Latin Name: Pinus ponderosa
Colloquial Names: yellow pine, western yellow pine, black jack pine, bull pine, rock pine, P-Rose.
Evergreen tree 120-150 feet tall ( some ancients grow to over 200 feet!). Trunk straight, average 3-5 feet diameter, some giants up to 7-8 feet across; branches numerous, stout, lower ones often drooping; crown open, irregularly cylindrical, often flat-topped. As tree ages, branches are far from the ground.
Bark: Orange-brown to cinnamon with deep, black fissures delineating flat, flaky, jigsaw-like plates up to 3 inches thick. The thick bark and bare lower branches help mature trees to survive low-intensity fires.
Leaves: Evergreen needles in bundles of 3 (sometimes 2, 4 or 5), yellow-green, slender, 13-5 inches long.
Cones: Male and female cones on same tree; pollen (male) cones 3-5 inches long, reddish-purple to yellow; seed (female) cones broadly egg-shaped, 2-5 inches long in groups of 1-3, reddish purple when young, dull brown when mature, scales thick, with a stiff prickle near tip; mature in 2 years, then open and drop.
Habitat: Moderate amounts of rainfall. Foothills to mountain from southern BC to New Mexico. Ponderosa thrives in areas that are periodically burned. You will find these adaptable beings at very low elevations to way up high. Can live over 600 years!
Historical uses of Ponderosa Pine:
-The seeds were ground into meal and used to make bread.
-The sweet inner bark (said to taste like sheep fat) was collected on cool, cloudy days
when the sap was running. The edible inner bark was scraped from the tough outer layer and usually eaten immediately or kept moist for several days.
Resin was chewed like gum for oral health, applied alone or in salves to boils, carbuncles, abscesses, rheumatic joints and aching backs.
Pitch, rendered resin was used as glue to adhere stone knives to wooden or antler handles, burned on torches, and used to waterproof baskets, wooden containers and canoes.
-The young male cones were boiled as an emergency food.
-The needles can be used to make tea, rich in Vit A & C.
– Pregnant cows that eat ponderosa pine needles may abort their calves in 2 days to 2 weeks. If you’re pregnant avoid essential oils to start with and especially this one – the tea too. Some eo’s are fine for pregnancy, but check with your experienced, certified aromatherapist!
-North American indigenous tribes valued this tree for its antiseptic and vulnerary properties, using it to treat a wide range of skin issues, cuts, wounds, burns etc.
-Also valued for its effect upon the respiratory system. It is used to treat various lung and chest ailments.
-Today its wood is used as lumber and made into moldings, cabinets, and crates.
Anecdotal Info: the largest contiguous stand of Ponderosa Pine can be found in Arizona. There are 5 “races” of Ponderosa Pine – the Pacific, the Columbia, the Rocky Mountain, the Southwestern and the Central High Plains all with unique needle characteristics. The largest specimen on record measures 268 feet tall and 27 feet around. Ponderosa is the state tree of Montana. While my son was a student at Eagle Rock School and living in the Ponderosa House dorm, everyone on campus referred to the house as P-Rose – hmmmm – Ponder Rosa.
Major Chemical Components, Case History, & Research Facts of the Essential Oil
Parts distilled: Needles and twigs together, cones alone, needles w/twigs and cones together.
Monoterpine Family has a very high presence in Ponderosa Pine essential oil. These compounds are known to be effective against air born viruses among many other great attributes. Monoterpines are lypophylic meaning they absorb easily through the skin. Essential oils high in monoterpine compounds are often incorporated into cosmetics for their ability to help out constituents penetrate.
Monoterpine isolates in research studies have shown them to be Anti-bacterial/fungal/infectious/inflammatory/oxidant/spasmodic/viral, analgesic, cicatrisant, decongestant, expectorant, immuno-stimulant, mucolytic, rubefacient, and sedating – see below for definitions.
Monoterpines are not water soluble, so avoid using essential oils high in these compounds in the bath unless they are in a fatty substance like Jojoba oil or such.
The “minor” chemical compounds include sesquiterpines, monoterpenols, sesquiterpenols, a few esters and aldehydes, miniscule ketones and oxides. What do these mean? Consider a course in basic essential oil chemistry from one of our colleagues you can find on our resource page.
Uses and Indications for the Essential Oil
-Can be applied for chest rub
-Steam/ inhaler when fighting colds, flu, sinus infections.
-Can be used in diffuser for meditation, clarity, cleansing atmosphere.
-For infections, cuts, scraps
-Muscle oil for inflamed or spastic muscles.
-Increases blood circulation.
-Scar prevention or breaking up scar tissue.
– Arthritic/Rheumatic conditions.
-Supports connective and muscle tissue.
-Rubfacient – Increases local blood circulation, vasodilation and local analgesic effect.
-Cicatrisant – cell regeneration for skin.
-Bactericidal – takes down those bacteria!
-Mucolytic – cuts the green and yellow crud!
-Decongestant – reduces nasal inflammation and mucous production.
-Sedating – lowers the functional activity of the body organ bringing relaxation.
Energetics: Deeply rooted, standing tall with head toward the stars. Relaxing, restorative, calming, up lifting. Strength, endurance, adaptability,protection.
Aroma: Balsamic, Coniferous, Earthy, Fresh, Piney, Resinous, Rich, Woody
Safety: Oils high in monoterpenes can cause skin irritation or sensitization if they have oxidized due to improper distillation and storage, an important reason to store them cool and dark and source from a distiller that doesn’t shred their distillate material. NEVER take internally unless for a specific purpose under the guidance of an experienced practitioner.
Avoid eyes and orifices. Always do a small test drop on the back of your hand to check for allergic reaction or skin irritation before further application. Should irritation occur, apply any vegetable type oil such as olive to diffuse the chemical reactions. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult your mid-wife before using any essential oil! DO NOT USE INTERNALLY. First two e-mails to say Ponderosa Pine in subject line and their complete mailing address in the message body will receive one dram of Ponderosa Pine essential oil.
Shelf life is 3-5 years. Use it before it goes off! the oil can smell rancid. Skin irritation can occur.. In some cases, the oil does sweeten, hold it’s ring, though still irritate the skin.
Kershaw, MacKinnon, and Pojar, Plants of the Rocky Mountains
Still Point Aromatics
Aromahead Institute curriculum
Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West
Kershaw, Edible Plants of the Rockies
Eckenwater, Conifers of the World
Elpel, Botany in a Day
Gratitude to Jaisy Jahan Zuberi and Ryan Bradley for thier legacy project in apprenticeship to House of Aromatics for compiling the information to create the plant profiles.
No ! FDA Approval. This article is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. This profile is for education about traditional uses and what scientific research is learning about the complexity of phyto-chemistry. Do not use this document to treat or diagnose any dis-ease. Take your shoes and socks off and put your bare feet on the bare Earth. Sat a spell.
Thanks to all of our friends and colleagues from whom we have been honored with so much wisdom, knowledge and elemental lore.