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 harvest ready. 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.
I 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.