This time of year the ends of conifer trees have bright green buds of new growth. Spruce tips, in particular, are easy to use. Last year I made spruce tip ice cream, as well as a syrup with honey, spruce salt, and just dried spruce. I was surprised how sweet the dried spruce smelled; I used it to flavour meat.
The smell of spruce has the ability, at any moment, of instantly transporting me back to the mountains of my childhood.
Drinking spruce tea takes me back to sitting in the chilly spring air around a fire. A blackened billy can sits over the fire; the water starts to boil and steam rises up. A handful of spruce tips are tossed in, steeping together with little bits of ash. The bright colour of the tips fades to brown. I cup my hands around a chipped enamel tin cup, when it’s cool enough to handle, breathing in the fragrant rising steam. I sip noisily, trying to drink the tea as hot as possible without burning my lips.
Ironically, there are no wild spruce trees in the part of Slovakia I live in but many planted ones. My foraging wasn’t so wild. But, that makes spruce a great first forage, for those who have yet to try harvesting food from nature, you can just traipse into somebody’s back yard or avail yourself of branches hanging over a fence.
Spruce trees, in general, are the conifer trees with short and sharp needles – they do not make good Christmas trees. Guess how I know. The bark is kind of dry and scaly looking.
The needles are high in vitamin C and can be used in all sorts of things, like adding it to shortbread or ice cream.
Slovaks made a syrup layering spruce tips, lemon, and sugar as a cough and cold remedy. As the layers sit for a number of days, the water seeps out and a syrup results.
Right now though, is just simple Spruce Tip Tea, with either fresh or dried spruce tips. Pour hot water over spruce tips – the more tips the more flavour. Ash in tea is a bonus. Inhale deeply of fragrant steam.