Is Pine Needle Tea Safe To Drink?

Q: Is pine needle tea safe to drink or just some hippie idea I clicked onto? 

A: I found lots of articles online that recommend pine needle tea as a tasty “citrus’y” drink in winter. I have no idea if it is “safe“ to drink.

When I was a kid, it was a regular winter task assigned by my mother to go along the fence rows near our farm and dig up sassafras tree roots. Wielding a small mattock, I would dig up a pound or two of roots. I would bring them home, thoroughly wash off the clay soil, and chop them into three-inch lengths. My mother would dump them into a pot of water and simmer them for 10 or 20 minutes. The resulting sassafras tea was enjoyed by the rest of the family as a fresh-tasting winter tonic.

I was disappointed to learn in later years that sassafras roots contain saffrole, which causes liver cancer in lab rats when it is injected into them in high doses. My mother’s tonic could possibly be harmful, but in the few drinks we consumed I have no regrets from drinking it. Small amounts of saffrole occur naturally in black pepper, star anise, nutmeg, witch hazel, and basil, all of which are considered safe to consume.