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A number of species of the genus Pinus produce large seeds that are edible and highly nutritious. Edible nut producing pines are found in Asia, Europe, the Near East and North America. Wherever they occur, they have become important staple foods, at least locally. Several species produce nuts, which today are considered to be a delicacy, that are ingredients in a wide variety of traditional dishes and are important in international trade.

Species which produce edible nuts

Approximately 29 species of Pinus produce seeds, which have been used as a food item, at least by indigenous tribal cultures. Most of the edible nut bearing pines are haploxylon (soft) pines although several species are of the diploxylon (hard) pine group (Tables 8.1 and 8.2).

Table 8.1
Pine species with edible nuts
Natural Range
Haploxylon (soft) pines 
P. ayacahuite
P. albicaulis
P. cembra
P. flexilis
P. gerardiana
P. koraiensis
P. lambertiana

P. monticola

Piñon pines 
P. pumila
P. sibirica
P. strobiformis

Mexico, Central America 
Western Canada and United States 
Europe (Alps and Carpathian Mountains) 
Western Canada and United States 
E Afghanistan, Pakistan, N India 
E China, Japan, Korea, SE Siberia 
Western United States (California, Oregon) 
NW United States and adjoining Canada 
N Mexico, SW United States 

E Siberia, E China, Korea, N Japan 
Russia (Central Siberia), Mongolia 
N Mexico, SW United States

Traditional food for indigenous tribes 
Traditional food for indigenous tribes 
Locally important 
Traditional food for indigenous tribes 
Important in international trade 
Important in international trade 
Traditional food for indigenous tribes 
Traditional food for indigenous tribes 
A complex group of about 13 species. Many are important food sources (See table 8.2) 
Locally important 
Nuts are ground into cooking oil 
Traditional food for indigenous tribes
Diploxylon (hard) pines 
P. coulteri
P. pinea
P. ponderosa
P. sabiniana
P. roxburghii
P. torreyana
United States (California) 
Mediterranean Europe and Near East 
W Canada and United States 
United States (California) 
United States (California)
Traditional food for indigenous tribes 
Important in international trade 
Traditional food for indigenous tribes 
Traditional food for indigenous tribes 
Traditional food source 
Traditional food for indigenous tribes

Sources: Critchfield and Little (1966), Lanner (1981), Maheshwari and Konar (1971), Mirov and Hasbrouck (1976), Perry (1991), F.P. Shiva, Centre for Minor Forest Products, Dehra Dun, India.

In Europe, Pinus pinea has been so widely planted throughout the Mediterranean region for its edible nuts that it is difficult to establish the true natural range of this species (Mirov 1967). Remains of pine nuts, presumably from P. pinea, have been found in the ruins of Pompeii (Maheshwari and Konar 1971). Several large forests of this species were planted in Italy in response to Papal decrees. For example, a large forest of P. pinea was established in 1666 near Fregene, a coastal community north of Rome at the initiative of Pope Clement IX and has been protected because of its scenic value and edible nuts (Mirov 1967). This forest still exists today. The nuts of P. cembra are used for food in Switzerland (Maheshwari and Konar 1971).

Table 8.2
The piñon pines of Mexico and the United States
Natural Range
P. catarinae Mexico - Nuevo León Seeds collected locally for food
P. cembroides Mexico - Northern Sonora and Chihuahua south to Puebla Nuts have very thick shells, sold in markets in Mexico
P. culminicola Mexico - Nuevo León  
P. discolor Mexico - E Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, San Luis Potosi 
USA – S Arizona, S New Mexico 
Not sought after by humans because seed crops are generally small and seed coat is very hard
P. edulis USA – Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico 
Mexico - NW Chihuahua
Important producer of pine nuts
P. quadrifolia Mexico - Baja California Norte 
USA – S California
Locally important. Nuts have very thin seed coats
P. juarezensis Mexico - Baja California Norte 
USA - Extreme S California
Seeds sold in markets along with seeds of P.edulis and P. monophylla
P. johannis Mexico - Localized in Coahuila, N Zacatecas, S. Nuevo León Seeds edible
P. lagunae Mexico – Found only in a single restricted area in Baja California Sur  
P. maximartinezii Mexico – Isolated in the mountains of S Zacatecas, extremely rare Large seeds; 20-25 mm long, unusually large, heavy cones
P. monophylla Mexico - Baja California Norte 
USA - S California, Nevada, W Utah
Important producer of nuts. Only pine in the world with a single needle per fascicle
P. nelsonii Mexico – Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi Seeds collected with P. cembroides. Superior in flavour to P. cembroides
P. pinceana Mexico – Coahuila, Hidalgo, Querétera, Zacatecas Seeds collected for food
P. remota Mexico – Chihuahua, Coahuila 
USA – W Texas
Common name is "papershell piñon." Thin seed coat makes them especially attractive for human consumption

Sources: Lanner 1981, Perry 1991.

In Asia and the Near East, Pinus gerardiana, P. koraiensis , P. pumila and P. sibirica are important pine nut producing species. The nuts of P. sibirica and P. koraiensis are pressed commercially for the production of cooking oil (de Beer n.d., Lanner 1981, Mirov and Hasbrouck 1976).

The greatest number of pine species which bear edible nuts are found in North America, the largest group being the piñon pines of northern Mexico and south-western United States. These are a complex and highly variable group of small to medium sized trees that occur in localities with a semi-arid climate. About 13 species of piñon pines are known (Table 8.2) (Lanner 1981, Perry 1991). Three species, Pinus cembroides, P. edulis and P. monophylla have relatively widespread distributions and, even today, are important regional food items (Fig 8.1). Other piñons have more localized distributions and, therefore, a more limited and localized importance as food sources. Other North American pines which produce edible nuts include Pinus albicaulis, P. flexilis and P. strobiformis of the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin regions and Pinus coulteri, P. lambertiana, P. sabiniana and P. torreyana, species indigenous to California, United States and Baja California del Norte, Mexico (Lanner 1981).

Figure 8.1: Edible nuts of Pinus edulis.

Nutritional value

Pine nuts are of exceptional nutritional value. The edible nuts of piñons and other pines compare quite favourably with pecans, peanuts and walnuts in protein, fat and carbohydrate content. Of the piñon pines, P. cembroides is richest in protein and lowest in starch content. P. edulis tends to be richest in fats and is comparable to Pinus pumila which, in Russia, is pressed commercially for production of cooking oil (Table 8.3). One-half kg of shelled P. edulis nuts provides 2 880 calories, more than the food energy in an equivalent amount of chocolate and nearly as much as one-half kg of butter. The protein content of some pine nuts (e.g. P. edulis, P. pinea) exceeds that of all other commercial nuts, except the cashews and is comparable to that of beefsteak. Protein quality of pine nuts is also high. Proteins are composed of amino acids. All 20 of the amino acids are found in the protein of the nuts of both P. edulis and P. monophylla. The value of P. edulis in the diet of the indigenous tribes of the American south-west may lie partially in the fact that of the nine amino acids essential to human growth, seven are present in greater quantity in piñons than in cornmeal(Lanner 1981).

Table 8.3
Dietary value of several species of pine nuts
in comparison with other commercially important nuts
Type of Nut
Protein (%)
Fat (%)
Carbohydrate (%)
P. edulis
P. monophylla
P. cembroides
P. quadrifolia
P. sabiniana
P. strobiformis
P. pinea
P. sibirica

Pecan (Carya illinoensis
Peanut (Arachis hypogaea
English Walnut (Juglans regia)








Percentages are approximate and based on shelled nuts.
Source: Lanner 1981.

The fats of the piñons are also of high food quality. The most abundant fatty acids in the nuts of P. edulis and P. monophylla are unsaturated oleate, linoleate and linolenate. These comprise about 85 percent of the total fat content. The nuts of P. edulis are rich in phosphorus (1 245 mg/kg), which is equivalent to soybeans. They also contain significant amounts of Vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin (Lanner 1981).

A paper by Farris (1993) concludes that the nutrient value of the nuts of Pinus sabiniana, which was used as a food by the indians of California, is similar to that of Pinus pinea and suggests that this species could be developed into a contemporary food source.

Another desirable characteristic of pine nuts is that if stored in a dry, well-ventilated area, they can be kept for several years without spoiling (Ciesla 1989, Lanner 1981).

Historical aspects

Records indicate that humans have eaten the nuts of various pines since prehistoric times. In south-western United States, for example, seed coats of piñon pines have been found in the remains of human shelters in central Nevada. Carbon dating techniques have estimated these remains to be about 6000 years old. Piñon seed coats have also been found among human artefacts in sites in north-western Utah, United States, which are estimated to be about 3000 years old (Lanner 1981).

In Siberia, tribes gathered nuts of Pinus siberica, P. pumila and P. koriaensis. Russian settlers in Siberia also pressed oil from the nuts, which was called "nut oil." Before the introduction of sunflower, cottonseed and corn oil (all three from North America), pine nut oil was important in Siberia where it was considered a delicacy. Before the revolution of 1917 it was used for cooking during Lent when eating of animal fats was forbidden (Mirov and Hasbrouk 1976). Also prior to the 1917 revolution, ten percent of all hard currency in Russia was based on the trade of pine oil. Most of the trade was with France, which traditionally uses nut oil in cooking. Pine nut oil is also reportedly an excellent bread preservative when a small amount is added to the dough (Lloyd 1996).

The nuts of Pinus pinea have been used in the Mediterranean region as a food item for over 2000 years. In Italy it is known as pino domestico or pinone; in France, pignion and in Arabic, this tree is known as sanawar (Farris 1983). In ancient Rome, a wine was made from the nuts of Pinus pinea. This tradition may partially account for the orgiastic nature of the rites of Cybelle which ancients compared to those of Dionysius (Mirov and Hasbrouk 1976). Evidence from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, at the base of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy, indicates that the nuts of this species were widely used. One recipe recovered from these ruins calls for using crushed pine nuts, almonds and vinegar in a type of mustard. Pine nuts were also used in sausages, salads, turnover sweets, and as seasoning for boiled bulbs and various sauces (Meyer 1980). Pine nuts were preserved in honey and eaten (Maheshwari and Konar 1971). The cones of this tree were used for rubbing the interiors of wine vats (Meyer 1980).

The seeds of P. gerardiana, a pine which occurs in Afghanistan and Pakistan where it is known as chilgoza or nioza, has been a traditional food of nomadic tribes. The large cones of this tree were collected by means of long, hooked poles. They were then gathered and stacked in heaps while still unripe and were roasted over an open fire. The resin in the cones would catch fire and the resultant heat would open the cones and release the seeds (Maheshwari and Konar 1971).

Various indigenous tribes in California, United States, used the nuts of Pinus coulteri, P. lambertiana, P. sabiniana, and P. torreyana for food (Lanner 1981). In British Columbia, Canada, the Shuswap Indians collected seeds of Pinus ponderosa, P. monticola and, less frequently, P. albicaulis and P. flexilis (Mirov and Hasbrouck 1976). The first Spanish explorers visiting California were offered seeds of P. sabinana by friendly indians. Later, Spanish priests tried to discourage mission indians from using wild foods including the gathering of pine nuts. However, in a number of early Roman Catholic missions, the use of pine nuts eventually became accepted as a supplement to "civilized" foods (Farris 1983).

Some anthropologists believe that the piñon pine of America south-west was such an important food item to the indigenous tribes of this region that its presence allowed them to evolve into an agricultural society (Fig 8.2). Piñon nuts became an early staple food and may have been used as a trade item to acquire corn, beans and squash from tribes living further south. There is even some evidence that the use of piñon nuts as a trade item may have affected the natural range of at least one species of piñon pine. An isolated stand of P. edulis pine occurs in a place called Owl Canyon, north-west of Fort Collins, Colorado. This stand is approximately 150 km north of the nearest stands of piñon and may have originated from pine nuts carried by humans along an ancient trading route (Lanner 1981, Ciesla 1989) (Fig 8.3). An isolated forest of Pinus flexilis in the western part of the state of North Dakota, United States (Critchfield and Little 1966) may be the result of a similar occurrence.

Figure 8.2: An Anasazi cliff dwelling in northern New Mexico, United States. Some anthropologists believe that it was the occurrence of Pinus edulis, which provided a stable food source that allowed an advanced civilization to develop in this region

Methods of harvesting pine nuts by indigenous tribes in North America varied considerably. Among the people of the Pueblo cultures of south-west United States, collection of piñon nuts was a family affair. Temporary camps were established in the mountains in autumn when seed fall began. Nuts were either picked off of the ground or trees were shaken to release the seeds on blankets spread underneath the trees. An efficient nut gatherer could harvest from 5 to 10 kg of nuts in a single day. The completed harvest was packed in wagons and taken home. When they arrived at home, the nuts were roasted on a griddle and put away in earthenware jars for the winter. Gathering of pine nuts in piñon forests is still done today by many people of the Pueblo cultures. The indigenous tribes of the Great Basin region (Nevada and Utah, United States) collected cones with hooked sticks and either stored seeds in cones for the winter or opened the cones by the heat of a fire for immediate use (see textbox) in a manner similar to what was done by nomadic tribes of Afghanistan. Piñons were basically a winter food for the Pueblo cultures and could be eaten raw, roasted or boiled. The Navajo mashed the nuts into a paste the texture of butter that was spread on hot corn cakes (Lanner 1981).

Contemporary uses

Today pine nuts are considered a delicacy in many of the world’s cultures. In addition to being eaten raw or roasted, they are an ingredient in a variety of dishes including breads, candies, cookies, sauces and cakes as well as vegetable and meat dishes (Appendix 2). The most widely used pine nuts today are those harvested from Pinus pinea, P. koraiensis and P. gerardiana. Pinus edulis and other piñon pines indigenous to Mexico or south-western United States are important regional foods but are not widely exported.

Figure 8.3: A forest of Pinus edulis in Owl Canyon, near Fort Collins, Colorado, United States. This stand is about 150 km north-east of the main distribution of this species and may be the result of indigenous people accidentally spilling seed along an ancient trade route.

Data on world production of pine nuts are not available. In south-western United States, annual crops of Pinus edulis are estimated to average between 454 000 and 907 000 kg and can reach 3.6 million kg in an exceptionally productive year. In some years, however, commercial crops can be non-existent (Ronco 1990). During the years 1976-1980, the United States imported an average of US$800 000 of pine nuts, annually.

The most important pine nut imported was the nut of P. pinea (Wickens 1995) (Fig 8.4). This accounted for 68 percent of the imports. Spain and Portugal were the major source of nuts of this pine species. The remainder were P. koraiensis nuts imported from China. China is the world’s largest producer and exporter of seeds of Pinus koraiensis and P. sibirica (Fig 8.5). The nuts of these species are also harvested in Siberia, Russia, where there is a high domestic demand (de Beer n.d).

The seeds of Pinus gerardiana are long and boat-shaped with one sharp end. Pinus gerardiana seeds are preferred by the confectionery industry because they are easier to insert into cakes and sweets than are the blunt nuts of the piñon pines or Pinus pinea (Mirov and Hasbrouck 1976).

Prices for pine nuts vary according to quality and location. In New Mexico, United States, half pound packages of roasted Pinus edulis nuts sold for US$4.95 (US$22/ kilo) during the spring of 1996 (author’s observation). In Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where about 100 tonnes of pine nuts are imported annually from China and Pakistan, well sorted, well packaged, fresh skinned pine nuts would sell for between US$4.00-5.00/kg (de Beer n.d.). In Italy, March 1998 retail price for 50 gr packages of first quality, big seized Pinus edulis nuts was close to 7 000 Italian lira/package (1US$/1 800 Lira). In 1996, pine nut oil, pressed from the nuts of P. koraiensis, had a market price of US$20/ litre (Lloyd 1996).

Figure 8.4: A grove of Pinus pinea, south of Rome, Italy. The edible seeds of this species are important in international trade.

Figure 8.5: Packaged nuts of Pinus koraiensis. Its nuts are harvested in China and exported world-wide.

Figure 8.6: Chilgoza, the edible nuts of Pinus gerardiana, for sale in a market in Quetta, Balochistan Province, Pakistan.


The following description of piñon nut harvesting by the Mono Lake Paiute Indians of California was made by famous American conservationist John Muir around 1870: 

"When the crop is ripe, the Indians make ready the long beating-poles; bags, baskets, mats and sacks are collected; the women out at service among the settlers, washing or drudging, assemble at the family huts; the men leave their ranch work, old and young, all are mounted on ponies and start in great glee to the nut lands, forming curiously picturesque cavalcades; flaming scarves and calico skirts stream loosely over the knotty ponies, two squaws usually astride of each, with baby midgets bandaged in baskets slung on their backs or balanced on the saddle-bow; while nut baskets and water jars project on each side, and the long beating-poles make angles in every direction. Arriving at some well-known point where grass and water are found, the squaws with baskets, the men with poles ascend the ridges to the laden trees, followed by the children. Then the beating begins right merrily, the burrs (cones) fly in every direction, rolling down the slopes, lodging here and there against the rocks and sage brushes, cached and gathered by the women and children with fine natural gladness. Smoke-columns speedily mark the joyful scene of their labours as the roasting fires are kindled, and, at night, assembled in gay circles garrulous as jays, they begin the first nut feast of the season."

Source: Lanner (1981) 


The genus Araucaria consists of about 18 species of trees that are found in the Southern Hemisphere. They occur in Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, Norfolk Island and South America in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate climates (Ntima 1968). The seeds of three species, A. araucana, A. angustifolia and A. bidwelli are large and edible. These are locally important food sources for humans and the seed of one species is an important livestock feed.

A. araucana, is a component of the high elevation forests of southern Chile and south-western Argentina (Vidakovic 1991) where it is known as pehuén or piñón. Its seeds, known locally as piñones, are important as a food source for indigenous tribes especially a Chilean tribe known as the Pehuenches. They grind the seeds into flour, which is used as a staple food. They also cook the seeds in various ways or ferment them for a drink (Chandrasekharan et al. 1996). Piñones are sold in local markets in southern Chile, especially in places like Concepción, Temuco and Valdivia, where they generally appear in April. The seeds are eaten raw or they are boiled for about 1 and ½ hours and eaten.

The Paraná pine, A. angustifolia, is found in the southern states of Brazil, particularly in the hilly portions of Paraná State where it reaches its best development and from where it gets its common name. This tree is also found in the Brazilian States of Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Mato Grosso, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais as well as small areas of neighbouring Paraguay and Misiones Province, Argentina (Ntima 1968). It is highly prized for both its excellent quality lumber and its edible and nutritious nuts. A. angustifolia produces large cones, each averaging 17 cm in diameter and weighing an average of about 2.4 kg. The cones contain an average of 112 sound seeds which have an average length of 5.8 cm (Fig 8.7) (Malinovski 1977).

Figure 8.7: Nuts of Araucaria angustifolia, theseare an important food item in southern Brazil and adjoining portions of Argentina.

The first Spanish and Portuguese explorers to visit southern Brazil and northern Argentina reported that the nuts of A. angustifolia were an important food item for the indigenous tribes that inhabited the region. The nuts were harvested during March, April and May and were eaten either roasted or were ground into a paste which was boiled (Rodrigues Mattos 1972).

Today, the nuts of A. angustifolia, known locally as pinhões, are an important local delicacy. The nuts are harvested by climbing the trees with long ladders and knocking the cones out of the trees with a stick. The harvest usually begins in April. Pinhões are readily available in local markets betweenApril and June where they sell for about US$1-2/kg. Unfortunately, the seeds of this tree do not store as well as do the seeds of the piñon pines of Mexico and south-western United States and are not available as a food source throughout the year .

Pinhões are eaten in a variety of ways. They can be boiled either in a pot or pressure cooker. Cooking time is reduced by about one third if the pinhões are left soaking in water overnight. Pinhões can also be roasted on a metal sheet or baked in an oven. Passoca de pinhões is a traditional recipe, which calls for grinding the nuts, boiling them and serving them with milk. Farinha de pinhões, another traditional dish, is a bread made with pinhões and almonds (Rodrigues Mattos 1972).

The seeds of A. angustifolia are also a nutritious and locally important feed for livestock, cattle, swine and horses in the south of Brazil (Rodrigues Mattos 1972).

A. bidwelli, known locally as Bunya-bunya pine, occurs in the coastal regions of Queensland, Australia. This tree produces large, egg-shaped seeds. There are about 60 seeds/kg. The seeds are a traditional food of the aborigines and are so highly valued that aboriginal families claim ownership of individual trees (see textbox). Good seed crops occur on the average of once every three years (Audas 1952).


The genus Tórreya (Family Taxaceae) is comprised of small to medium sized trees that have somewhat localized ranges. Six species are known: two from North America, one from Japan and three from China. The North American species are known as "stinking cedar" or "stinking yew" because of the disagreeable odour of their foliage when crushed. Several species of this group have edible seeds.

Tórreya nucifera is native to the mountainous regions of central and southern Japan where it is known as kaya. The nuts of this tree are edible. They are said to posses an agreeable, slightly resinous flavour and are widely sold in Japanese markets in autumn. They are eaten either raw or roasted and are a popular dessert item. The primary use of these nuts is the production of a cooking oil known as kaya-no-abura. According to one report, at one time these nuts were exported through Shanghai and Guangzhou (Canton), China. This is probably unlikely, however, because this tree does not occur in China. The nuts of a Chinese species, T. grandis, are also edible and may have been harvested and exported at one time. T. grandis nuts are also reported to have some medicinal properties. The fruits and foliage of T. nucifera contain 6-hydroxydehydroabietinol, a substance with marked estrogenic activity and may have potential pharmaceutical uses (Burke 1975).

Tórreya californica is endemic to California, United States, where it occurs along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges (Griffin and Critchfield 1972). The nuts of this tree were used as a food by local indian tribes. They are said to be rich and oily and when eaten raw resemble the taste of coconut. When roasted, the nuts reportedly have an agreeable taste similar to groundnuts. They were considered a highly prized food item and sometimes gathered in large quantities (Burke 1975). The Costanoan indians, a tribe which once occupied the coast ranges of central California between the present day locations of San Francisco and Monterrey, was one of the tribes that made use of the nuts of this tree. They pulverized the nuts, mixed them with animal fat and rubbed the mixture on the temples to treat headache. The same mixture was rubbed on the body to treat chills and swelling. The nuts were chewed as a remedy for indigestion (Bocek 1984).


The gingko or maidenhair tree, Gingko biloba (Family Gingkoaceae) is a tree native to China where it has survived for almost 200 million years, but now widely planted as an ornamental tree. Its name is derived from the Japanese word for this tree and its nuts which are considered to be a delicacy in Asia (Hora 1981). In China, leafs, fruits and seeds of this tree have been used since about 2800 BC, both for food and medicine (Tyler 1993). The fruits are rich in carbohydrates, fat, protein and a number of vitamins (Iqbal 1993). Gingko biloba leaves contain a wide variety of phytochemicals, such as alkanes, lipids, sterols, benzenoids, carotenoids, phenylpropanoids, carbohydrates and flavonoids.

The use of extracts of the fruits of Gingko biloba for medical purposes is of relatively recent interest in the western world. In Germany, medicines made from the fruit of the gingko are now among the most widely used and are sold both as an over-the-counter drug or via prescription. In 1988, doctors in Germany wrote more prescriptions for drugs containing extracts of gingko than for any other plant-derived drug. Medicines containing gingko are most effective as concentrated extracts, either in the liquid or tablet form. Gingko has been shown to have beneficial effects on the circulatory system, particularly among elderly people. Other studies indicate that it can help memory loss, headache, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and depression by improving blood flow in the arteries and capillaries (Tyler 1993). Total annual production of gingko fruits in China is estimated at about 5 000 tonnes, much of which is exported at a value of some US$7 million (Iqbal 1993).


Juniper berries, principally from Juniperus communis, are an important spice in many European cuisines, especially in areas where junipers grow abundantly. These berries are the only example of a spice that comes from a conifer. Juniper berries are commonly used as flavouring in sauerkraut, a traditional French and German dish. The primary use of crushed juniper berries, however, is to impart a sharp, clear flavour to wild game birds or venison (Grausman 1988, Van Waerbeek 1996). Some cooks prefer to use the dried, mature berries, which can be purchased in European markets. However, at least one culinary specialist prefers to use the fresh berries, picked green from juniper trees. When used fresh, juniper berries will impart a stronger taste of resin and a slightly bitter flavour to the meat (Grausman 1988).

Juniper berries contain a volatile oil that acts as an irritant to stimulate kidney filtration and output. Therefore, they have been used as a diuretic to treat conditions involving the kidneys and bladder, to increase urine output and for relief of symptoms of gout and kidney stones. When eaten raw, they are believed to act as a stimulant to increase the appetite and also serve as a traditional remedy for rheumatism and arthritis. Juniper berries are generally considered a "safe" medication except for pregnant women, who may suffer from increased contractions of the uterus, or those suffering from chronic kidney ailments . Some indigenous North American tribes (Turner 1988) also knew the diuretic properties of juniper berries.

The principal flavouring of the alcoholic spirit gin is an infusion of fully-grown but unripe berries from Juniperus spp., primarily J. communis (Hora 1981). The English word "gin" is an abbreviation of the word "geneva", a corruption of either the French word "genièvre" or the Dutch word "jenever", both meaning "juniper."

Gin was developed by Franciscus de la Boe (1614-1672), also known as Dr Sylvius, a physician and professor of medicine of some renown at the University of Leyden in the Netherlands. Dr Sylvius’ objective in developing this spirit was strictly medicinal. Knowing about the diuretic properties of the oil extracted from the fruit of Juniperus communis, he believed that by redistilling a pure alcohol with the juniper berry, he could obtain its therapeutic oil in a form that would provide an inexpensive medicine. He succeeded in producing a drink which became very popular because the flavour which the juniper berries imparted to the spirit masked its harsh taste. Within a few years, all of the Netherlands found itself suffering from various ills that could only be cured by Dr Sylvius’ medicine (Grossman 1976). The low cost and ready availability of this new "medicinal" spirit led to many cases of alcohol abuse in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. The expression "Dutch courage" has its origins in the practice of British soldiers and sailors taking a drink (or two) of gin before going into battle.

Three different categories of distilled gin are recognized today. Jenever is distilled primarily in the Netherlands and Belgium from spirit and juniper berries. After distillation, the gin is matured to give it a heavier flavour. Jenever is generally drunk straight in short glasses as an aperitif or with a beer chaser. London Dry Gin is the most popular form of this spirit and is well known for its light flavour and complex character which is due to the fact that in addition to juniper berries, it contains several other botanicals. A good quality London Dry Gin will almost always contain juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root and other ingredients known usually only to the distiller, to give it additional complexity. Plymouth gin is also distilled with several botanicals and is often slightly heavier in flavour than London Dry Gin. Plymouth gin can be distilled only in Plymouth, United Kingdom.

Virtually all juniper berries are harvested in the wild. Two growing seasons are required for the berries to ripen and the bluish-purple fruits are about 0.12 cm across when ready to harvest (Fig 8.8). Northern Italy and Yugoslavia produce some of the best quality juniper berries with a high resin and sugar content. The largest Italian berries are sold at a premium as a special culinary item for sauces and preserves but most of the harvest is used for production of gin. The fermented, spent berries from the gin distillation are re-distilled to produce an essential oil (see Chapter 7). Juniper berries are also harvested in Denmark (Salo 1995). Berries and juniper berry oil are also available from Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.

In India, the berries of Juniperus communis are used to produce a brown coloured dye.

Figure 8.8: The fruits of Juniperus communis are an important ingredient in the manufacture of gin and a traditional spice in a number of continental European dishes.


Conifer cones are generally collected for two purposes, collection of seed for reforestation and for decoration. Since cone collection for seed is primarily to reforest areas for timber production, only decorative cones will be discussed in this section.


A wide variety of cones are used in floral, wreath and potpourri products. They are used in gift and fragrance items, as ornaments and table decorations. There are also a variety of small niche markets such as jewellery, bird feeders etc. Cones can also be used as fire starters in fireplaces or crushed and moulded into presto-log shapes (Thomas and Schumann 1992). In some areas, cones can be made into curio items for sale to tourists. For example, in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh State, India, the cones of Pinus roxburghii are fashioned into birds and sold in local markets (author’s observation) (Fig 8.9).

Virtually all species of conifer cones that do not have deciduous scales and remain intact after they have cast their seeds are marketable. There is even a market for the deciduous cone scales of Abies nobilis, which are used in the potpourri industry. In the floral market, large cones are generally more marketable while in the potpourri market, small, mid-sized and large cones may all be used. Small cones are generally more valued for making wreaths (Thomas and Schumann 1992). In Nicaragua, the cones of Pinus oocarpa are collected in large quantities, spray painted various colours and sold in local markets just before the Christmas season (author’s observation).

Figure 8.9: Bird curio made from a cone of Pinus roxburghii, Uttar Pradesh, India.

The cones of the eastern Himalayan species, Abies spectabilis, yield a purple or violet dye that is locally important in parts of India.

Sources and markets

Thomas and Schumann (1992) provide a comprehensive discussion of the decorative cone market in the United States. Many manufacturers of cone products, especially potpourri manufacturers, obtain cones from seed extraction plants after the seed has been removed. Certain soft bodied cones such as Norway spruce, Picea abies, are too fragile to survive seed extraction and other cones which are extremely large, e.g. Pinus lambertiana, P. coulteri, or P. sabiniana can only be obtained from people who make a living from collecting cones known as "wildcrafters."

Prices paid for decorative conifer cones is subject to annual variation, as well as location and species of cone. In the United States, prices will generally range from US$0.37 to 0.52 per pound (US$0.81 to 1.15/kg) for semi-dried cones. In the United States, this market has seen a fairly steep upward curve in prices during 1991 and 1992. In the state of Wisconsin, United States, during the fall of 1991, wildcrafters were earning the following prices for cones:
Picea glauca US$2.50/ bushel 
Pnus resinosa US$1.75/ bushel 
Picea mariana US$0.50/ bushel 
Larix decidua US$1.00/ pound 

In south-eastern United States, cone buyers typically paid between US$0.50 and 1.50 per bushel in 1991 for a trailer load (2 400 bushels) of cones. It takes about five people five days to pick a trailer load of large pinecones with each individual gathering about 100 bushels per day. At this rate, they could each earn roughly US$200/day in a good location. A wildcrafter working in the United States must make a minimum of US$75 per day in order to stay in business and good wildcrafters can average about US$120 per day. An example of prices of decorative conifer cones sold on the United States retail market is given in Table 8.4.

In the United States, there are four primary regions for decorative cone’s sales; Tennessee, Minnesota, the East Coast and California. As of 1992, the market for large cones was increasing while the market for small cones was declining. One of the largest-selling cones world-wide is the cone of the North American Pinus contorta, primarily because of its availability. In southern-eastern United States, the cones of Pinus palustris are popular because of their large size. Outside the United States, Europe is becoming a strong market for decorative cones. For cones and most botanical products, entrepreneurs have noted that the German market is about ten times that of the United States’ market. There are opportunities in developing countries with extensive conifer forests (e.g. Mexico and Central America or Eastern Europe) to help meet the demand for decorative cones.

In the United States, it is better for wildcrafters to sell cones and related products to brokers or wholesalers rather than to try to deal directly with large manufacturers. Brokers perform an important function in keeping the supply even and the market steady. A wholesaler or broker can also meet the large quantities needed. For example, a medium sized company buying cones for Christmas holiday gift packs may require 30 trailer loads of cones per year or about 7 200 bushels at between US$0.50 -1.50 per bushel. The broker, who receives cones from a number of wildcrafters, can readily meet this demand.

Table 8.4
Retail prices for conifer cones
Pacific north-western, United States – 1991
Price / pound (unless otherwise noted)
Tsuga spp.
Larix spp.
Sequioadendron giganteum
Calcocedrus decurrens
Thuja plicata
Pseudotsuga menziesii
Pinus sabiniana
Pinus jeffreyi
Pinus attenuata
Pinus contorta
Pinus palustris
Pinus ponderosa
Pinus lambertiana
Pinus strobus
Picea mariana
Picea abies
Picea sitchensis
Picea glauca

* Price per cone
Source: Thomas and Schumann (1992)

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