The dwarf mountain pine
Perfume and Symbol of the Dolomites
Walking along the trails of the Dolomites, one is enveloped by the intoxicating scent of the forest and meadows, immersed in a enchanting landscape. These valleys are inhabited by a community of people known as the Ladins, or Alto Adige people, who have developed a deep understanding of the surrounding environment and the beneficial properties of the plants that inhabit it. One of the most characteristic trees in this region is the mountain pine, an evergreen conifer that grows between 1000 and 2700 meters in altitude.
The mountain pine is the smallest of European pines and requires plenty of light to grow. Its shape can vary depending on the climatic conditions, taking on the form of a shrub, bush, or tree. This pioneering plant is highly resistant to weather conditions and is ecologically valuable for its ability to protect the valleys from avalanches through its soil stabilization function. Additionally, it provides shelter for various animals, including the capercaillie and chamois, which feed on mountain pine needles during the harsh winter months when food is scarce.
The needles of the mountain pine are needle-shaped, and on the same plant, both male and female flowers grow. The male flowers are yellow and produce pollen that is dispersed by the wind, while the female flowers are red-violet, smaller than the males, and will give rise to cones containing seeds that will also be dispersed by the wind. The flowering of the mountain pine occurs in April-May, adding a touch of color and vitality to the landscape.
The diverse properties of the mountain pine have made it a spontaneous medicinal plant, used for medicinal and culinary purposes. The young leaves and tips of this plant are distilled to extract the essential oil known as "mugolio," which possesses antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. The essential oil of mountain pine is a key ingredient in syrups, herbal teas, and liqueurs, and has been known for its healing properties since the Middle Ages when it was used by healers for medicinal and magical purposes, burning the branches of the plant to release the spirits.
In addition to its medicinal properties, mountain pine is also used in cooking and in the production of grappa, utilizing the cones for distillation. However, due to the nature of its wood, mountain pine is not commonly employed for construction or artisanal purposes, but its presence in local cuisine and culture is widespread.
The chef of the Sass Dlacia Restaurant has managed to transform the scent of this plant into a unique flavor, which, combined with chanterelles and speck, gives life to his signature dish: mountain pine risotto.