Ponderosa pine is one of the most sacred coniferous evergreen trees of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It grows on South facing slopes in rocky, well drained sandy soil. It easily reaches 100ft in height and 3ft diameter, and if left alone long enough trees can triple that size. The needles occur in clusters of 3 and are 6”-8” long. The bark is reddish brown, thick, deeply furrowed, and fire resistant. In fact, Ponderosa forests are healthiest when intermittently exposed to low temperature wildfires. The bark also has a sweet, caramel scent. Ponderosa is a rubefacient, diuretic, and the needles and resin can act as an irritant on the skin.
The medicine of Ponderosa pine is famous for high elevation lung ailments. The boughs are boiled for tea to help with any lung infection. The needles are high in vitamin C and especially delicious as a backcountry tea. The young shoots can also be eaten. To combat colds and flus pour a strong tea into a hot bath and soak for a minimum of 20 minutes while burning the pitch. Essential oils are released in both the smoke and the steam and when inhaled have anti-bacterial/microbial activities.
The pine resin can be burned and the smoke used to purify any room. The pitch is light golden yellow to off-white in color. It is the blood of the tree and a sign that spring has sprung when it bursts to the surface out of the bark. It can also be seen when the tree is wounded. I like to harvest Ponderosa pitch in the spring when it is sticky and infuse it into olive oil, which we use as an antibacterial and anti-rheumatic agent in salves and balms.
Sitting with this tree is very grounding to the spirit and helpful for cultivating connection with this land. There are a few grandmother trees left in the Boulder area, Colorado’s stories are available to those who would listen. Sit and listen to her stories.