In early September, the flowers of Common Evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis) are still showy at sunrise. While blooming typically begins in the evening, there are often open morning blossoms for bumblebees or an occasional Ruby-throated Hummingbird to obtain a nectar meal. Later in the day, I've watched American Goldfinches gleaning insects from the flowering tops (and perhaps eating some flower parts, too). This forager also enjoys the mild-tasting flowers and buds of Common Evening-primrose in soups and salads.
Over the weekend, on the way to check on some Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) pollen cones, I noticed a few Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trees covered with bunches of fragrant blossoms, many of which were within reach. Here in eastern Massachusetts, the last week of May is prime time for the white flowers of Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.) and Black Locust – but only the latter has sweet, tasty flowers. Samuel Thayer describes their taste as “something like sweet peas with a hint of vanilla”, but don't take his word for it – find and try some for yourself.
This spring, I've been monitoring a stand of Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) near my home, and when I checked the trees on mid-day Tuesday, I found nearly all the pollen cones at the perfect stage for gathering -- almost open. A couple days later and much of the pollen would have literally blown away.
As with the cones I gathered last year*, I've tinctured some and frozen the rest to add to meals in the coming months. If you've never tasted a pine pollen cone, now just might be your chance. Look for them on the light-green, growing branch tips, and be sure to sample cones before they open, release their pollen, and dry up.
*Those were from Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus). The pollen cones of Pitch Pine are larger and therefore quicker to gather in quantity, and (at least this year) P. rigida cones are ready earlier than P. strobus.
I spent the afternoon gathering the edible (and medicinal) pollen cones of Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus). I visited a special grove of large pines which had some branches low enough to reach and were absolutely laden with bright yellow cones at the perfect stage of growth for foraging.
In just a few days, many of the cones will start to release their pollen. Rather than trying to capture the pollen itself, I harvested the entire pollen bearing cones prior to their opening.
Most people are familiar with the female seed-bearing cones of this tree. But the tree also has these yellow male pollen-bearing cones, which are smaller and easier to overlook.
Because the cones are tedious to pick individually, I snapped off entire branchlets containing tender stalks, young needles at the tips, and the yellow cones.
Later, I removed the cones by pinching the young needles with one hand and stripping the cones with my other hand. It took a bit of practice, but after a hundred or so, I'd found a rhythm. With the cones removed, I had a pile of pine discards to gift to my garden.
Below is just a small handful of the end result. I nearly filled a one gallon bag which I've placed in the freezer. I'll add them to meals over the next few weeks and probably tincture some of the cones for medicine.
To learn about the many health benefits of pine pollen, check out these videos from Arthur Haines: The Protective Benefits of Pine Pollen (part 1 & part 2). Arthur also covers Eastern White Pine is his foraging book, Ancestral Plants.
If you missed this year's pine pollen crop, you can purchase high quality pine pollen products from SurThrival.
Update: In 2013, I gathered Pitch Pine pollen cones.