Pine pollen — being exactly as it sounds, the pollen of the pine tree — does not specifically refer to any particular species of pine. While throughout the world pine pollen is derived from a number of different pine species, here we will review pollen from the Pinus massoniana tree, which has been one of the most revered herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for millennia (and is what’s used in Joya’s Elixirs).
Known as the “King of Pollen” in China, this incredible nutrient-dense superfood is considered a master rejuvenating herb and nutritive adaptogenic tonic in TCM. Renowned herbalist Stephen Buhner has said that “pine pollen, given its potency, its similarity to ginseng in some of its actions, and its status as, perhaps, the premier phytoandrogen on the planet, should have been recognized long before now as the powerful medicinal that it is…[pine pollen is a] potent overall tonic to the body…”.
In TCM, pine pollen is believed to invigorate Qi (vital energy or life force) and to have an affinity for the liver and spleen meridians: the liver being in charge of regulating the movement of Qi and bodily fluids, and the spleen being the Chinese equivalent to the body’s metabolism. It is also said to have many medicinal properties and functions, including reducing fatigue, improving cognitive function, liver protection and improving sexual function.
Pine pollen contains important antioxidants, including glutathione and superoxide dismutase. (1, 2, 3) Antioxidants have been shown to help protect against various metabolic diseases, heart disease, brain disorders and age-related syndromes, as they help the body combat cellular damage caused by free radicals (reactive chemicals containing oxygen).
In an animal model study, pine pollen extracts were also found to protect the liver from oxidative stress, leading researchers to suggest that this action may be in part due to pine pollen’s ability to scavenge free radicals, increase antioxidant activity in the body and prevent the oxidative degradation of fats.
Rich in protein (11%), more than 20 amino acids (including all nine essential amino acids), fats (7%), dietary fibre (50%), starches and hundreds of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other nutrients that nourish the body at a fundamental level, pine pollen has been traditionally used as a dietary supplement for centuries.
Although pine pollen is a nutrient-dense superfood whose compounds are easily absorbed by the body, the pollen grain is surrounded by a hard shell which acts as an armour for the pollen, keeping its nutrition inside its cell wall. There is debate as to whether human digestive juices can break this shell. Therefore, in many high quality powders — including that used in Joya’s Elixirs — the cell wall is mechanically broken to ensure nutrient absorption.
In TCM, pine pollen is a longevity tonic thought to boost energy and immunity. It is rich in testosterone and DHEA (a hormone produced in the adrenal glands that in turn helps the body produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen), and is thought to help balance the ratio of both androgen and estrogen hormones in the body, proving beneficial for both men and women. Its large spectrum and high levels of nutrients, together with its hormone balancing effect, is said to endow pine pollen powder with adaptogenic benefits, helping to increase the body’s resistance to stress, and due to its restorative nature, promote immunity.
On a more energetic level, pine pollen is considered a Jing-enhancing herb in TCM, which loosely translates to vital essence. As with herbs considered ‘adaptogens’ in western herbal medicine, Jing tonics are used in any case when deep, nurturing rejuvenation is required: burnout from stress, exhaustion and symptoms resulting from hormone imbalance. In Daoism, Jing is thought to be expended over time, lost in many ways, but most notably through the loss of body fluids. The few prized herbs considered Jing-enhancing, including pine pollen (and He shou wu), are thought to restore Jing, and are therefore revered as superior longevity tonics.