Evergreen needles are one of the most commonly used foraged foods in my kitchen. I love that they are available year round, and I often infuse them in oil to make salad dressing, ferment them for soda, dry them for tea or sugar cookies, or best of all use them to make spruce tip ice cream.
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Spruce is an evergreen in the genus Picea. Spruce trees, like pine and fir, bear cones and have needles, rather than leaves. There are 35 species of spruce in the world, all of which are edible.
To distinguish spruce from pine or fir, examine its needles. Both the spruce and the fir have needles which attach to the branch singly. Pine, on the other hand, is always attached in groups of 2 – 5 needles.
The spruce needle is sharper than the fir, and is easy to roll between your fingers. The fir has a flat needle which won’t roll.
What Do Spruce Tips Taste Like?
The young tips of the spruce are new shoots of needles that are quite tender, unlike mature needles. They have a delicate, lemony flavor with a woodsy after taste.
Spruce tips are high in vitamin C and make a great tea for warding off colds.
Pines and firs are also edible and can be quite tasty as well.
Harvesting Spruce Tips
Harvest spruce tips in the spring when they first emerge from their papery covering and are still light green and tender. Simply pinch the new growth off the end of the branch, and remove any of the covering that might remain as well as any stem that you may have inadvertently harvested.
If you are harvesting from a young, small tree, be sure to limit the number of tips you take. On tall, mature trees pick all you can reach. The upper parts of the tree contain many more tips and it would be difficult to over harvest.
Choose a tree away from busy roads to protect yourself from the chemicals that have settled on the tree from car exhaust.
Spruce tip ice cream is a refreshing treat. The subtle flavor of the tips infuse nicely into cream – no need to heat the dairy. I love to use raw dairy and heating would destroy the enzymes that make the milk digestible.