Spruce Medicine

Spruce Needles and; Cones, Vancouver Island, BC.
Spruce Needles and; Cones, Vancouver Island, BC. Photo By Bud Logan

Spruce Bark, Cones, and needles can be used to make a tea or syrup that can relieve colds, reduce the fever from flu and ease joint pain that comes with these ailments. The cones produce the best medicine, cones are picked year-round from the tops of young trees but all the ingredients have various components that when cooked together complement each other both in taste and in the ability to work as medicine.

Directions for tea

Usually, about 15 cones along with needles and bark are boiled for 10 to 15 minutes in a pot of water to make tea. The longer they boil, the stronger the medicine becomes, strain the liquid before drinking it. Spruce tea relieves coughing and sore throats and stuffed chests. Those who are sick with colds can take it three or four times a day for up to five days. You can cool this tea and serve over ice if you like. Sweeten to taste with honey or brown sugar syrup.

Directions for syrup

To make a syrup that can be used like any cold syrup as well as a winter treat when put on ice cream requires a bit more work. To make a basic syrup you add to a big pot all the ingredients and cover with water, boil then simmer the mix for hours until it has reduced down to about a quarter of its contents and strain. Then add the sweetener and there it is.

I like to use three cups of needles, around 15 spruce cones, about a cup of fir needles for a cystitis flavor, and some spruce gum if handy. The spruce gum is strong in medicine and only a small amount should be used. Cover with about 6 cups of water and boil this gently until it has reduced down to 3 cups in volume. Strain this.

Crow Berries, Vancouver Island, BC.
Crow Berries, Vancouver Island, BC. Photo By Bud Logan

Add to this mixture about 10 rose hips, place these in a tied muslin bag when adding to avoid getting any hip hairs in the mix as these will give one an itchy bottom. Along with the hips add some hawthorn berries and crowberries, both can be gathered in the late fall/winter months, don’t worry if the hawthorn berries are dried out as this is best. Crow berries are gathered up in the high country and can be found even when covered in snow. You can replace these berries with store-bought berries if you must. To this add a teaspoon of cinnamon and you could add some grated orange or lemon peel for flavor. Bring to a boil and then simmer until you have a cup of fluid left, strain again, and add your sweetener. Honey works well or add a sugar sweetener.

Hawthorn Berries, Vancouver Island, BC.
Hawthorn Berries, Vancouver Island, BC. Photo By Bud Logan

To make a brown sugar sweetener just add equal amounts of brown sugar and water, boil down while stirring until it is a thick mixture, For every cup of syrup you will add a cup of honey or sugar mixture, simmer this for about 10 minutes, cool and place in a glass container. It will stay good for a month or more in the fridge.

Directions for use on cuts and other injuries

The Spruce tree has many medicinal uses, The sap that can be found year-round on spruce trees and in green firewood can be used to soothe irritated skin and, when applied to cuts, helps to heal and reduces the chance of infection. You are looking for new sap that has recently run from the wood of the tree.

Collect sap that’s really sticky and clear. Take it and warm it in the same amount of water until it’s melted, and then put an equal or slightly smaller amount of Vaseline, Use a clean stick and stir it slowly. You can use this as a cream for cuts and sore muscles. It smells nice too. it should always be kept at room temperature.

2 thoughts on “Spruce Medicine”

  1. I’m astonished that spruce gum has not been explored. Two Gwichen elders helped me when we were hiking in the arctic. I got blood poisoning under a fingernail and the bloodline was going up my arm. We were a three thousand dollar helicopter ride from rescue. These two women harvested some spruce gum, made me chew it like gum for a couple of minutes, and then wrapped it around my thumb. Within two days the blood poisoning was gone. (a few carpenters, it should be noted, carry little vials of turpentine which they splash on hand wounds, especially if they’re working with gyproc which keeps wounds open, and thus helps the cuts heal somehow)/

    It’s also been said that the Gwichen people saved the first clueless Franklin Expedition by land into the arctic. They saved them from scurvy with spruce needle tea, and treated a member of the expedition who’d somehow broke his kneecap open with an axe. They covered the wound in spruce gum, wrapped it all up and tied it together, and the bone rejoined and the wound healed without any other medication.

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