Pine

(i.e., Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris) In ancient Greece and Rome, pine cones had a phallic significance, so they were symbols of fertility. It is interesting to record a superstition from the Highlands of Scotland to the effect that a lot of illegitimate births could be blamed on the large numbers of pine trees growing in the district (Begg). But they were also emblems of Cybele, and used to be fixed on a pole in Italian vineyards, to protect them from blight and witchcraft. Perhaps this was the origin of decorative pine cones on gateways (Pavitt).

There is mention of protecting a child against the evil eye by sweeping its face with a bough from a pine tree (Rolleston), and one occasionally finds evidence of the use of pine needles for divination. There was, for instance, a pine on the island of Bute that served as a "dreaming tree". Some of its needles were put, with some ceremony, under the pillow, for dreams of the future husband or wife (Denham). But they were unlucky trees in the Channel Isles. Guernsey belief had it that whoever planted a row of them ran the risk of losing the property, or letting it pass from the rightful heir to a younger branch of the family. There was also a belief there that if you fell asleep under a pine tree you would never wake up (Garis).

There is one piece of weather lore attached to the cones. They stay open when the weather is to turn fine, but as soon as they close, then it is believed that rain is on its way (Waring). But it was in the field of folk medicine that pines really came into their own. They are a source of turpentine, and as such had been known from ancient times, though by the nineteenth century turpentine had for a long time come from America, from the Shortleaf Pine, (Pinus taeda). But it is still in use, as are the oil and the resin, in homeopathic remedies for a number of ailments (see Schauenberg & Paris). Stockholm Tar, obtained by the distillation of stem and roots, was used for chest complaints such as bronchial coughs (Putnam). Similarly, the dried young shoots, taken as a tea, were used for bronchitis, etc., while in Russian folk medicine an inhalation of the needles and cones was recommended for asthma sufferers. (Kourennoff). Even the smell of pine trees, so it was said, could help in chest complaints (Logan). That is why so many were planted round chest hospitals. The cones were used for toothache because (and this is pure doctrine of signatures) the scales resemble the front teeth!

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