By Savayda Jarone
Or at least nibble on it! Spruce, fir, and pine tree branches can be much more than festive decorations. Cultures around the world, including the Mi’kmaq, have long used greens from these evergreen trees for food and medicine.
The needles from these trees are a source of vitamin C, as was discovered by early sailors and settlers who often faced scurvy, the disease of vitamin C deficiency. If you nibble on these tree needles, they will taste sour, which denotes ascorbic acid – aka vitamin C.
The other flavours are the aromatic compounds from essential oils and resins; they are strong and taste like these trees smell, uplifting and rather strong. These compounds act as immune stimulants and are anti-microbial, useful for a range of infections.
At home, I add the new growth spring tips of fir to my salads and steam them along with veggies.
One of my favorite ways to utilize them is in steam inhalations to clear sinus and respiratory congestion. Half fill a deep bowl with freshly boiled water and add a handful of small branches with needles of either of the trees. Put a towel over your head and lean over the bowl, creating a small tent in which to hold the steam. The volatile compounds from the trees will evaporate and move upward with the steam; inhale deeply, drawing the vapors into the sinuses and lungs to clear mucus congestion and improve breathing.
Have you ever tried spruce beer? If you like it, you may also enjoy the following syrup that can be added to sparkling water or cocktails, or taken by the spoonful as a cough syrup:
1 cup chopped tips from spruce (the terminal 1-2 inches of branches)
2 cups water
1 cup honey
Gently simmer the spruce tips in water for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain. While still hot, stir in the honey. Bottle, label, and refrigerate for up to 3 months. Take 1 tsp. as needed for cough or add 1-2 tbsp. to festive drinks.