Baby longleaf Pine: It's what's for dinner

Longleaf pine seedlings.

Consider this challenge, an unusual bit of Southern cooking that local chefs should try out: pine tree cooking.

Well, by "pine tree" I mean just-sprouted longleaf pine seedlings that are coming up in the fall.

In a release, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources is singing the praises of the skinny-leafed edible, "When the longleaf pine seedlings are very young they lack the characteristic pine resin taste that needles of older pines have, and are a succulent, yet crispy, addition to salads."

The department offers these tips for diners and foragers: 

If you wish to try this tasty, natural food this fall, look for 1- to 2-inch-high sprouts that resemble umbrellas with the fabric torn off, leaving only the handle (embryonic stem) and the five to 10 extended "arms" (these first whorls of leaves are called cotyledons, and feed the plant until it begins photosynthesizing) under mature longleaf pine trees that have recently opened cones.

But when you find them, don't depend on coming back to get them in a few days, because wildlife also relish these succulent treats, and so by then they may be gone!

Pine needles are one of the herbs used in oriental medicine. Pine needles contain many nutrients and bioactive materials, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins A & C.