Remember Euell Gibbons? He became nationally famous back in the mid-70’s while promoting Grape Nuts cereal with his quote, “Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.”
I had discovered Euell a couple of years prior to that when I came across his book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus at the library. What captured me – beyond the topic of wild foods – was the whimsical style of his writing. He made foraging for, cooking, and eating wild foods, sound like fun.
I had learned about some wild foods, including pines, while in the Boy Scouts. While I never delved into the experience as deeply as Mr. Gibbons may have liked, I have certainly held onto my interest in natural foods. Recently I discovered some of the food aspects of one of my favorite genera of conifer, the spruce.
Did you know that the young shoots of spruce are high in vitamin C and that they can be brewed into a refreshing tea? Neither did I. In fact, according to wikipedia, the explorer “Captain Cook would have both malt and sugar-based spruce beer made during his sea voyages in order to prevent scurvy in his crew.” As it turns out, spruce beer was common in both the colonial United States and eastern Canada. There is still a spruce beer soft drink available in some parts of Canada today.
The majestic spruce has also been used medicinally for the treatment of respiratory diseases including tuberculosis and the leaves and gum of the tree have been used in the treatment of cancer. Other uses include treatment for skin complaints and to sooth a cough.
Not only can you fill your garden with colorful spruce trees of assorted shapes and sizes; with some research you might even be able to fill your medicine cabinet with remedies made from those same trees.