut production.

We as seed savers visit botanic gardens and ask management about the location of their nut trees. They often authorise specific seed collection sometimes lending a fired-up technical officer.

Planning the Collecting of Pine Nut Seeds
The provenance of mother seed is paramount to early, and even any, success. Pine nut species with a large range of geographic distribution, various types or races have adapted to the respective local conditions in successive generations. The seeds from these local adaptations may or may not develop well or even grow at all well in another climate. So source your seed as nearby as you can or you may have to start adaptation all over again which may take several generations.

Don’t miss to pick up a few good handfuls of humus from under the tree, especially where there is some white mycelium under the mulch because your pine nut progeny are likely to bear earlier and more profusely with the association.

Seed Production
The pines bear male and female flowers on the same tree. Pollination occurs in Spring when clouds of pollen release, and will determine the number of nuts within a cone. This is highly variable as are the genetic characteristics. Select from trees with the most and heaviest cones.

Seeds are dispersed by birds such as magpies and nutcrackers, and mammals who forget them in their caches. This last results in trees growing in clumps.

Harvesting Nuts
In Spain people climb trees for cones picked with a sharp hooked tool, throw them on canvas to dry for two weeks, then shake them to pop out the nuts.

If you find a stand of any of these species note that not all individuals within a population are born equal so choose seeds from each tree to increase the genepool.

Seed Storage
You may store pine nuts in their cones, an ideal way of keeping them aerated. However pine nuts stay fertile longer if they are stored in oxygen-free containers just above freezing temperatures at 2 to 5 degrees and moisture around 5 to 10%. They will only last one year so no point storing them for a better day.

Seed Exchange
The Seed Savers’ Network, based in Australia, works with all useful plants and encourages seed multiplication and free seed access via Local Seed Networks. Successful gardeners like to give seeds and receive some at a later time. So it is all about busy people who propagate and pass on seeds.

Local Seed Networks locate people with original varieties of vegetables and they also maintain many species and cultivars of useful plants. These include nut trees, root crops, fibres etc. LSNs find, multiply and distribute seeds at no cost. Dispersal is often based on exchange but beginners are coddled with a seed start.

Look out for a variety of pine nuts that nourish, collect the seeds, propagate them, select for the best to eat and pass them on.

Our Film Clips on Pine Nuts and the Mushrooms of Pine Forests

Three of our film clips that we made on pine nuts and two on mushrooms that grow under pines:

Recognise, harvest and collect Stone Pine Nuts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtFXzsEC1uc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JRCM_OD-XI

Recognise, harvest and collect Bunya Nuts (see actual clip above)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-GRnimUsbM

Recognise and harvest Lacterius mushrooms
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6NB7Sk_KCA

Recognise and harvest three types of Chanterelle, and other mushrooms
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8sye8QHssA