Have you ever drunk spruce tip beer? You may well have because spruce tips have been used in the brewing process for hundreds of years. Captain Cook made spruce beer in 1773 in order to prevent scurvy among his crew and is believed to have referred to rimu, kahikatea and matai tips in his recipe.
Both spruce and pine needles contain very high levels of vitamin C and are excellent in herbal teas, although there is some doubt as to how much vitamin C remains after the beer-brewing and fermentation process. However, spruce tips are still tasty and an excellent wild food source.
“Spruce tips are one of the more unusual, least used, and tastiest wild edibles,” says Alaskan-based food writer Laurie Constantino.
The key to cooking with the tips of evergreen trees, says Laurie, is to harvest them when they first begin to emerge from their brown, papery casings.
“At this stage, spruce tips are very tender and have a fresh flavour that tastes lightly of resin with hints of citrus. As spruce tips mature, the resinous aspect of their flavour intensifies. When the spruce tips begin to harden, form actual needles and lose their bright spring green colour, I no longer use them for cooking.”
Depending on where you are in the country, the tips will emerge at a different time (earlier in warmer areas, later in cooler regions). Watch for the tender new growth in spring.
“To harvest spruce tips, pop the tips off the end of the bough as if you’re picking berries,” says Laurie. “When you’re done picking, remove and discard the papery casings, and discard any hard stem that may have broken off with the tip. The spruce tips are now ready to use.”
The spruce tips can be used fresh or dried in herbal teas. Laurie uses them in various other recipes, including mayonnaise, vinegar and flavoured sugar.
“For cookie-eaters, a good recipe to start with is spruce shortbread – it’s quick, easy to make, and addictively good. When baked in shortbread, spruce tips have an almost fruity flavour, reminiscent of raspberries.”
Visit Laurie’s website for the recipe: