Pining for some real health benefits?

Christmas time is not complete without a Christmas tree. Some families buy their tree in a parking lot. Some families purchase a fake tree. Some families cut down their own. No matter which route your family takes, a tree makes the holiday season complete. But not all Christmas tree options are created equally. Going the extra mile and actually bringing a live tree into your home — rather than a fake one — brings some extra health benefits into your home as well.

Graphic by Anna Petersen

Let’s face it: you can’t be unhappy when there is a pine-scented Christmas tree in your home. There is something sentimental about a Christmas tree and the memories of opening presents under its ornament-laden branches, but this sentiment isn’t the only reason why you start to view the world with a little bit more optimism. Happiness and peacefulness are our bodies’ responses to the compounds released by pine and other evergreen trees.

In Japan, people go on walks called shinrin-yoku, which means “taking in the atmosphere of the forest,” or therapeutic walks through the forest. This practice has been shown to reduce stress due to the scents that are released by evergreen trees. In studies performed on these walks, the more stressed a person was to begin with, the greater relaxation they experienced. Maybe that’s why people are so relaxed when they can finally sit down in front of the tree during the hectic holiday season.

In addition to their therapeutic anti-stress effects, pine bark and needles actually contain a lot of vitamin C. According to legend, a 15th century French explorer and his crew got stuck one winter in ice near Quebec, Canada. Their crew was suffering from scurvy (a common sailing disease due to a vitamin C deficiency), when a Canadian chieftain brewed the sailors some pine tea. The sailors drank the tea and it saved their lives.

While pine tea isn’t incredibly mainstream, the supplement Pycnogenol is. This supplement is marketed as a dietary supplement, containing extracts of the antioxidants found in pine needles. Pycnogenol can be used as a jet lab remedy, as well as easing circulatory problems, knee pain and cramps.

If you’re not a fan of pine tea, dietary supplements, or long walks through the woods, pine tree essential oil is your best bet for the health benefits of pine. You can purchase essential oils at many stores, including your local HyVee. For stress relief, add a few drops of essential oil onto your pillow to help you sleep at night. For stuffy noses or chest colds, add five drops of pine oil to a bowl of hot water and breathe in the steam to relieve the congestion. For sore muscles, add five drops of pine oil to two tablespoons of vegetable oil and massage it on the affected area to relieve soreness. Who knew your Christmas tree was capable of doing so much other than spreading Christmas cheer.

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Audrey Miller is a writer for The Lorian.

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