A delight in nature influences my mother’s adventurous culinary skills. I grew up thinking it was normal to gather stinging nettles to eat or plantain to heal.
One wild vegetable/herb that is easy to forage is spruce tips. Spruce trees are the ones with scaley bark and short, prickley needles. In the spring, new growth sprouts from the ends of branches, a bright neon green against the dark old growth.
The smell of spruce tip tea brings me back to smokey fires and crisp morning alpine air. The little blackened tin pot would be have a few flecks of ash in the water, and the bright green tips would darken to an ugly brown as they infused their goodness into the hot water.
Spruce tips are full of vitamin C, although apparently three year old needles have the highest amount. The tips are much easier to gather, however, as they are easily pinched off and not prickly. Besides tea, you can also make beer, finishing salt, and spruce honey. I haven’t ventured into beer making (yet), but the salt and honey are easy to make.
Preserving herbs in honey is my favourite method of preservation – it’s easy, tasty, and lasts forever. I’ve done it with elderflowers, spruce tips, and have plans for more. Using sugar to make a medicinal syrup seems counterproductive to me, and using honey is much easier. I don’t have a recipe – just chopped up some spruce tips, threw them in a jar and poured honey overtop till it felt right, and stirred. I’m saving it for winter months, to stir in tea or take by the spoonful for colds and flus. I opened it after two weeks and it has an amazing smell and taste, quite different from the original spruce tips but I can’t describe it. You’ll just have to make it.
Making spruce finishing salt is just as easy. Chop up spruce tips finely, mix with equal amounts of (unrefined) salt, spread out to dry. When dry, put the mixture in a jar. The salt helps the spruce to dry faster; I dried some spruce tips plain, and they took much longer.
Hunger and Thirst has some excellent ideas for using spruce salt, including on mushrooms and in a bath. Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska also has some great recipes with spruce tips, including spruce mayonnaise and spruce shortbread.
I also used the spruce tips to make ice cream. I happened to use rapadura to sweeten it because it was the only sweetener I had on hand, and I ended up loving the caramel flavour of the rapadura paired with the zingyness of the spruce. For those on GAPS or AIP, dates would make a great substitute for the rapadura, I’ll update with how much when I try it.
I used homemade coconut milk which has considerabely less coconut flavour than bought coconut milk. I recommend making the coconut milk or using another mild flavoured milk, such as almond or cow milk/cream.
Spruce Tip Ice Cream (Dairy Free)
2 cups homemade coconut milk
1/2 cup spruce tips
1/2 cup rapadura
1 tsp gelatin powder
2 egg yolks
Heat the coconut milk until almost boiling. Add spruce tips and turn off the heat. I infused it for about 10 minutes, like for tea. If you are used to spruce tip flavour and want it stronger, you can infuse it for hours.
While still warm, pour the milk spruce tea through a sieve. Stir in rapadura. Sprinkle gelatin overtop and let bloom for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by adding the milk mixutre a tbsp at a time until the eggs are well mixed, about 4 tbsp. Mix the yolks with the rest of the milk.
If you have an ice cream maker, follow the instructions for your particular maker.
If you don’t have an ice cream maker but do have a high speed blender, you can try it this way: put the milk mixture in the freezer. Stir it every once in a while when you happen to remember as it’s freezing (I’m so precise, I know). I think I managed three before it froze solid. When frozen solid, use a spoon or butter knife to cut the ice cream into chunks (alternatively, freeze the ice cream mixture in ice cube trays). Put the frozen chunks inside a high speed blender and blend until smooth, pushing down the pieces with a tamper as necessary. Put back in the freezer to let it firm up again.
If you have neither ice cream maker or high speed blender, you can whisk it every 10 min or so while it freezes, but I’ve never managed to remember for enough times.
Serve and savour the wild foraged goodness!
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