Pinecones of different shapes and sizes
(Image credit: Aliseenko)

At some point you may have seen your dog eat a pinecone. Pinecones aren’t toxic to dogs, though their spines and tough exterior might irritate the dog's stomach or even worse. But what about us? Are pinecones edible for people? 

Most of us are familiar with edible pinecone seeds or nuts, which are indeed delicious, but interestingly, the entirety of some types of pinecone can be ingested if properly prepared. Read on to learn about edible pine nut trees.

Can you Eat a Pinecone?

As noted above, pinecones, at least some varieties, are indeed edible. In fact, most pine trees are completely edible with the exception of lodgepole, Norfolk, ponderosa, and yew, which are quite toxic.

If you want to eat pinecones, seek out the young, tightly closed, green cones. Female cones are less desirable due to their hard outer shell, but if that is all that is available, boil the cones to soften them before eating.

Male cones, on the other hand, can be eaten without cooking. Another benefit of eating male cones: pollen. Pine pollen, another super food, is rich in antioxidants, amino acids, and micronutrients.

Pinecones in general are rich in dietary fiber and vitamin C and in some cultures are ground for use as a flour replacement.

Edible Pine Nut Trees

How about pine nuts? Are all pine nuts edible? Yes, all pine nuts are edible. That said, there are only about 18 species that produce nuts worthy of harvesting; other species produce nuts that are exceptionally tiny.

Examples of pine trees with edible nuts include longleaf, Korean, pitch, red, sugar, Swiss sugar, and Western white pines. Again, yew, ponderosa, Norfolk, and lodgepole should not be eaten.

Another type of pine nut to be wary of is Pinus armandii, the Armand or Chinese white pine. Most pine nuts come from the U.S., Europe, or Turkey, but this particular type of pine nut is harvested and sold from China. It is identifiable by its smaller size, lower price, and often an absence of country of origin on the label.

While Chinese white pine nuts aren’t deadly, they may cause an unpleasant condition called dysgeusia which causes food and beverages to taste metallic after ingesting the nuts.

Other Edible Parts of a Pine Tree

Pine needles are also edible and have been brewed both for use as a refreshing tea and medicinally. Choose light green, young needles to make this piney brew.

The soft inner bark of pines is also edible but is most palatable when boiled prior to eating. If you want to try this yourself, only cut small strips from several trees rather than a single pine, which can kill the tree. Taking only a small amount from multiple trees will allow the trees to heal themselves.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.