Our original Scotch pines were mostly wiped out centuries ago, but other varieties now flourish here in pine plantations that consume large parts of the national landscape. According to tradition, however, the last surviving specimen of native Danish Scotch pine remains on the island of Læsø.
Where to Find It
Scotch pines are modest in size. They survive without much water and grow well in rocky, sandy, and nutrient-poor soil. They do need lots of sunlight, however, so look for them in bright areas with a variety of undergrowth, where the trees are well separated from each other.
When to Find it
You can pick pine needles year round, but fresh needles taste better than old or dead ones. Pick the small, rounded buds and inflorescences in May and June.
Inflorescences: May, June.
How to Spot It
Scotch pines are bushes or trees that grow up to 30-40 meters tall, with reddish-brown, grooved bark that breaks off in flakes. The older the tree, the more reddish-yellow the bark, and the less the pine will resemble a slightly misshapen Christmas tree. Mature trees are tall, with an irregularly shaped crown and widely separated branches. The greyish-green, prickly needles are six to seven centimeters long and grow in pairs. The inflorescences, which grow at the top of the shoot, are red and pea-sized.
How to Pick It
Pine needles are prickly, but they won’t hurt you; you can easily pick them, along with the buds and inflorescences, with your bare hands.
Needles: January, February, March, April, May, June, July
On the palate
Scotch pine needles taste strongly of resin and are leathery and tough. The buds are bursting with pollen, which tastes both sweet and tart like pine.
Pine needles are strongly aromatic.
Draw the essence of pine needles out into a liquid, and use it for flavoring. Knock any pollen from the flowers, which can then be used as a mild seasoning.
Bursting with vitamin C, a pine needle tea is healthy and delicious—just pour boiling water over a handful of crushed needles and let it sit for a few hours before reheating and drinking. You can also add a pine needle concoction to a cordial soup, or a berry jelly or jam to boost it with an aromatic resin flavor. Pine needles can be used in desserts (rhubarb is a particularly good match) or to infuse honey. The whole buds add a brightening acidity to apple salads or to fish, especially smoked fish.
Store the needles and buds in a sealed container in the refrigerator. The buds will stay fresh for up to a week; the needles will keep for a bit longer.
When in a pinch, you can substitute spruce needles for pine needles.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
Other types of pine trees, such as the black pine or the mugo pine, can easily be confused with Scotch pine. With their dark grey trunks; long, dark-green needles; and stemless cones, black pines are gloomier-looking than their Scotch counterparts. Mugo pines are small trees with reddish-grey bark that doesn't flake off like Scotch bark does. The very common Norway spruce is also easy to confuse with Scotch pine, but small twigs grow between the large branches on the former, and not the latter. None of these pines are toxic.