Is it safe to eat pine cones? Are they toxic to humans?

pine cones
pine cones
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Is it safe to eat pine cones? Are they toxic to humans?

Did you know that the pineapple derives its name from its resemblance to pine cones? Pine cones also known as conifer cones, are the seeds of the pine tree and are usually found in plenty around pines.

Now, picture yourself on a tour of the Northwestern state of Maine, in the United States. And on a visit to one of the large pine forests that are common there, you get lost deep in the woods, with acres and acres of pine trees, and millions of pine cones on the ground. 

Would it cross your mind to eat the cones to push you for one more day, even if they weren’t as tasty as the pineapples they are named after?

If you are a prepper, you would probably be aware that pine cones would come in handy in case of an emergency, as they are a good fire starter and source of firewood.

pine cones

But as food?

Well, that’s new, and with the sheer abundance of cones in pine forest floors, it would certainly be interesting to find out how it can come in handy in case of an emergency.

What are pine cones?

Pine cones are organs that contain the reproductive structures of the pine tree. The hard and scaly pine cones that we are often familiar with contain female seeds. The cone’s hardiness is nature’s protective mechanism for the seeds. This is to protect against winter’s freezing weather or squirrels and other rodents.

Male seeds, on the other hand, come in the form of pollen and are encased in smaller and less noticeable cones.

The pine tree is a coniferous tree that grows in almost all the regions of the world and is one of the world’s most common trees. It is from this tree that the pine cones fall off, as part of nature’s way to enhance the survival of this tree.

Are pine cones edible?

The pine tree contains different edible parts, including the cone.

The best pine cones for eating will be the soft type that is yet to dry and open to reveal the sharp scales. From this cone, you can easily extract pine nuts by hand, which can be eaten raw. 

Besides nourishing you in an emergency, you are likely to enjoy the distinct flavor of the pine nuts that have a crunchy and nutty feel.

can i eat pine cones

The other parts of the soft cone are edible too, and while they may not be as tasty as the pine nuts, they will sustain you and be more palatable than other options available in that scenario.

If the only cones available are the hard, scaly and sharp ones, then these can be eaten too, with your immediate challenge only being how to deal with the hard and sharp edges. If you can grind them into powder using stones, then you will find that they will be a welcome diet for a hungry stomach with nothing else to go with.

Pine cones are rich in fiber and Vitamin C, which will also give you some much-needed nourishment when you need it most.

What are the most common types of pine cones?

The most common types of pine cones are dependent on the species of pine trees. Of the over 120 pine tree species in the world, some of them do not produce cones or have cones that are not as distinct as the regular ones.

Let us look at a few of the common cone-bearing pine species;

  1. The Eastern White Pine – This tree is the official tree of Maine state, as it is found in plenty in that State. The cones of the Eastern White pine are long and slender with a slightly flexed tip.
  2. Western White Pine – The Western White pine is mostly found in the mountainous ranges of the United States and Canada, including Nevada, Oregon, and Washington State. Its cones are very long and slender, with lengths of up to a foot long, and a width of about 1-2 inches. 
  3. Sugar Pine – The sugar pine is one of the tallest species of pines, and also has cones that are longer than other species. Its cones are typically over a foot long and can go up to a foot and a half.
  4. Red Pine – The Red pine is another common pine tree. It has a short round cone, that resembles a grenade, about 2 inches tall and one inch in diameter.
  5. Jack pine – the Jack Pine is native to Canada and is unique for its short cones that are curved and pointing towards the branch. They are typically less than 2 inches tall, with prickly scales.

When do pine cones fall?

Pine cones fall in different times of the year depending on the pine species, and the areas where the pines are. They will typically only fall when conditions are right and can stay on trees for over 10 years. 

are pine cones edible

In areas that experience the four seasons like the United States, pine cones fall in autumn. This season gives pines the most optimum conditions for the pine seeds to find good and fertile ground to grow into viable pine trees.

Are some pine cones poisonous?

There are over 120 species of pine trees. Some of the pine trees and its different parts are poisonous to animals and human beings.

  1. Ponderosa pine – The Colorado State University’s guide to toxic plants lists the Ponderosa pine as a toxic plant as it has isocupressic acid, a diterpene acid that when ingested by cattle caused lower blood flow and abortion of the fetus. As it has been proved to be toxic to cattle, humans should also avoid this pine tree and its byproducts.
  2. Lodgepole Pine – The Pinus contorta better known as Lodgepole pine also has isocupressic acid and is harmful to livestock and humans. It is, therefore, best left untouched.
  3. The Yew tree or Taxus baccata has also been demonstrated to be toxic to animals. While it does not bear cones that are similar to the other usual pine cones, this tree has bright red colored cones that may be attractive to the eye. Be careful though, as this plant is poisonous.
  4. Jeffrey pine, Rocky Mountain juniper, and the common juniper are also species of pines that are poisonous, and their cones should not be taken for human consumption.

How to harvest, prepare and eat pine cones.

pine cones

If you are stuck in a pine forest, with pine cones being the only viable food you will need to know how to harvest and prepare pine cones for eating.

To harvest pine cones, you should begin by collecting green, tightly closed cones that have fallen to the ground, or that are within easy reach when standing. If you are unable to reach green cones, you should consider climbing the tree to pluck them and throw them to the ground.

If you have a good quantity of green and closed cones, pinch the tip and rip it open to extract pine nuts. Alternatively, you can place them next to a fire, and they will respond to the heat and open to reveal the pine nuts.

Pine nuts can be eaten raw or cooked into an enjoyable delicacy, which will get you going for a few more hours before your unfortunate predicament ends.

Dry shattered cones can also be eaten by crushing them into a powder or boiling them to a soft palatable state.

Pollen from male pine cones can also be harvested from a pine tree. If a pine tree is carefully searched, especially just below the female cones, you will find a substantial quantity of pollen that can make a meal that you will relish, and can give you protein and nutrients to keep you going.

What else can I use pine cones for?

· Fire tinders – The cracked scales of pine cones can be used for starting a fire, as they are dry and parched and highly flammable. They are also easy to extract and a few cones can easily create a good fire.

· Firewood – Once the fire is up and burning, the dry pine cones will make for good firewood. In pine forested areas, pine cones will be available in their hundreds and will be a steady source of firewood as they are easy to pick and throw into a fire to keep you warm or to cook a meal.

· Storm proof lighting torch – In an emergency, pine cones when combined with resin can be affixed to a tree and lit up to form a storm proof lighting torch to light your path or chase away some pesky animals.


If you live in an area with lots of pine trees, you will probably be amazed to learn that these often-ignored items can provide some nutritious value to our bodies should shit hit the fan.

In a preppers world, every scenario is possible. It is a good idea to be prepared for every eventuality, including the possibility that you might be forced by unfortunate circumstances to eat pine cones for survival.

We hope that this article has shed light on some of the ways that the pine cone can be a lifeline when you least expect it.


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