Pine nuts are one of my favorite wild edibles; they are surprisingly abundant and easily recognizable.

Where Do Pine Nuts Come from?

It should be obvious, but those expensive pine nuts we buy in supermarkets come from pine trees.

Considering that pine trees are all over the place, it makes you wonder why pine nuts are so expensive.

The cost mainly depends on how difficult it is to shell pine nuts. As you will discover, there is no easy way to shell them.

In a survival situation, you probably won’t mind. But, for everyday eating, you might give up and buy a pound of shelled pine nuts rather than do the work yourself.

Step 1: Finding Pine Cones for Harvesting

All pine trees produce nuts that you can eat. However, some species have much smaller nuts. It is worth it to scout out the species with larger nuts and save yourself some trouble with shelling.

In North America, the species of pine trees which are most commonly used for pine nuts are:

  • Colorado pinyon (pinus edulis)
  • Single-leaf pinyon (pinus monophylla)
  • Mexican pinyon (pinus cembroides)

If you are serious about harvesting pine nuts, you should scout out some pine trees in early summer. Pine cones are usually ready for harvesting from August to September, depending on where you live.

How will you know that the pine cones are ready to be harvested? 

Take a look at the tree. It is harvest time if some pine cones are open and some are still closed!

The seeds probably haven’t formed if all the pine cones are still closed.

If all pine cones have opened, then critters have probably already eaten all the seeds.

Step 2: Gather Your Pine Cones

Pine sap is sticky (read how to make pine pitch here). It is recommended that you use GLOVES when picking pine cones.

Gather the pine cones which are still closed or barely open. Twist the pine cone to get it off the tree. Try not to break any branches. You don’t want to damage the tree. Put your pine cones into a bag and bring them home.

Step 3: Getting the Pine Nuts Out of the Cones

Two things will make a closed pine cone open up: dryness and heat.

The easiest way to get the pine nuts out of the cone is to lay the pine cones out and let them dry out on their own. It will take a few weeks, but the pine cones will open up. Then, you can tap the pine cones, and the seeds will fall out.

You can use heat if you don’t feel like waiting 3 weeks for your pine cones to open up.

Lay the pine cones flat and roast them in the oven (or over a fire). Let the pine cones cool down. Then tap them, and the pine nuts will start to fall out.

Don’t try to microwave pine cones. They’ll start to smoke and ruin your microwave!

Alternative Collection Method: If it is already late in the season and the pine cones have opened up, you can use this method to gather the pine nuts.

Put a big tarp under the pine tree. Then shake the branches of the pine tree hard.

This will make the remaining pine nuts (the ones which haven’t been eaten by critters yet) fall out of the cones and land on your tarp.

Step 4: Sorting

Even if you harvest your pine nuts on time, there will still be a lot of bad pine nuts. It is frustrating to shell the nuts only to find out it is not good.

Here is a simple way to separate the bad pine nuts from the good ones.

  1. Put your pine nuts in a big bowl of water.
  2. The bad pine nuts will float to the top.
  3. The good pine nuts will sink to the bottom!
  4. Most of the floaters are going to be bad.
  5. Some will still be good, but I’d rather toss some good pine nuts than waste a lot of time shelling bad pine nuts.

If you don’t want to toss the bad pine nuts, you can use them to make pine nut vodka. In Russian, it is called kedrovka.

Pine Nut Vodka Recipe:

  1. Fill a bottle about 1/3 full of pine nuts in the shell.
  2. Fill the rest of the bottle with vodka.
  3. Close the bottle and let it sit in a dark area for at least 3 weeks. The essential oils from the pine nuts will leach into the vodka.
  4. Drink and enjoy! There is no need to filter or do anything else!

Step 5: Shelling

Shelling pine nuts is a big hassle, and there isn’t a fast way to do it at home.

Most people shell pine nuts with their teeth, much like how you’d eat a sunflower seed in the shell. That makes them great for snacking.

Or, you can use your fingers to crack the pine nut shell. Here is a good video showing how to shell a pine nut.

I wouldn’t recommend smashing the pine nut shell because you’ll probably smash the small nut inside too.


Pine trees are a fantastic resource, and most parts of the tree are edible.

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