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White Pine Soda

There’s not much in the way of fresh greens in PEI’s landscape yet, but there are a few wild plants that can be eaten year-round.  One of those is White Pine (Pinus strobus, Photo 1), from which you can make many products, including a very refreshing soda.


Photo 1: White Pine (Pinus strobus) on PEI.

The Island has three native species of pine, but White Pine is both the most common and the best for foraging. It’s easily identified by the long needles that grow in bundles of five (Photo 2); just remember that ‘white’ has five letters and White Pine has five needles.  Our other two native species – Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) and Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) – have needles in bundles of two.


Photo 2: White Pine is easily identified by needles in bundles of five.

White Pine needles have several useful culinary characteristics: a pleasant, lemony flavour; lots of Vitamin C; and natural wild yeast. They can be dried and used for tea or added to baked goods, but I prefer to use them fresh this time of year. It’s easy to do, and can also be a fun, kid-friendly project! (You can find my full instructions here: https://www.pei-untamed.com/post/white-pine-soda-recipe).

 

All you need are White Pine needles, water, and some form of sugar to feed the wild yeast. It must be a natural, fermentable sugar such as white or brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup; artificial sweeteners will not work. I use about one tablespoon of sugar per cup of water, but you can increase the amount if you’d like a sweeter outcome. (Pro tip: you can add more sugar to the final product, but you can’t take out the sugar you’ve added at this point!).

 

Photo 3: White Pine soda fermenting for 3-4 days.

Put everything in a jar, leave a bit of space at the top, cap it, and set it in a warm spot (Photo 3).  Within a day or so, you’ll see the yeast doing its job – fermenting the sugar and producing bubbles of carbon dioxide.  After three or four days, strain the liquid through a sieve and try it on ice (Photo 4).  The result is a lightly fizzy, lemony-piney drink.  It’s very nice on its own, or as the tonic in an adult mixed drink (it pairs nicely with gin, and I suspect would also be good with tequila).


Photo 4: The finished product!

White Pine is part of PEI’s original forest, and pine pollen dating back more than 9,000 years has been found in local sediment cores. Pine needles would have been a useful year-round source of Vitamin C for the Island’s Indigenous people, who likely also used White Pine seeds and the tasty inner bark as food.

 

These trees quickly caught the attention of early European settlers.  As early as the 1720s, French explorers were assessing PEI’s huge White Pines as potential masts and building materials for ships. Later explorers wrote of White Pine five feet in diameter and more than 100 feet tall!  In the 1890s, natural historian Frances Bain wrote that PEI’s White Pine is the “grandest” of the trees and the most valuable for lumber.

 

This preference for pine – coupled with land clearing and fire – has made this tree much less common and poorer quality today than it would have been historically. But big trees are still here if you look, and they are used by many different birds and mammals, including nesting Bald Eagles.

 

White Pine can be found across PEI but is more common on the sandier soils of Queens and Kings Counties.  It’s an important ecological, economic, and edible part of PEI untamed!

 

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