Cedar and Pine

San Diego County forests are home to a variety of conifers, including trees in both the Pine and Cypress family.

The Cypress family in the Cleveland National Forest includes cedars, cypresses and junipers. Here on Mt. Laguna you will notice the Incense Cedar, dark green and shaped like a classic Christmas tree.

cedar needles
Incense cedar

The name Incense Cedar gives an idea how this tree might be used. Burning cedar branches releases the essential oils such as camphene, cineole, myrcene, and pinene. These oils have antibacterial and antiviral actions, so actually help “cleanse”the air. Juniper, cedar, and cypress were all burned during epidemics to purify areas such as sick rooms and houses where illness was present.

Local Indians used this practice, as have traditional healers all over the world. Some Indian groups used a tea made from cedar seeds for asthma. A steam inhalation of the branches and leaves was used to treat chest congestion and colds.

Pines are definitely the conifers you see most on the mountain. On Mt. Laguna, the most common pines are Jeffrey Pines, with some Ponderosa Pines, Coulter Pines, Sugar Pines, and Pinyon Pines also present.

Jeffrey Pine and Ponderosa Pine are both also know as Yellow Pines. They interbreed so sometimes it’s hard to know who’s who. The bark of the Jeffrey Pine often has a sweet scent like vanilla or butterscotch. This is most present on a warm day when the bark releases its essential oils. The Ponderosa Pine smells more like turpentine and the cones are smaller than the Jeffrey. Pinecones on the Jeffreys have spines that face inwards, while the Ponderosa spines face out and feel quite prickly. All of our pines have been dangerously impacted by the combination of drought, forest fires, and bark beetle we have experienced over the past two decades.

pine needles
Jeffrey pine

The pine tree was an important food and medicine source for the local Indians. Pine nuts were harvested, eaten raw or roasted. The best pine nuts came from Pinyon Pines, and harvesting trips were made annually to harvest the best nuts. Nuts were also harvested from other pines, depending upon what was available. There are a few Pinyon Pines left near Kwaaymii Point and you can access them via the walking trail behind the Visitor Center. There were many more Pinyons on the mountain before a fire (I believe in the 1940s) burned most of them. Those behind the Visitor Center are the last to survive.

Pine needles are high in vitamin C and can be made into a refreshing tea.

Brigitte Mars, a noted herbalist, reports that Indians of the northeast fed pine needle tea to French explorers as a treatment for scurvy. A strong infusion of pine needles in water can be used as a steam inhalation for respiratory congestion. Pine needles in the bath are said to relieve aches and pains. Michael Moore, a specialist on herbs of the west and southwest, reported that the inner bark and pitch are both useful as expectorants.

If you want to try a simple “herb” tea, take a handful of fresh pine needles and break them up. Place them in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and let it sit for about ten minutes. Strain and drink. You can also add honey. Enjoy!

Joanne Odenthal, Cabin 505


  • Balls, Early Uses of California Plants
  • Foster & Hobbs, Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs
  • Mars, IPlant (iPad app)
  • Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West