Plant profile: A beginner's guide to spruce

A beginner's guide to the medicinal properties of spruce trees

This post marks a first of its kind here at The Botanical. Documenting my learning as I go, I’m going to work my way through boreal northern herbs, trees and plants that strike me as interesting. And, in that same vein, starting this later this month I’m going to start profiling plant people. But more on that later…

On to spruce trees!

Spruce is far from exotic. And yes, I do realize that Christmas was last month. But I like to think that if I find spruce to be interesting, that you might just might, too.

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While there are 35 named species of spruce around the world, white and black spruce are the most common native variety found in North America. Fun fact: Manitoba’s official tree is the white spruce, or picea glauca.

medicinal uses

Fresh tips of spruce trees are perhaps best known as a source of vitamin C. Tips and branches can be harvested year round to brew teas and syrups, though they are at their most potent in in spring. Spruce has been used over the ages to treat everything from general coughs to scurvy.

Spruce resin and essential oils are known for their inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Tips and branches can also be harvested, infused and later used to make general ointments or salves, as has been common practice for centuries in many parts of the world. Salves can be used for healing wounds to treating cracked skin. Spruce resin, or pitch, can also be applied directly to insect bites or to cement open wounds.   

Spruce used in general salve

spruce as food

Medicinal properties, sure, but who would eat a spruce tree? Well, lots of people  spruce tips are indeed edible. While one might be wary of the idea of casually snacking on a branch of prickly needles, it’s the the fresh spruce tips we’re after here. Tips are actually incredibly tender in spring, and can be ingested directly and used to lend a fresh flavour to soups, stews and teas.

I for one am eager to try brewing some spruce tip beer this spring...

Have you create, seen or tasted any wildcrafted spruce?