Edible evergreens – who knew? This vitamin C and anti-oxidant rich Healing Conifer Tea will sooth a cough and cold, and energize you. It smells like a walk in the forest, and tastes lovely, too.
OK this is going to be fun — grab some clippers and check out your backyard, or take a stroll around the block and snip a few fresh boughs for this aromatic healing tea. Heck, if your Christmas tree is still around you can use that. I love nothing better than discovering and sharing new and unusual foods and flavors here at TVFGI, and edible evergreens definitely fits that bill. Even thought we all know and love the aroma of evergreens, it might be hard to wrap our minds around eating the stuff — but think of it this way, if you like rosemary, (which isn’t related, by the way) I think you’ll be intrigued by the flavor of this Healing Conifer Tea.
This idea fascinated me so I did a little research. Conifer is the broad name for cone bearing trees, and lots of species of conifers are edible, namely pines, spruce, and fir. When it comes to pines, you can eat every part of them, from the pine nuts, to the bark, to the needles. The needles are not only edible, they contain a ton of vitamin C (as much or more than lemons!) and they’re naturally anti-inflammatory. Pine needles can be made into a soothing tea that helps fight colds and coughs. That vitamin C is high enough that it used to be used to prevent scurvy on long ship voyages, and during the Civil War,
Pine needles are long and wispy, (above and below) and they come off the branch in little bundles of 2-5 or more needles. Fir and spruce have the more compact bushy branches, like the classic Christmas tree. You can use any of the three species for this tea, but be sure to choose trees that haven’t been sprayed or otherwise polluted.
Conifers have been used for food and medicine for hundreds if not thousands of years by various cultures like the Russians, Scandinavians, and our own Native Americans. From my reading there are almost too many purported health benefits to mention, from pain relief, to anti-aging, to cold and flu relief. One of the more interesting notes is that pine and other conifer needles contain very high amounts of shikimic acid, the key ingredient in Tamiflu! Hopefully this will whet your appetite for more information on conifer infused foods, I’ve left some links at the end of the post if you’re interested.
A single steeped cuppa will be light in flavor and color, above, while a simmered infusion, below, will be darker in color and flavor, I’ll show you how to make both in the recipe.
- Pine, spruce or fir needles
- You can use the needles on the twigs or off, it's up to you. They can be fresh, or dried. They can be whole, or chopped. Chopping the needles and using method 2, below, will result in the strongest flavor.
- Clean the needles by rinsing well under water.
- Put a handful of whole needles or several tablespoons of chopped needles into a saucepan and add 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes, then strain and serve.
- Put a small amount of whole needles, or 1 tablespoon of chopped, into a cup. Pour in boiling water and let steep for 10 minutes, Strain and drink.
- If this interests you, I recommend getting a guide to edible plants so you can identify plants correctly. While most if not all pines, firs, and spruce are edible, not all evergreens are ok to eat, or drink. Do a little research to find the edible evergreens in your area. Watch out for Yew trees, which look like conifers but are toxic, I’ve left a link to help identify it in the list at the bottom of the post.
- Select fresh, green needles for use for tea. Ideally spring is the time to collect new growth needles, but you can certainly collect them at any time during the year. You can freeze the needles in freezer bags, or dry them for later use. Just let them air dry at room temperature.
- I think this would make wonderful iced tea or infused water in the summertime!
- There are unresolved questions about the safety of using pine needle tea during pregnancy, so I would err on the side of caution.
- The Splendid Table podcast: Branching out: Wildcrafters use pine, firs to spruce up old recipes
- Eat Your Christmas Tree! The kitchn
- How to Prepare Teas from Winter Trees: Inhabit
- Edible Conifers: Kinfolk Magazine
- Foraged Flavor: All About Pine, Serious Eats
- Cooking with Conifers: The Salt
- Which Pines are Poisonous?
- Edible Wild Food Magazine
- Toxic Yew Tree Identification: YouTube
- RECIPE: Pine Syrup
- RECIPE: Balsam Cocktail
- RECIPE: Pine Rosemary Ice Cream
- RECIPE: Cedar Tea, Food.com
- RECIPE: Pine Needle Oil
- RECIPE: Pine Needle Vinegar