Aside from their decorating uses, especially in Christmas season, pinecones play an important role in nature and, like all plant parts, they have a very specific function in the plant world.
Generally they serve as a protective cover for pine nuts, (a key ingredient in pesto!).
Pine cones and pine trees belong to a group of plants called gymnosperms and date back to prehistoric times. There are a group of plants who have naked seeds, not enclosed in an ovary and the main function of a pine cone is to keep a pine tree’s seeds safe.
Pine cones close their scales to protect the seeds from cold temperatures, wind and even animals that might try to eat them. Pine cones open up and release their seeds when it is warm and it is easier to germinate.
But maybe you didn’t know that the cones themselves can also be prepared in more or less delicious ways including tea, jam or honey.
In Russia and Georgia, for istance, they’re cooked into sweet preserves believed to ease asthma, bronchitis, and other health issues.
Sometimes simply called “pine cone honey” because of its texture, you can find pine cone preserves in Siberia and the towns of Borjomi and Abastumani in Georgia.
Cooks use small, soft green cones, typically gathered in May or June, rather than the large, brittle brown ones you might see in a Christmas centerpiece.
So while there are whole pine cones in the finished concoction, they’re easy to chew. Often consumed by the spoonful, the preserves have a distinct forest flavor, and even the most ardent tree-huggers may be unable to enjoj the product that, according go some, has literally a “rich taste of pine needles and tar.”
A beloved souvenir for tourists who happily bring jars of pine cones back from Siberia as souvenirs, is easy also making jam from them: the cones (2 kg) are washed, placed in water, and boiled for 30 minutes. After that, the mixture is left in a cold dark place overnight, about 12 hours.
The cones are then removed and sugar added (1 kilo per liter of broth).
The resulting decoction is boiled again until it thickens and changes to a dark crimson color. When ready, the jam is mixed with several previously stewed cones and boiled for another 5 minutes, after which the jam with the whole cones is poured into jars, with about 6-8 cones per liter jar.
But please note: If you are foraging for your own pine cones, make sure you know what kind of tree you’re harvesting cones from, as some are poisonous!
Images from web – Google Research