Updated: Oct 31
Norway is covered in spruce and pine trees. The forests are easily accessible and available to everyone and the bounty they offer is something I love to take advantage of.
I discovered spruce tip syrup a few years ago and since then it's been a staple of my store cupboard. It has a rich, caramelised flavour with a fragrance of the forest and a delicious reminder of spring and summer out in nature. I am sure you can buy it somewhere but nothing comes close to the satisfaction of making it yourself and enjoying it for weeks and months to come.
Spruce tip syrup is a delicious and nutritious way to save your spruce tips to use throughout the winter months and they are packed full of vitamins and minerals that your body will thank you for in the winter months. They are full of vitamin C for immune system strengthening, vitamin A for healthy organ function, magnesium and potassium, and have always been used by indigenous tribes for coughs, colds and sore throats. It's easily as good as any cough tincture from the pharmacy!!
Spruce and pine trees start their growing season as the spring becomes warmer so for us in Norway it's about the beginning of May. You can easily recognise the tips as the bright green ends to the branches. The tips are softer than the other needles and and are at their best when they are about 1-2cm long. The tips of all pine trees are edible, but be sure not to confuse them with the poisonous yew tree. I tend to go for Norway spruce or Sitka spruce just because it's plentiful here.
It's worth tasting a few different species to see which ones you like the most as they all have a slightly different flavour and be sure to do some homework before you pick so that you are not picking anything inedible in your region.
There are a few "rules" that need to be observed before picking spruce tips because we don't want to harm the trees in any way. Afterall, foraging is about sustainability and being able to go back year after year.
Only pick a few tips from each tree
Never pick from the top of the tree as that will stunt it's growth
Be sure to ask the landowner for permission to pick (if that's applicable in your region).
Get prepared beforehand so you can cook the tips immediately when they are at their freshest. This is good practice for any foraging trip. We want to make the most of everything at it's best and so be ready as soon as you get home to prepare your harvest.
Spruce tips can be eaten in a variety of ways from raw to a syrup. Many of the best recipes I have found are German. Recipes like spruce tip salads and chocolate covered spruce tips. My youngest daughter, Mia, likes to simply snack on them straight from the trees. We all find it amusing because she normally avoids anything green like the plague!!!
I've experimented with various recipes for spruce tip syrup but found that this easy cooked spruce tip syrup is the best and most reliable.
Spruce Tip Syrup
Several large handfuls of spruce tips
Give the spruce tips a light rinse to get off any dust or small insects and place them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly before transferring to a a bowl of container and refrigerating overnight. This allows the tips to infuse the water.
The following day strain the tips really well. You can use a sieve, but I like to use a cheesecloth or muslin over the sieve to strain them through so I get a nice clear syrup.
To prepare your bottles or jars you will to need to either sterilise them by putting them in a low oven for about 30 minutes or use bleach to sterilise. Don't forget to rinse the bleach out with cooled boiled water!!
Measure the liquid, and for every 500ml of liquid add 650g white sugar. Put the liquid and the sugar into a saucepan and bring slowly up to the boil stirring from time to time to melt the sugar. Simmer for about 15 minutes until you have a syrup that is the consistency of cordial. I like mine fairly light (like above) but if you prefer a more caramelised syrup keep simmering until you get the colour you like.
Pour into your prepared and warmed bottles. Don't forget to warm them up or they will crack as you put the liquid in. Store either in the fridge or a cool dark place.
To use the spruce tip syrup, take a teaspoon a day or add it to hot tea, smoothies or juices.
My favourite way to use spruce tip syrup is to add a teaspoon to a green smoothie in the morning. It gives it a delicious fragrant sweetness and packs it full of those vital vitamins that we need so much in the winter.
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