Ancient Pine Resin Uses for Bushcrafters

Trees of the pine family are counted amongst the most widespread species in the Northern Hemisphere.

Peering into the lore of the pine tree reveals not only a host of medicinal uses derived from its needles, bark and cones, but also a history of bushcraft and survival techniques surrounding the pine tree’s incredibly versatile and durable resin.

What is Pine Resin?

Upon being injured by storm or man, a pine tree will exude a viscous, amberous resin from its wound, plastering over the crevice just as our own blood seeps, scabs and seals itself from infection.

Despite hardening in colder temperatures, pine’s fragrant resin is virtuously sticky when heated, leading to an impressive expanse of physical applications within both survivalism and herbal medicine.

Pine resin
Pine resin has been used by humans for various purposes throughout history. It has been utilized as a natural adhesive, waterproofing agent. Credit: Alan Hughes

The physical applications of pine resin can be traced back from modern bushcrafters to the first lights of civilisation dotting the north western world.

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As a breathtakingly prevalent species, the use of pine resin appears across an array of cultures and contexts for its undeniable benefits as a common and multifunctional organic substance.

How it Can be Used Today

Pine Pitch

One of pine resin’s most renowned uses within modern bushcraft derives from its inherent stickiness, tamed only by a drop in temperature. Gently heated, however, and mixed with charcoal in a 1:3 ratio, a natural superglue dubbed ‘pitch’ is created.

Pine pitch is an undeniable, long-lived aid to any forest-wanderer. Its applications are as widespread as the pine family itself, being used in non-industrial lifestyles spanning from antiquity to today.

The addition of charcoal to pine resin enhances its rigidity and already overt qualities of adhesion. Other natural elements such as animal fats and sawdust can be worked into the tar-like substance to further its effects as a strong, organic glue.

pine pitch
The pitch shown in this pitch drop experiment has a viscosity approximately 230 billion times that of water.


Pine pitch is not only renowned for its adhesive strength. The substance is also waterproof, lending its use to canoe-fixing on the Native Americans’ part. The versatile spread of uses appreciated by modern bushcrafters includes boot-repair and hole-fixing, clogging crevices and preventing leaks.

Either pine resin or pine pitch can be used for waterproofing and leak prevention. Simply heat up your pine substance using a double-boiler method and paint it upon whichever material needs protecting.

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Pine’s quirk as an organic waterproofer is based in the oil-soluble composition of its resin, resisting the degrading, impervious influence of water.

This makes pine resin and its alchemised pitch outstandingly imperishable except in the presence of high heat, to which its oil-soluble composition is intrinsically susceptible, being an easily flammable substance.

With this oil-soluble trait, the best means of removing sticky pine resin from hands, hair and clothes is often to wash the affected part with oil first, encouraging its bonds to weaken and lose their adhesiveness, before cleansing the oily residue with soap and water.

Firelighting and Lampmaking

The oily composition of both pine resin and pitch offers a stunning capacity as a firelighter, igniting even in wet conditions.

Phenomenally flammable, pine resin burns through its energy source with speed, proving undesirable for maintaining fires but an ideal material for initiating the wood-drying flames.

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Pine resin may be used to spark a fire, upon which wet pine branches can be dried and added to the fire, in turn generating more warmth to dry additional wood to be likewise used as long-burning fuel.

The age-old firelighting technique of using pine-resin to incite a cycle of regenerative warmth bleeds into various primitive styles of lamp making, each maintaining their relevance to bushcrafters today.

pine resin
Pine resin is typically amber or brownish in color Red Hot Resisnand has a thick, viscous consistency.

Red Hot Resin

Pine resin can be used in a similar fashion to liquid oils when crafting natural, survivalist-style lamps.

One common technique involves finding a natural bowl such as a concave stone or small, hollowed-out piece of wood, filling the bowl with resin, planting a fabric wick in its centre and lighting the wick. Used in this method, the resin will act just like any antique oil lamp.

Another traditional method of lamp making using pine resin comes in the form of larger torches, designed to be staked in the ground to prevent their would-be-bearer from an assault of dripping, red-hot resin.

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Crafting a pine resin torch is simple, requiring only a heated container of pine pitch, waste fabric and a substantially sized stick.

After carving the base of the stick into a point to allow easy implantation into the ground, wrap the opposing end with fabric, using heated pitch to secure it in place, before dipping the entirety of the fabric into the pitch.

Once alight and staked into the earth, the pine torch will maintain its blaze for a considerable length of time.

Pine Rosin

One of pine’s more unusual modern uses derives from contemporary chemistry rather than ancient means of survival.

Colophony (rosin) from the maritime pine

The distillation of pine resin produces two major products: turpentine and rosin. Vaporised of its turpentine essential oils, pine resin – now transformed into pine rosin – hosts an innumerable extent of applications within industrial production.

From the manufacturing of road marking paint to plastics, food-safe wrappings, varnishes, chewing gum bases and bow rosin for stringed orchestral instruments.

It has managed to retain a discreetly central role within our modern lifestyles, though profoundly removed from much of its traditional purposes in bushcraft and the ancient world.

Herbal Pine Remedies

Whilst evidently less popular today than in centuries past, pine resin has rooted itself in herbal remedies across the globe.

Amongst its most prominent qualities as a medicinal aid is its excellence as a natural antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial measure.

A wounded pine tree bandages its injuries with resin, protecting itself not only through plaster-like wound coverage, but also through the anti-microbial properties of the resin.

It is a natural secretion that serves a protective function for the tree, helping to seal wounds and defend against pathogens, insects, and other threats.

It’s widely believed that the intrinsic stickiness of pine resin obliterates bacteria when used in the healing of wounds, plant or human, suffocating invasive microbes of the moist conditions required to thrive.

Just as with the pine tree itself, pure pine resin applied to wounded skin will prevent the blood flow, sealing the cut, preventing infection and hastening the healing process.

Protecting Cuts

Pine is non-toxic and poses no harm to humans when ingested or used upon the skin, though it’s often advised to be avoided by those allergic to nuts and/or pollen (think along the lines of pine nuts).

With enough understanding, pine resin can safely be used to clean and treat a plethora of minor bushcrafting injuries and accidents, protecting cuts and scratches from disease in exactly the same way as it aids its hosting tree.

In traditional medicine, it has been employed for its perceived antimicrobial and wound-healing properties.

As an oil-soluble substance, dissolving pine resin in oil is widely believed to heighten its medicinal properties, enhancing a range of remedial benefits whilst finally diminishing its ever-prominent quality of stickiness.

This leads to pine resin being formulated into various salves, balms and other natural, herbal remedies used from antiquity to the present day.

Alongside disabling bacterial threat, pine resin hosts organic anti-inflammatory traits historically believed to ease the turmoil of aches, pains and congestion when rubbed upon an affected area.

Ingested as a beverage or chewed as a gum, pine resin can ease discomforting flu-like symptoms such as sore throats and headaches, as demonstrated in Native American practice.

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Pine resin and its salve products also provide an effective treatment against various manifestations of skin irritation, soothing insect bites, exzema, rashes and chapped, dry lips.

For this reason, pine’s pleasantly fragrant, antiseptic and moisturising, oily resin was welcomed into antique soap making, maintaining a stronghold in cosmetics before eventually decaying beneath the influence of synthesised products and perfumes.

Pine’s historical cosmetic applications extend much further than antique, anti-bacterial soaps.

Rich in antioxidants, pine’s moisturising resin is supposed to you then and clear damaged skin, diminishing the appearance of wrinkles whilst preventing signs of ageing, thus inspiring its inclusion within anti-ageing moisturisers and facial cleansers.

Incense & Aromatherapy

Pine’s cosmetic and medicinal uses have mostly fallen far from contemporary practice and its firelighting traits are lost of all relevance to modern on-grid citizens.

But one aspect of pine’s ancient applications haunts our culture like clockwork, resurging each festive season in the form of candles, incense and other seasonal home scents.

Pine is heralded for its woodsy fragrance, its resin curating the scent of fresh forests and winter walks, inspiring the widespread, ancient belief that fumigation by its ‘holy smoke’ could cleanse an area of evil, negativity and other disturbing energies, whilst blessing the vicinity with an aura of clarity, protection and healing.

An ant inside Baltic amber (fossilized resin)

The archaic ritual of adorning festive, Yuletide spaces with plush boughs of fragrant evergreen foliage such as pine was designed, in part, to metaphysically align the home’s inhabitants with the symbolic immortal, rejuvenated life of the evergreen trees through winter.

Through centuries, this tradition progressed, lending probable inspiration to modern Christmas tree traditions; immortalising the ancient belief of cleansing and longevity through the pine tree’s presence and scent.

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Meanwhile, the burning of pure tree resin as incense can be traced nearly as far as religious practice itself.

Alongside other tree resins such as frankincense, myrrh and dragons blood, pine resin retains its traditional use as a fragrance, forest-scenting a space when burnt in its organic form, worked into a candle, or used in a more contemporary interpretation of aromatherapy such as diffusers and essential oil mixes.

Collecting Resin

Collecting pine resin will grant a host of benefits to bushcrafters, herbalists and natural incense-seekers, but when it comes to harvesting resin, it’s vital to keep the tree’s protection above your own needs or greed.

pine resin
Resin extraction consists of incising the outer layers of a pine tree in order to collect the resin.

Pine resin is present for the sole reason of healing the specimen, and should only be harvested where excess is found dripping beneath the wound of a tree.

Removing resin from the wound itself will, needless to say, encourage the pine to succumb to infection without the protection of its antimicrobial coverage.

Interfering with the tree’s healing process is never recommended.

Those wary of harming a living pine in the process of collecting its resin can contentedly turn to fallen branches and trees naturally uprooted and damaged in stormy weather.

In most cases, sap will still be recoverable at the location of impact, spewed in the pine’s futile attempt to heal itself.

Though mostly replaced by the evolution of modern medicine, chemical adhesives and more, the ancient uses of pine resin provide a strong foundation for many survival techniques.

Pine resin’s various effects and applications transcend centuries of forest exploration, showcasing the pine to be just as life-saving a tree to modern bushcrafters, survivalists, herbalists and roamers as it was to the ancients who depended upon it.

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