Pine resin or pitch is the secretion from pine trees caused by cuts in the tree trunk or from broken limbs. The trees secrete the resin to seal up any cuts or damage to the tree. If you find yourself lost or stranded in a wilderness environment one of the best-case scenarios is that there are pine trees in the area. Pine resin exposed to the air will harden/crystallise but it can be softened for use by heating.
Medical Uses for Pine Resin
A traditional use for pine resin has been as an external treatment for burns and sores. A long-term study was done by Russian scientists and published in the April 2002 issue of the “Byulleten’ Eksperimental’noi Biologii I Meditsiny” found that pine resin, as a main active ingredient in Biopin ointment, inhibited antibodies found in bodily fluids but aided healing and prevented infection by boosting cell immunity. The ointment did not cause irritation or allergic reactions.
Native Americans have used pine resin to treat rheumatism because of its anti-inflammatory properties. The resin acts to remove the joint inflammation caused by rheumatism, which helps to restore movement and to alleviate pain. The Costanoan Indians gained these benefits by chewing on the gum-like resin.
Other Uses for Pine Resin
During the American Civil War, the Confederate surgeon Francis Porter used pine resin as a stimulant, diuretic, and laxative. In China, the resin from a particular pine tree is used to treat abscesses. Resin from the spruce tree was used by colonial Americans as a cold and cough remedy, as well as straight from the tree as a cancer treatment. Physicians in colonial America also recommended tar water, or ground pine resin mixed with water, as a remedy for ulcers, smallpox, and syphilis. These are traditional holistic medicinal uses for pine resin that have not, as of yet, been confirmed by modern science as effective, but that does not mean there is no basis for some of the claims made about resin’s anti-inflammatory properties.
This may be so but the fact is that the resin once applied to a cut or scrape will inhibit the growth of bacteria because it denies the bacteria the moisture it needs to survive. Because of its very sticky nature, pine resin can be applied directly to a bleeding cut to help stem the flow of blood and close the wound up similar to stitching. Some survival experts use pine pitch in place of super glue to seal up cuts. Leave the resin in place, and reapply as needed. There have been reported cases where serious bleeding wounds have been stemmed using pine resin.
Waterproofing Shoes and Other Materials
Pine resin is essentially impervious to water so it can be used to treat objects to make them resistant to the damages caused by moisture. It can be used to seal seams, repair breaks/holes in boats, shoes and structures to prevent water leaks. In a survival situation, you may have to repair holes in boots, shoes and shelters. You can also use the resin to waterproof the lower half of your hiking shoes or boots.
The resin must be heated to liquid form so it can be applied to the material. Avoid heating the resin in a shallow container over an open flame because the flames from the fire can easily ignite the resin, which is highly flammable. Let the fire burn down to coals before heating the pitch. Find a short green stick and repeatedly strike one end to create bristles in the wood, (paintbrush) or chew on the end to break the fibres apart so they can be used to apply the pitch. Use the resin to repair holes in canvas and heavy nylon. Lay the material flat where the rip or seam is exposed. Once the resin is heated to liquid form, apply using the fibrous end of the stick.
Pine Pitch Glue
Warm the resin to liquid form and while the resin is heating, crumble some charcoal from the fire as fine as possible. Once the resin is ready, remove it from the heat and stir in the powdered charcoal. The amount of charcoal added should be about one-third as compared to the volume of the pitch. Find a solid stick with a blunt end and dip repeatedly in the mixture to form a ball of pitch on the end. You may need two sticks. This is how the glue is stored until needed. The glue will harden and to use heat until pliable.
Use the glue to form fishhooks, repair the soles of shoes and use to repair holes in water containers. Use the glue to apply feathers to homemade arrows or allow hardening on the ends of fishing/hunting spears to prevent splintering. Glue in a survival situation has unlimited uses.
Pine resin is flammable and can be used to help start a fire in damp conditions. You may find yourself in a situation where all of the available wood is damp but this does not mean you have to go without a fire.
Find some hardened pine resin and some pine sticks/branches. Split the sticks and look for streaks of resin in the wood. Use magnesium shavings and a flint bar or you can use a Ferro rod to ignite the pitch. Lay some dried pine needles near the pitch and ignite the pitch. It will burn like a candle long enough to dry the needles out and you can begin adding small pieces of the pine which even if somewhat damp in the middle will burn because of the resin. Once you have, a sizable flame established you could then begin drying out other wood.
Illumination and Heat
You can use pine resin to create a lamp. Find a stone with a depression or use a clamshell or any type of shell that can be filled with resin or use a cupped shaped piece of bark. You will also need material for a wick. Use some twisted cloth or even dried moss. Fill the depression with the pitch and lay the wick material on top. You ignite the wick first, which will, in turn, ignite the resin. The resin will burn like a candle and you can feed it more resin to maintain the flame once ignited.
To use as a heat source place a metal container that has plenty of air holes in it over the ignited pitch. The metal container will absorb the heat and conduct to the surrounding area. This method will not heat a large area but will warm hands and feet in an emergency.
In most cases, you will find damaged pine trees/broken limbs that have secreted resin. It is recommended that you first look for damaged and fallen limbs before you purposely cut into a pine tree to harvest the resin. If you have to damage the tree do it in a small area on one side of the tree only. Only take as much as you need, you must allow some resin to remain on the tree so it can protect the cut to prevent boring insects from destroying the tree.
References and Resources