Monday, June 23, 2008

How to Harvest Spruce Tips with Recipes for Using Spruce Tips (or Pine Tips or Fir Tips)

Spruce tips are one of the more unusual, least used, and tastiest wild edibles in Alaska. Over the last few weeks, I picked a bucketful and had a great time playing and experimenting with them.

(I used spruce tips because they grow in my yard. Pine tips and fir tips are also edible; my spruce tip recipes could just as easily be recipes for pine tips or recipes for fir tips.)

The key to cooking with the tips of evergreen trees 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 flavor that tastes lightly of resin with hints of citrus.

As spruce tips mature, the resinous aspect of their flavor intensifies. When the spruce tips begin to harden, form actual needles, and lose their bright spring green color, I no longer use them for cooking.

Spruce tips are rich in Vitamin C. Spruce tip tea (just dry the spruce tips) has long been used by indigenous peoples to soothe coughs and sore throats, and to alleviate lung congestion.

To harvest spruce tips, pop the tips off the end of the bough as if you’re picking berries. 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.

As with all plants, the tips of spruce trees develop more quickly in warmer areas, locations with good sun exposures, and at lower elevations. The tips of spruce trees on the south side of my yard are past harvest time, while those on the north side are still harvestable. Further up the Anchorage hillside (where temperatures are cooler than at my house), there may be spruce trees still ready to harvest.

The first time you try spruce tips, pick only a few to make sure you enjoy their taste. (This is good advice to follow the first time you try any new-to-you wild edible.) 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 flavor, reminiscent of raspberries.

As with many seasonal foods, I try to extend the spruce tip season by preserving them in various forms for later use. Spruce Tip Vinegar, Spruce Tip Salt, Spruce Tip Sugar, Spruce Tip Syrup, and Candied Spruce Tips are all now happily residing in my pantry.

NOTE: If this post is too late in the season to harvest spruce tips in your location, or to harvest pine tips, or to harvest fir tips, bookmark it for next spring and discover the wonderful flavor of evergreen trees.

Spruce Shortbread
Makes 16 1”x 3” cookies
The trick to making shortbread is processing the dough just long enough so that it can be rolled out but still appears a little crumbly in the bowl. If you process the dough until it forms a ball or sticks together in the processor, the cookies will spread out on the baking sheet and their texture will suffer.

1/4 cup fresh spruce tips
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Process the spruce tips and sugar until the spruce tips are finely chopped. Add the flour and process in bursts to mix well, being sure to scrape out any sugar or spruce tips trapped in the corners of the food processor bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2” chunks, add to the processor bowl, and process until the butter is evenly distributed and the dough holds together when pinched.

Dump the dough onto parchment paper and form into an evenly thick rectangle. Roll out with a lightly floured rolling pin until the rectangle is 6”x 8”. Using a straight edge as a guide, cut the rectangle into 1” crosswise strips and then in half lengthwise to form 16 1”x 3” cookies. Prick each cookie 5 times with the tines of a fork. Carefully place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven for 23 – 26 minutes, or until the cookies are set and just starting to turn golden (not browned). Let cookies cool before serving. Store in an airtight container.

Spruce Tip Mayonnaise
Makes 1 cup mayonnaise
Spruce Tip Mayonnaise is a wonderful spread for Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato (BLT) Sandwiches, as a dip for Grilled (or Steamed) Artichokes or Shrimp, in Potato Salad, or in any recipe where an extra boost of flavored mayonnaise would be welcome.

1 cup mayonnaise
(homemade or store-bought)
1/4 cup minced spruce tips
2 tsp. lemon juice

Thoroughly mix all the ingredients. Let flavors blend for at least 1 hour before serving.

Grilled Artichokes with Spruce Mayonnaise: Parboil artichokes in salted water, cut in halves or quarters, clean out the choke, toss with salt and olive oil, and grill over a medium-hot fire. Serve with Spruce Mayonnaise on the side.

Shrimp with Spruce Mayonnaise: I prefer using side-stripe shrimp or spot shrimp, two kinds of cold water shrimp that remain moist and tender after cooking. Boil a large pot of salted water, dump in the shrimp, turn off the heat, and let shrimp remain in the water until cooked through, about 2 - 3 minutes. Serve with Spruce Mayonnaise on the side.

BLT with Spruce Mayonnaise: Cut bacon slices in half and cook until crispy but not over-browned. Spread Spruce Mayonnaise on toasted bread, top with slices of tomato, cooked bacon, and crispy lettuce. Top with another slice of tasted bread spread with spruce mayonnaise.

Spruce Tip Gravlax
Gravlax substituting 1 cup of roughly chopped spruce tips for the dill. Although I scrape off the dill and peppercorns before serving my regular gravlax, I leave on the aromatics with Spruce Tip Gravlax. The peppercorns and cured spruce tips add wonderful flavor to the salmon. (The recipe makes 2 sides of salmon gravlax. I quarter the salmon sides and freeze all but one of the quarters for later use.)

Spruce Tip Vinegar
Makes 2 cups vinegar

Use Spruce Tip Vinegar to add an interesting twist to mixed greens salads, raw or cooked.

2 cups red wine vinegar
1 cup roughly chopped spruce tips
1 tsp. black peppercorns

Mix all the ingredients, put in a jar, and cover. Let the vinegar sit at room temperature for 10 days, shaking the jar from time to time. Strain into a sterilized bottle.

Spruce Tip Salt
Spruce tip salt is particularly good on potatoes and other root vegetables.

1/2 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup roughly chopped spruce tips

Process in bursts until the spruce tips are finely ground. Let dry at room temperature in an uncovered pie pan, stirring a couple times a day, until the flavored salt is completely dry. The salt will initially be very moist; break up any lumps as you see them forming. When the salt is dry, give it a whir in the food processor to break up any remaining lumps. Store in an airtight container.

Spruce Tip Sugar
The sugar can be used to add extra flavor to baked goods, to flavor tea, or to make winter batches of Spruce Shortbread.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup roughly chopped spruce tips.

Process in bursts until the spruce tips are finely ground. Let dry at room temperature in an uncovered pie pan, stirring a couple times a day, until the flavored sugar is completely dry. The sugar will initially be very moist; break up any lumps as you see them forming. When the sugar is dry, give it a whir in the food processor to break up any remaining lumps. Store in an airtight container.

Spruce Tip Syrup
Use spruce tip syrup on pancakes, waffles, or French toast, to sweeten beverages, or to make ice cream.

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups roughly chopped spruce tips.

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the syrup cool completely. Strain, put in a sterilized container, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Candied Spruce Tips
As my final step in making Spruce Syrup, I use it to candy some spruce tips. This enhances the syrup’s flavor while making a tasty garnish.

Spruce Syrup (see above)
1 cup whole spruce tips
1/2 cup sugar

After straining the Spruce Syrup, and before refrigerating it, add 1 cup whole spruce tips and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the spruce tips cool in the syrup. Strain the syrup, put in a sterilized container, and refrigerate until ready to use. Thoroughly drain the syrup off the spruce tips. In small batches, toss the damp spruce tips in granulated sugar to coat and spread the candied spruce tips out on waxed paper to dry. When the candied spruce tips are dry (this may take several days), put them in an airtight container, and refrigerate until ready to use.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by its creator, Kalyn from Kalyn's Kitchen.

From my front window: Moose at Rest


Maria Verivaki said...

Laurie, you are incredible! Spruce tips are completely unknown to me, but what you just provided is a whole recipe book!
thanks for the photo from your front garden, no i can actually see the road!

Ivy said...

Welcome back Laurie. This is totally new to me but it does make sense. Don't get me wrong with what I am going to say but in Greece we are blessed with abundance of products so no one will bother to collect spruce tips or pine tips. I think that it is only natural in Alaska that they would take advantage of anything edible but the point is that you have made wonderful use of it in so may ways.

Laurie Constantino said...

Maria, I actually put that moose picture in just for you, so I'm glad you liked it.

Thanks, Ivy. I do have to disagree with you a little bit about spruce tips. I gather them because they taste good, not because I'm desperate for something edible. In Greece, people eat what is available and traditional, which is neither superior or inferior to the wild edibles that exist in places like Alaska.

Anonymous said...

Laurie,you always come up with the most interesting information!!!

And, of course, our diet is not only relative to access to other foods but also affected by cultural influences, personal preferances and pleasure.

Peter M said...

Welcome back Laurie!

Talk about foraging for food...I've never heard of one eating spruce or pine tips...I'm "all in" to try this out. It'll have to wait until next's full on summer here.

Mike of Mike's Table said...

That's really interesting! I've never heard of this before. I kind of imagine it being like rosemary. Is it, or am I way off?

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Wow! What a fantastic post. I have never had spruce tips but you can bet your bottom dollar that come next spring, I will be on the lookout for them! Spruce shortbread?! Simply Amazing stuff!!! Thanks Laurie. :)

Joanne said...

Laurie - I could certainly have use a cup or two of spruce tip tea this past week. I had a pneumonia with a bad cough and a very sore throat.

I have never heard of 'spruce tip anything' before. I will keep my eyes open for them the next time I go hiking.

Laurie Constantino said...

Mariana, I'm glad it interested you. I agree with you completely about the origins of our diets.

Thanks Peter! Always glad to come up with something new...

Mike, the resinous aspects are somewhat like rosemary, but there is also a distinct citrus flavor that rosemary obviously doesn't have.

Sam, thank you so much!

Bijoux - So sorry to hear you've been sick - I'm always suspicious of airplane germs when people get sick right after travelling. As for the spruce, it'll be too late in the year for harvesting this year. But there's always next year...

NĂºria said...

Wow Laurie! I bet this is the best entry!!!! It took you a while but it was worth waiting :D. I'm amazed by your knowledge... I've got some pine trees in front of my house (in the parc) but they no longer have the spruce tips. Oh I'll follow your recommendations and bookmark for next year :D

Thanks so much for sharing!!!

Lucy said...

Wow, wow, WOW!

Laurie - what an amazing post! They look like tender asparagus tips.

As for the view from your front absolutely gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Laurie, welcome back! Wow, this is really a new one for us, too. It really is amazing how many wonderful edibles are literally at our doorsteps and we pass them right by. I can't wait to try pine tips next season. The gorgeous green you captured in the cleaned tips is stunning. (Love the moose shot, too. For all the time we spent in Maine, I never did see a live moose so I'm sending my MIL a link to your site.)

Joanne said...

Laurie - That's interesting. You know it never even crossed my mind that I could have picked up some kind of germ on the airplane. I came back on June 2nd and the symptoms appeared around the 18th of June. So that could actually make sense. Usually, viral infections don't appear overnight there is an incubation period of up to 10 days...anyway, I'm just babbling away here :D

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Thanks, Laurie! I have always wanted to use spruce tips in something other than gravlax -- I cure my salmon with pine tips and vodka -- and now I have a one-stop resource.

I am heading to the High Sierras with a bag and a cooler!

Cheryl said...

Wow, that's really interesting. You've out-done yourself once again . I love, love, love that moose!

Langdon Cook said...

Very cool. I'll have to try some of these recipes. The spruce and fir tips are about right at 3,000 feet and above in the Cascades right now. I was just reading the other day that seed-eating birds like pine grosbeaks also like spruce tips, so makes sense. I wonder if people figured out this unusual source of nutrition by watching birds. Thanks for posting!

Laurie Constantino said...

Nuria, I can't wait until next year to see what you do with your pine tips!

Lucy, I really don't know anywhere nicer than Alaska in the summer = 20 hours of daylight, green and lush, but not too hot. And what better than to stroll through the woods picking spruce tips. It's very calming.

Manju, thanks for the welcome. I just spent an enjoyable time reading through all your posts I missed - it was very inspirational. And I'm glad you liked the moose! Because of the pond we have moose coming through every day.

Bijoux, babble away! I hope you're feeling better.

Hank = don't you love the way the salmon and everygreen complement each other?

Cheryl - thank you - I'm so glaad you liked it! But your owl has my moose beat anyday.

Finspot, the whole question of how people determined the edibility of foods is very interesting. Your bird theory works for me.

Kalyn Denny said...

I'm fascinated by this! I've never heard of eating anything like this before. Great post!

BTW, did you send me an e-mail with this link? I'm worried because I'm having some problems with my e-mail, but I didn't receive this. And even though I've seen it, I need the e-mail to get it filed in the folder with my WHB entries, thanks!

Laurie Constantino said...

Kalyn, I'm so glad you liked it! I did send you an email and have just resent it. Hope it arrives!

Maria Verivaki said...

hi laurie, your mail doesnt get sent to your hotmail address, for some reason, it's bouncing back to the sender (just warning you that you might be missing some emails)

Ivy said...

Maybe you did misinterpret what I said. I didn't say that it's not delicious or you are desperate for something edible. I wouldn't go and get wild greens when there is abundance of so many other things in the farmers market. That doesn't make wild greens less tasty.

Kalyn Denny said...

Hi Laurie, thanks for telling me you have e-mail because I'm NOT getting them. By any chance are you using outlook express? When I checked with Comcast they told me they won't accept e-mail from them any more (due to something I don't really understand.) Anyway, will save this link and send it to myself in an e-mail.

Kalyn Denny said...

Laurie, here's the funniest thing of all (or not funny at all, depending on how you look at it!) I've sent myself two e-mails with the link and haven't received either of them. (And I've been getting other e-mail all this time.)

Not to worry though, you are in the recap already so I won't forget.

Laurie Constantino said...

Ivy, now I understand what you ere saying. Most people here feel the same way you do so buy their food at the store or farmers' market. The same is true on the island - it's getting to be so it's only the old folks who gather food from the wild. It's sad because a lot of knowledge about wild plants is slowly being lost. Although there are abundant foods in the stores, I gather wild greens because they allow me to appreciate tastes and flavors that I don't otherwise have access to.

Kalyn, I don't use outlook express - I sent several emails to you from my hotmail account (the account which I've used to successfully email you in the past) and then another email from my netscape account. I wonder what the problem is??

Wandering Chopsticks said...

Wow Laurie! I'm always amazed when you go foraging. I had no idea spruce tips, or pine or fir tips for that matter, were edible. I've heard of Koreans steaming rice dumplings atop pine needles to absorb the aroma, but never of eating them. Very cool and educational!

Anna (Morsels and Musings) said...

yet again you have blown me away with the abundant wild food in alaska. your foraging skills are amazing.

i am so impressed with just how many ways you can use them too!

excellent post!

Andrea Meyers said...

Well now I know what to do with the tips from our spruce trees! I had no idea, and you've done a great job providing recipes for them, too. Thanks!

NKP said...

Wow! You rocked WHB this week. I didn't know you could eat spruce tips or any other evergreen tips. I seem to remember seeing a special on Tibetan monks who participated in live embalming by eating only evergreens. (Not to get off topic)
Thanks for all the great information and recipes. I will have to be brave and try it out!

Susan said...

What a great, great post! I've had pine honey and pine nuts, but didn't know the actual foliage is edible. That moose is a darling. I'd like to adopt him/her, but there's no rest for a moose in the city. : }

Anonymous said...

Awesome post.. Like most everyone else, I had no idea spruce tips were edible.

eatingclubvancouver_js said...

How fascinating. I love the way you wrote up this post, very informative. I love how you present a variety of recipes to do with spruce tips. Thank you for sharing this.

Y said...

Spruce tips! Wow. I didn't know you could use those.. even candied tips!

Lo said...

Wow, Laurie -
I'm so glad I found your blog!

Spruce tips... now the question will be: Can I find some of those in Wisconsin? I'll bet that I can!

Thanks for all the great ideas!

Unknown said...

Wow, really good tips on harvesting spruce tips! I bet many foodies would find them useful if they would find out about them. You could submit your tips to Chef’s Tip (

Wasn't aware they'd be so many ways to use spruce tips. Looks delicious!

Chef Chuck said...

Thank you for the tips, I think your site is great. My son live around spruce trees, I will fill him in with this interesting info.

Beyond beginner triathlete said...

Great recipes, thanks so much! I am planning on making beer with my spruce tips. I've just picked a bunch and was wondering if you have any advice on storing them while I get my supplies the fridge? Freezer? I am worried they will go bad. Thanks very much!

Laurie Constantino said...

Thanks Kat. I've never made beer, but I assume that, as for food, you'd want to preserve the volatile oils in the spruce tips as best you can. If that's true, I'd freeze them, preferably in a vacuum packed or air-tight container. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

The spruce tip shortbread is simple but AWESOME!! Thanks for sharing this recipe. I know I'll be making it again and again.
Elise from Skagway AK

AKTigger said...

Hi Laurie!

I was born & raised in Alaska, but never tried spruce tip jelly because I was pretty sure I didn't want to eat anything that tasted like a tree. Boy, was I wrong! I got a tiny jar of spruce tip jelly last summer, and it was gone in the blink of an eye. My then 4 year old daughter loved it. Unfortunately, I had to wait until this spring to gather some tips of my own. My question is if you don't get enough of them in one outing, should they be kept washed or unwashed in a container in the refrigerator? I have one small tree in my yard, which we stripped today, but I know where to go to get more. Can't wait to try the spruce tip shortbread recipe, too!!
Thanks for the outstanding information. Looking forward to hearing from you soon! Connie

AKTigger said...

I made the spruce tip shortbread yesterday, and if I didn't know what was in it, I would guess mint. Very tasty! Made spruce tip jelly this morning, and got sixteen 8 oz. jars. It tastes terrific, and preliminary tests indicate it is going to set up beautifully. Thanks so much for this inspirational entry!

Anonymous said...

I've got a 5 gal bucket of spruce tips, ready to make honey, but can't find a recipe. Any ideas?

Laurie Constantino said...

Hi Connie: So sorry I didn't respond timely - I just found these comments in my spam filter. Even though it's too late, I'll answer anyway in case someone has the same question next year. I prefer not washing them for storage because I think they keep better that way. I originally tried washing them and found that the excess moisture speeds spoilage. I've also successfully frozen them for use throughout the year - the cookies are such a hit that I had to figure out a way to keep the fresh spruce flavor going. So glad to hear about your spruce successes!
As for spruce honey, mk-yakutat, not sure exactly what you mean by that. Do you mean syrup? Is this something you've tried? What is it like? Again, sorry for the delay in answering. Don't know why you ended up in spam.