Lodgepole Pine

Pinus contorta – Lodgepole Pine

Lodgepole PinePinus contorta

Pinus = pee-nus, from the Latin name for pine;

contorta = kon-tor-ta, twisted, referring to young shoots of the California variety;

Identification: Pinus contorta is an evergreen coniferous tree, reaching a height of 25 m. The needles are in bundles of two, the cones are 2-5 cm long and each scale is armed with a minute, recurved prickle. The trunk is usually straight and narrow, with a clean scaly bark.

Distribution & Habitat: Lodgepole pine is the most common tree species of middle and lower altitudes on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. It grows in dense stands that can be hard to hike through.

Preparation & Uses: As an emergency food, the pine needle can be made into a tea, which is high in vitamin C and beta-carotene (vitamin A). Chewing on the needles, however, would provide more nutrients. The seed of lodgepole pine is high in fat and protein, although it tastes rather like turpentine. In the spring the young needles are soft, tender and quite edible. Indians often ate the inner bark of pine as a spring tonic.

The inner bark pulp is also used as a poultice to draw out infections. The gum can be put on any cut, scrape or sore to promote healing. Some Indians would chew the bud to treat sore throat. The buds can also be decocted and used as an aid for tuberculosis and stomach ailments.

The turpentine pitch is slightly irritating and antiseptic, giving it a diuretic, expectorant and rubefacient quality. It can also be used as a carminative for flatulence and as a vermifuge. Too much of the pitch or even needle can be irritating to weakened kidneys. This was employed by some Indians as a method of birth control. They made a strong infusion of the needle. This could be very dangerous and so should not be taken during pregnancy.

Inhaling “steam” of the pitch helps loosen up lungs and has been used for many respiratory problems. The Missouri Indians inhaled the smoke of burning twigs to relieve head colds.

I consider the most important use of the lodgepole pine to be the construction of tipis. As it is a tall, straight tree, it has traditionally been used for the poles of Indian lodges or tipis, thus its common name. The poles were traded over great distances.