I finally got round to processing the pine ‘catkins’ – or ‘pollen-bearing male cones’ to be more precise – which I harvested back in the latter stages of November or the beginning of December from a client’s garden (shh, don’t tell anyone!) and which have been sitting patiently in a cardboard crate in various warm, dry places waiting for me to do something with them. So, with apologies to them and to H who has to put up with the clutter of my various projects (which, to my shame, I occasionally fail to ever follow through) here’s how I went about it:
Step #1 – Harvest. Following Feral Kevin’s advice I picked mainly immature cones which hadn’t yet shed all their pollen in the wind and put them in my plastic lunch box to avoid spillage. These were then left to ‘ripen’ in the aforementioned cardboard crate, laid out in a thin layer on newspaper to maximise contact with the air and provide a surface to gather the pollen grains.
Step #2 – Sieving. It turned out there was a great deal more pollen still attached to the cones so I ended up by crushing them individually by hand which, with the help of a basting brush, got pretty much all of it. Only a few bits of chaff managed to get past the sieve, with the pollen getting variously shaken, tapped or brushed into the bowl beneath. This took me the best part of an hour, but I figure it’s possible to do it much faster with practice or if you don’t mind making a mess (eg: by rubbing all the cones at once with both hands).
Step #3 – Re-sieving and final storage. I decided to keep my pollen in a jam jar to avoid the possibility of paper bags breaking open. Hopefully it was dry enough by this stage that it won’t spoil, although I may store it in the fridge for good measure. That’s a funnel you can see in the above photo. The pollen flour was incredibly fine and dusty at this stage, swishing around almost like a liquid in a way which I found strangely satisfying. I ended up sifting it gently in a side-to-side motion through the sieve while holding the funnel directly under with the same hand because other methods were causing it to puff out little clouds up & out of the sieve and onto the surrounding surfaces.
Step #4 – Eat! It’s supposed to be edible raw, but otherwise I guess I’ll mix it in with other flours to make bread, scones, cookies… although I won’t want to use it all in one go.
Unfortunately I’ve been unable so far to identify the specific species of pine tree these ‘catkins’ came from, so I’m breaking an important foraging rule in eating the pollen regardless and don’t recommend you follow my example. However I feel quite secure personally, having established beyond reasonable doubt that the tree was from the Pinacea family and come across several sources saying that all species of pine produce edible pollen, with no warnings of toxicity from the family other than the pollen allergies people sometimes suffer, which I’ve never had a problem with. Anyway, I’ve managed to narrow it down to a non-native ornamental which self-pollinates towards the end of the year, as opposed to springtime which is most usual. My best guess would be a Cedar of some kind, though I don’t think it was a Cedar of Lebanon as I didn’t see any of the distinctive cones (ie: the female ones which grow big and woody and eventually bear the seeds/nuts) and the bark didn’t have the same strong smell or stickiness that I’ve experienced on park specimens. The branches did the same helpful downward-hanging thing as F.Kevin’s ‘Cedrus Deodara’ or Himalayan Cedar, and the male cones pictured on the wikipedia page look pretty similar to mine, but the overall shape of the tree doesn’t seem to match my memory. Although ‘[t]he male cones are 4–6 cm (1.6–2.4 in) long, and shed their pollen in autumn‘ and apparently it ‘is widely grown as an ornamental tree’… Answers on a postcard!
Finally a bit more reading which may be of interest, Green Deane ‘Pining For You‘:
[Pine pollen] has over 200 identified elements from vitamins to proto male hormones… yeah, it’s a guy food. It’s been called the natural testosterone, androstenedione, but that is a marketing exaggeration. It has about 27 nanograms per 0.1 grams of dry weight, not suitable for the bulking up weightlifters want, but available none the less. Putting the pollen under the tongue keeps it from being destroyed by the digestive system.
Androstenedione is an adrenal hormone produced in humans. Reduce androstenedione by one molecule and you have testosterone, which both men and women have in different amounts. Androstenedione can raise testosterone levels. The effect lasts about a day. And this is how the Native Americans used it, for extra energy when they needed it. So when on the run, grab a little pine pollen. Pine pollen also seems to have a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system as well.
And one to maybe take with a few pinches of salt (too many extravagant ‘super-food’ claims for my liking): ‘What is pine pollen and why should I consume it?‘
Oh, and here’s the late great Frank Cook talking about pine pollen as a potential ‘man medicine’ for helping to balance out all the oestrogen-mimicking compounds in the modern environment:
I’ll let you know if I sprout any new chest hairs :)