For me the special warmth, freshness and magic of this time of year is beautifully embodied in its piny scents. The pine of Christmas trees and wreaths segues nicely into the pine of Japanese New Year displays.
Both sources of pine are laden with ritual meaning and talismanic potency, but the plant also has a respectable history in both medicine and beauty.
The pine tree, in many belief systems, is symbolic of eternal rebirth, purification and new beginnings.
The tree is special to people in many parts of the world. Certainly, the evergreen nature of the tree has played a part in the development of this symbolic role. But at the same time, the properties of the plant essence echo its meanings: Pine is a purifier and revitalizing agent when used in health and beauty.
It is thus doubly appropriate that we use the pine tree in midwinter festivals celebrating rebirth and the return of life.
Pine’s practical uses for the body are numerous. In aromatherapy pine may be used along with thyme and eucalyptus in inhalations to treat sinusitis and cold symptoms, in the compress treatment of rheumatism and in oil soaks or washes to combat fungi such as those which cause athlete’s foot.
In the bath, pine oil is a purifier and eliminates bad smells, as well as helping to soothe aches and pains, whether of joints or of muscles. Pine is an anti-inflammatory and helps the lungs and bronchial tract, dilating passages for clear respiration.
To eliminate catarrh, Swiss naturopath Dr. H.C.A. Vogel recommends chewing pine buds fresh-picked from the trees in your own garden or from forests when you are out strolling.
The sap in pine buds and shoots is said to help build up resistance to colds and other respiratory infections as well as eliminate them once they’ve struck.
One of the popular Vogel products, Santasapina, is a cough syrup made from raw pine shoots, so if you don’t have a pine tree, this remedy will serve the same purpose.
Pine contains vitamin C, a fact which no doubt was essential to the discovery in the Middle Ages that pine-bud extract offered a successful treatment for scurvy.
Pine has benefits for the emotions and nervous system as well. The aromas of the coniferous trees, which include pine, fir, cedar, juniper and spruce, are all tonic to the nervous system, and are thought to lift the spirits.
The essential oil of pine is used to soothe, relieve anxiety, ease stress and to revitalize. While cypress and juniper are stimulating, cedar, fir and pine are said to be calming.
In the Scottish Highlands, pine roots were traditionally burned to freshen the air in the home and improve the atmosphere in more ways than one.
Blue spruce has spiritual effects and is recommended in the form of incense, the natural plant or in an oil diffuser when one is doing yoga or practicing meditation. It is thought to open up channels to higher realities.
“You drink the scent of the woods like water from the spring.” These words, spoken by Chang Chen in 725, are echoed today in the Japanese fondness for forest bathing. Believed to be beneficial to soul, mind and body, this practice consists simply of spending time in an evergreen forest and allowing the beneficent trees to work their fragrant magic on one’s being.
The association of the evergreen scents with religion is ancient and abiding. We seem to feel, in the presence of a pine tree, a deep spiritual response. Perhaps we were all once tree worshippers.
Contemplate this long and mysterious heritage as you pick out your Christmas tree or prepare your New Year’s display, and allow the aromatic tree to bathe you in its soulful, scented, sacred embrace.
Have a lovely Christmas and a wonderful New Year.