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Spruce Berries

I’ve been enjoying the first berries of the season here on PEI.  No not Wild Strawberries, though a quick glance at a handful might fool you.  These are the edible male cones of White Spruce (Picea glauca).

Photo 1: The male cones of White Spruce (Picea glauca).

All parts of White Spruce are edible, but the bright-green new growth in spring gets most of the attention.  I’ve written about Spruce tips before ( and you can find my recipes for Spruce tip syrup, salt, and vinegar here:


If you look closely at White Spruce once the new tips appear, you’ll see the tree’s beautiful ‘flowers’.  Conifers don’t produce true flowers like the showy blossoms of Apple, Cherry, or Serviceberry, but their ancient cones manage to be simultaneously subtle and dramatic.  The magenta male cones (Photo 1) are known as ‘Spruce berries’ and have surprisingly complex layers of flavour.  The initial taste is fruity, which transitions to lemony before the pleasantly sprucy finish.  Spruce berries are best enjoyed raw and are wonderful additions to salads or tossed on to waffles or pancakes.


These male cones are responsible for the powdery, sticky pollen that coats vehicles and waterways – and triggers allergies – this time of year (you can read more about that here:  While it can be annoying for some, it too is edible and can be used as a gluten-free flour or mixed with conventional flour for a beautiful colour; the flavour is very mild.

Photo 2: Spruce pollen.

If you are allergic to Spruce you’ll want to avoid the pollen, but for the rest of us collecting it is easy.  Save yourself the mess of gathering male cones as they are releasing pollen and instead set aside some of those brightly-coloured Spruce berries.  Like Tomatoes ripening off the vine, these male cones will mature and drop their pollen in their storage container within a few days to a week. You can then easily sieve pollen from spent cones (Photo 2).  I get an average of one tablespoon of pollen for each quarter-cup of male cones, and so it’s possible to collect several cups of pollen without too much effort.  Pollen should be stored in the freezer to prevent the fats from going rancid.

Photo 3: Female cones of White Spruce (Picea glauca).

Female Spruce cones are also edible.  They’re found on the same trees as the male cones, but usually towards the top.  Trees that have been felled but not uprooted by Hurricane Fiona have put lots of female cones within easy reach (Photo 3).  These are more strongly flavoured than male cones and I find them lemony-sour, with a drier texture that I personally don’t care for.  Taste is subjective: during one of my recent workshops, some people hated the taste of these female cones while others liked them better than Spruce tips!  Female Spruce cones can be eaten raw, sautéed in butter, or made into syrup the same way Spruce tips can. (I have a batch on now and will share the recipe in a month or so when it’s done).


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 because of our history of land clearing and abandonment. I can’t imagine a scenario where Spruce tips or cones could be over-harvested, making them great foods to forage on PEI untamed.

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