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Pine Bark as Food and Medicine

Optimal Health Systems
January, 2012

Most of us think of towering pine forests as stately, magnificent and the substance of beautiful vistas, with the added bonus of being immensely useful for building homes, providing heat, and creating numerous necessary items.

But what is not commonly known is that behind that rough, exterior bark of a pine tree is an inner layer of soft, white bark (cambium) that has been used for hundreds, maybe thousands of years as a valuable source of food and medicine for Asians, American Indians and others.

Today we are far removed from nature, depending on commercials, government, grocery shelves, doctors and pharmacies to provide advice and concoctions to fill our dietary and medicinal needs. But before all that, there was….pine bark!

The Chinese used several species of pine and first mentioned it in their medical literature about 500 A.D., recommending it for arthritis and an analgesic for pain.

The word “Adirondack” is an Iroquois word which means tree-eater and referred to their neighbors, known as the Algonquians who ate the inner bark to nourish them through the long, hard winters. The Iroquois and the Micmacs considered the majestic Eastern White Pine a panacea and used its inner bark and resins in virtually all their herbal medicinal combinations. It was used for coughs, croup, bronchitis, laryngitis and chest congestion, as it loosens and expels phlegm from the respiratory tract. The resin of the pine was used to treat wounds and the Chippewa Indians even used it successfully to treat very serious, gangrenous wounds. Later, pine tar (made by slowly burning roots and branches) was used to remove tapeworms and nematodes.

Western Indians were apparently not as advanced in the medicinal use of pine bark as eastern Indians, and little information is available on the use of bark from western trees such as ponderosa pine. The earliest references are from the journals of Lewis and Clark in 1805 when they made notes of scars in trees that indicated the inner bark had been removed. Later investigation revealed that the bark was an ‘emergency’ food used in times of starvation. It was pounded into a flour that when possible was flavored with berries and herbs or used to extend scarce meat supplies.

Once again, as is the case with many another ancient food and medicinal remedy found in nature, modern science has made it possible to identify the valuable nutritional components in pine bark. The high content of nature’s most powerful antioxidants, proanthocyanidins, also called OPCs, makes pine bark second only to grapeseeds as a potent source of the powerful antioxidants which fight free radicals.

Free radicals absorbed from environmental and consumed sources damage and age cells throughout the body. Pine bark’s OPCs have a simple chemical structure that allows them to be readily absorbed into the bloodstream and greatly aid those cells in absorbing vitamin C and other antioxidants. This quality is vital in strengthening the immune system and protecting against infectious attack. OPCs are said to be 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 50 times more powerful than vitamin E.

But that’s not all that makes pine bark the focus of attention in today’s medical science.

Pine bark’s OPCs contain resveratrol, a polyphenolic phytoalexin with antifungal properties. (Resveratrol may also be derived from grapeseeds and to a lesser degree from hops, red wine, pomegranate and other fruits, nuts and beans).

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Research has found that resveratrol contributes to a lower incidence of arteriosclerosis and coronary heart problems by raising the level of ‘good’ cholesterol in the blood while lowering the level of ‘bad’ cholesterol. This benevolent natural action prevents fat in the bloodstream from sticking together and clogging the arteries, thus promoting efficient circulation of the blood throughout the body, especially to the heart. (Pine bark is also a good source of vitamin A).

Based on its potent antioxidant delivery, pine bark extracts from the French maritime pine have been used in France since 1950 to prevent cardiovascular disease. Perhaps the French pine and French wine are the secret to a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease in France compared to the U.S! (Good red wines include the grape seeds, the most nutritious part of the grape. You can read all about the health benefits of grape seeds in another article on this website).

However, the modern French research on pine bark had its origins in North America 400 years earlier when a French exploration party headed by Jacques Cartier became icebound in the St. Lawrence River in 1535 near what is now Quebec. The sailors began dying of scurvy and the local Indians showed them how to make a healing tea from the inner bark of the Eastern white pine. The sailors mostly recovered and the experience was noted in Cartier’s journal which researchers became interested in all those centuries later!

According to, a plant extract from pine bark shows promise in relieving pain and improving physical function in patients suffering from osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee, which affects and cripples millions of people around the world—about ten million in the United States alone. OA develops when the cartilage gradually loses elasticity and begins to harden and crack, leading to pain, swelling, inflammation, stiffness, a decrease in motion and increased vulnerability to injury.

Currently there are no drugs which treat osteoarthritis directly. Recent studies conducted in the U.S. and Iran showed an average of fifty percent improvement in OA patients treated daily with a bark extract from the French maritime pine as opposed to patients taking a placebo. Many more studies are in the works, with plans for developing natural pine bark-based formulas for joint health.

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Pine bark is also a diuretic which encourages the flow of urine and thus is helpful for people who are subject to urinary tract infections and kidney problems. As an herbal remedy, pine bark has been and is used for menstrual cramps, constipation, anxiety and fatigue.

Preliminary studies indicate that compounds in pine bark may be helpful for asthma, allergies and chronic venous insufficiency (CVD) which results in pain, varicose veins and may also be a useful treatment for diabetes patients. Some of the most promising studies have found that the bioflavinoids in pine bark facilitate oxygen uptake, thus improving the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

In New Zealand a pine bark compound made from a New Zealand pine has shown good results in treatment of brain injuries.

It appears that most pine bark contains a degree of nutrients, but some claim that “all bark is not equal.” At this time, the maritime pine found in the Mediterranean areas of France, Portugal, Spain and Italy and in the North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Malta and Monaco is the most widely used in hundreds of high quality natural health supplements and teas. However, many varieties of pine bark around the world that have historically shown benefits are being more closely studied today.

Pine bark and pine bark extracts are used in Optimal Health Systems’ Opti-Force and Vitamin/Mineral/Antioxidant products.

Sources for this article include,,, and

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.