Early Spring Greens: Spruce Tips
It’s conifer tip season on PEI! The soft, bright green, new growth on members of the Pine Family (Pinaceae) is both edible and packed with nutrition. Island members of this family include Spruce, Pine, Fir, Cedar, Hemlock, and Larch, but White Spruce (Picea glauca, Photo 1) is most often used.
White Spruce is one of our most common trees and can be found almost everywhere: in fields, hedgerows, and forests; along roads and trails; and around the coast. It’s native to PEI but far more abundant than it would have been historically as a result of our history of land clearing and abandonment. I can’t imagine a scenario where Spruce tips could be over-harvested, making it a great food to forage.
White Spruce tips have a lovely lemony flavour that can vary from tree to tree and site to site; if you try one and find it doesn’t suit your palate, give another tree or another site a try. White Pine (Pinus strobus) and Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) are often found alongside White Spruce, so you may as well give them a taste while you’re at it. Their tips are all quite distinctive (Photo 2) but do be careful not to mistake the toxic Ground Hemlock (aka Canada Yew, Taxus canadensis) for edible Balsam Fir. If you’re collecting Fir, be sure it’s from a tree – something with a single, thick, distinctive middle stem – rather than a shrub with multiple stems growing from the ground.
So, once you find your Spruce (or other conifer) tips, what do you do with them? There are so many options! Enjoy them raw in salads, dry and grind them to use as a spice (a nice substitute for Sumac), toss them into biscuits or muffins (a great addition to Lemon Cranberry Scones), substitute for basil in your favourite pesto recipe, or make Spruce tip salt (Photo 3), vinegar, or syrup. You can find my recipes for each of these in the Wild Food Recipes section of this blog.
In addition to being tasty, local, abundant, and free, Spruce tips are high in Vitamins A and C, as well as potassium and magnesium. The season is short, but Spruce tips freeze well if you want to save them for later. They will lose that beautiful, vibrant green colour when frozen, but their taste and nutrition hold up well. Another edible part of PEI untamed!