Jul 152008

Ask any Reserve local, especially those of Spanish or Indigenous descent, about what to do for a deeply lodged splinter or painfully embedded fragment and they’ll point to the nearest Pine tree. Get some of that sticky stuff they’ll admonish, and just slap it on there. It’ll be better in the morning they say, and nod knowingly. In rural NM local gas station or general store, you’re sure to find a selection of locally made Pine Pitch salve, and you’ll likely see it being bought up by a variety of people, from loggers to hippies to ranchers. This universal backwoods appeal is a very good testament to its effectiveness.

I’ve personally seen it work time and time again in this application, often far better than Plantain. Plantain is better for pulling out venom and other poisons, but they work together very well for bringing boils to a head. Pine pitch often even works on glass and is great for your average wood splinter. You just rub a generous amount on the area and just wait. Usually, the foreign object will swell to a head and pop its way out within 48 hours. My understanding of how this works is that Pine is a powerful counter-irritant. Meaning that it stimulates local blood flow and aggravates the local immune response into revving up a noticeable amount. This means that it may cause a temporary increase in discomfort or inflammation in the area in order to speed healing.

I also add the Pine oil to most of my muscle salves or general wound care salves. It smells as rich and sweet as the high elevation forests and sometimes I open my jar just to take a deep whiff of the woods. It’s warming, stimulating and also seems very antimicrobial, clearing up infections from a variety of sources.

Because it’s so very warming and potentially irritating, I avoid using it on areas that are already very hot, super red and aggravated. It works better where the immune system just isn’t kicking out enough pressure to move the energy in a healing direction. It’s fine for splinters with a bit of local redness though, just use your common sense and discontinue if the situation seems to get worse rather than better.

One of my wonderful readers requested instructions for making Pine Pitch Salve, so here it is, enjoy!

To Make Pine Pitch Salve

First you need to find your Pine pitch. Here in the Gila, our Piñon Pine trees often have semi-hard globs of pitch on their trunks or at the base of the tree. Summer seems the best time to harvest, since this is when the trees tend to ooze more and it’s easier to pry off the harder chunks. If there’s a major wound that the pitch is coming from, I suggest not pulling the whole chunk off as the tree is trying to heal itself and needs that pitch.

After you’ve collected about half a pint jar’s worth of pitch, you divide it into three different grades. Rock hard chunks, sticky goo and semi-solid bits. Put the goo and semi-solid stuff in a pint jar with the semi-solid stuff on the bottom, and then break up the hard chunks into smaller pieces. I don’t recommend a mortar and pestle for this, it can very messy. The smaller you break up the hard pieces, the quicker they will break down. Sometimes I get lazy and just throw golf ball sized pitch rocks in there, and then it takes damn near forever to properly infuse the oil. Pea sized bits are a lot quicker. If you like, you can wrap the hard bits in some canvas and than hammer the hell out of it, that usually works pretty good.

By this point you likely have very sticky hands and are worried about being permanently glued to whatever you touch next. I’ve seen lots of people try cleaning with rubbing alcohol with less than optimal results. I recommend some nice oil, just rub it into your hands and the stickiness will slide right off. And then your hands smell very nice too!

Next you just fill your pint jar to the top with olive oil (or your salve oil of choice). Now, in order for your infused pine oil to be really effective, you have to get a large percentage of that pitch to dissolve into the oil. Heat is the best way I know to do this. Beware that whatever you heat the Pine pitch in will be pretty hard to clean, so you may not want to use your favorite crockpot. Personally, I just take the whole jar and stick it in my wood stover warmer and leave it there for a couple weeks, shaking occasionally to help break up the chunks. The sun might not be hot enough (depending on where you live), although if you half bury it in some hot sand directly in the sun, it’ll be a lot hotter.

When the chunks are mostly dissolved, strain the oil through a mesh sieve to get out any bark or whatever else was stuck to the pitch. Now you have lovely Pine oil, and can just proceed with your normal salve making process.

  20 Responses to “Pine Pitch Salve”

  1. WOW! That is cool! People think where I am in the Northwest is full of pine trees since it is evergreen, but pines are hard to fine. I will get some pitch when I go to the east side of the mountains though.

    I hope more of this kind of stuff is in your book! 🙂

  2. Hi Kiva! Nice to read your method on this too. I just made pine pitch salve (with my Perovskia oil – divine!) and I just melted them together in my double boiler with some beeswax and it came out amazing. The pitch blends in great and my pot wiped clean. I used about 1 part pitch (both hard, gooey and inbetween) to 2 parts oil. I never thought of separating the grades. I just passed a part in the book Sacajawea where she treats Clarks foot swellings with pitch.

  3. This was wonderful! Thanks!

  4. Ananda, hmmm, you must have more polite pine pitch than I do, mine sticks to EVERYthing…. I only separate the pieces because some of the stuff here turns into golf to baseball sized rock hard chunks…. so now I just always divide them up, makes my life easier.

    I don’t dare put mine in a separate pot, in fact, I have a jar devoted just to pine pitch oil.

    Yay for Pine Pitch oil!

  5. Do you have to worry about the sieve, or does it clean up ok?

  6. I have a stainless steel funnel with a removable strainer/seive thing that I use just for herbs and I’m able to use oil to get the stickiness off pretty well and then wash with hot water and soap. Because mine comes apart it’s pretty easy to clean…. I tried an old sieve once with very fine mesh and that was MUCH harder to clean, the goo wanted to stick to everything…. In retrospect, I think that putting it in some hot oil would have helped a lot.

    If you don’t have much in the way of debris in your oil, you can always just pull it out with a spoon or your fingers or some such.

    And if your pitch has melted very nicely into the oil not leaving any chunks then you’ll have little trouble at all…. my problems come from the fact that I often get impatient and try to use it before it’s all melted. This would probably be solved if I just infused it in a double boiler at a higher heat.

  7. Hi Kiva, I wrote last month with my questions on rose elixir. I have since made some with your suggestions, and have also made notes of many of your recipes. IF I am able to beat the birds to my elderberry bushes the elixir will be my next medicine to put away for the winter. Also will be going out tomorrow to see if I can find pine pitch… we have white pine and austrian pine here, in rural western New York state.

    I enjoy your newsletter tremendously. Thank you so very much!


  8. hello kiva rose,

    i’m not familiar with how many different conifers you have there in the gila, but do you ever mix pitch from different kinds of pines? also, do you know if i can use spruce or fir, since they are in the pine family?


  9. Hi lovinglandbase,

    we have two different pines right here in the canyon, Ponderosa and Piñon and then firs and spruces up high. I use resin from both when I can get it, but resin is far more plentiful from the Piñons here…. If there’s big chunks of resin from the spruces/firs it’s likely fairly similar…. I’ve used fir and spruce tips alot but not resin so far. If you try it, let me know how it works out for you.

    Marian, you’re so welcome, I’m glad it’s been helpful for you!

    Oh and John, I do hope to have lots of little projects like this in the book for sure.

  10. Kiva: Just getting caught up here. I’m so tickled that you use pine pitch too. My grandmother used to use white pine pitch (that was in New York). Here in the south, the pine gum runs thin, so I mix fresh pine gum 50/50 with olive or other oil and then make salve as normal. I am lucky to actually get the pine gum that is “tapped” from a tree. It is a long old tradition here to tap pine trees (they used to fractionate the gum into turpentine and rosin) and my DH is a pine gum expert, so I get the fresh (undry) pine gum delivered in a bottle! I have heard with some western species, which have “drier” gum, that the salve can get hard over time, but my salve never gets hard. And it always just smells so HEAVENLY!

  11. I am trying to duplicate a pitch salve recipe I got from my grandmother. Harvesting the pitch is the tough part. I read about the infused oil, but I’d like to do it according to her recipe. She and others made gather the pitch seem easy, we are entering our winter months here so I’m out of luck for a while but if any of you have further harvesting techniques for ponderosa pine and pinion and the time of year please let me know.

  12. Hi Alesa, I just was out gathering a bunch of pine pitch and doing it in the cool of early spring seems to work out great. Even at 45-55 degrees, the sap is hard enough not to be so messy, and some of it is actually brittle. A claw hammer or small hatchet works good without gouging up the trees.

  13. Hey Kiva,
    Thanks so much for these highly informative articles. I often spend hours browsing your blog.

    Pinon resin is one of my favorite for making into incense, but my old source seems to be out of business. If you’d be interested in selling some, please contact me.



  14. Thank you for sharing your recipe. Bet the lesser (non-suitable for pine-oil) grade resin chunks from this operation would make a wonderful addition to incenses.

  15. I purchased some pine nut sap salve while in Durango Colorado…it’s like a miracle salve! I need to buy or make more. Do you think white pine will work as well?
    First I used the salve on a little rash I had for a year and had tried everything ..poof gone the next day! Then used it on some athelets foot that was starting…gone….like for good. Then sent some to my son in Afganistan and now all his buddies want some too. Then to the owner of the local yarn shop with bad dry hands and now she wants some! good thing I bought a big jar! But now I am down to the last ounce of the stuff. WHO KNEW certainly not me and I wouldn’t have believed it if all this hadn’t happened. Thank you for giving the science behind it…
    I thought maybe the Navajo women who made it must have done some incantation on it or something. Thanks Again!!!!!!

  16. Hope, white pine is traditionally used this way, yes, so I imagine it works very well. I have only used the resin of the ponderosa and piñon pines so can only speak from experience about them. Very lovely and healing stuff, that’s for sure!

  17. is spruce pitch the same as pine? Can you use it for drawing salve like pine? Here in PA we have many more spruce and eastern hemlock trees. I am searching for pine pitch though.

  18. I just moved to Alaska and have learned that spruce pitch was used extensively in the same way you all are using it. In addition to being one of the predominant trees here, it was also one of the most important, providing medicinals, teas rich in vitamin c, straight grained woods, glue, waterproofing, and weaving material. Anyone interested in basketry should look up books or websites on the spruce basketry of the Tlingit and other peoples indigenous to this area. Great blog and commentary!

  19. Kiva,
    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I found your site through a search for this recipe & am so glad that i did. My journey into relationship with plants has deepened in the past few years, and its so beautiful to have had a chance to deepen my relationship with the Pinon through making this salve. I was able to make it without straining the oil through anything, which made cleaning up alot easier. Your site is amazing and i resonate so clearly with so many of the articles you write. Thank you!!!

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