I feel much gratitude toward spruce. Like many northerners, I owe my life to this tree.
My house is made of Yukon spruce logs. We burn spruce in our wood stove to keep us warm throughout the long, cold winters. I use spruce medicine to prevent illness and, when I do get sick, it's also there to help me get better.
Spruce is also nature's bandage! Years ago, my old dog Hanna got a cut on her nose. It looked somewhat deep, but as it was a long weekend, I didn't want to make a trip to town to the vet and have to pay the extra on-call fee.
I called my neighbour and asked her to come over and give me an opinion.
She looked at the cut and said, "Just use spruce pitch." So I did. The wound healed quickly with no infection or scarring.
Springtime spruce tips are tasty and very high in vitamin C. They can be eaten raw, made into a tea, or added to salads, stews and soups.
The tips are famous for their use in making spruce-tip jelly. This light green conserve makes a great topping for toast, goes well with meats and poultry, or can be eaten on its own as a little afternoon pick-me-up.
The tips can also be soaked in oil to act as a base for salad dressing or cooking. Syrup can also be made to use over desserts, such as ice cream, sorbet, or cheesecake.
"Sprucesicles" were a favourite with my kids when they were little. We just added fresh spruce tips to the end of fruit popsicles. They loved it and it's a great way to enrich the treat with a little more vitamin C.
MEDICINAL USES FOR BODY
"The sap of the spruce is a tonic and is used each spring to clean the blood. The inner bark of a spruce was made into a tea and strained and was used for stomach upsets, ulcers, weak blood, mouth sores, and sore throats," according to Land of My Ancestors: Trees and Forests (published by the Council of Yukon First Nations).
"Spruce cambium was emergency food and often used by trappers or hunters when they were on the trail. People used the cambium during famines to keep them from getting scurvy. This also saved many of the early explorers and traders."
First Nations people use the spruce gum (pitch) as a lozenge for coughs and sore throats. They mix the pitch with grease to treat cuts and topical infusions. It cleanses the wound and protects it from germs.
Spring spruce tips and pitch can also be of benefit to the skin when used topically in a poultice, oil, salve, or cream.
Because of the tree's antimicrobial and antiseptic properties, it can help conditions like cuts, abrasions, eczema, boils, and acne.
Fresh or dried spruce tips are also excellent for lung congestion when used in a tea or steam. Spruce's antiseptic properties help with pneumonia, whooping cough, and croup.
As a liniment, salve, or oil, spruce works well for joint and muscle pain. Springtime spruce tips can be dried for use year-round.
MEDICINAL USES FOR MIND
Suzanne Catty, aromatherapist and the author of Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy, says that black spruce does wonders for the adrenal glands.
Black spruce hydrosol is also excellent for boosting the immune and respiratory systems, and can be used as a compress to ease painful and inflamed joints. Catty writes that black spruce makes a stimulating and restorative body spray and aftershave that can connect us with the ancient wisdom of the trees.
Steve Johnson, founder of the Alaskan Flower Essence Project and author of The Essence of Healing, says white spruce is good for "information overload; feeling dis-integrated; unable to apply knowledge to life's challenges; difficulty integrating how one feels with how one thinks."
He adds that white spruce's healing qualities "ground spiritual wisdom into the body; helps us bring logic, intuition, and emotion together into unified action in the present moment."
This article is based on an excerpt from Bev Gray's first book, The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North, to be released June 2011 by Aroma Borealis Press.