Pine nuts are the edible seeds of certain pine tree species, and have been used as a food since ancient times. There are 20 species of pine trees around the world containing large, edible seeds that makes foraging for them worthwhile. Most of the common nut-producing pine trees in the United States are located in the southwest, and include the Pinyon pine, Ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine and Pinus pinea. The best time to search for pine nuts is in the late summer and fall.
Search for female pinecones that produce pine nuts in wooded areas where cone-producing pine trees grow. The female pinecone is dark, well-formed, and has a woody, scale-like covering.
Gently twist the female pinecones off the pine tree branches. Use a stick or hoe to dislodge the pinecones hanging on the higher branches. Look underneath the pine trees for fallen pinecones. Collect your pinecones in a bag or satchel.
Put on a pair of protective work gloves. Pry open the pinecones with your fingers and remove the pine nuts. You can also place the pinecones near a fire or sit them in the sun; this will cause the pinecones to open and release the pine nuts.
To shell the pine nut, use a small hammer to gently tap the side of the pine nut until a small crack appears. Carefully break open the pine nut shell until the white pine seed pops free.
On rare occasions, pine nuts can cause a bitter, metallic taste to develop in the mouth which lasts for weeks.
Collecting pinecones is not allowed in national forests and some parks.