As my sons were playing in the grass after days of stop and go rain, we were enjoying all the green around us. My oldest son noticed a little brighter shade of green standing out, and plucked his first fir tip off of a young fir tree. We talked about how the tip was going to eventually make new growth, and we marveled at it's shape and texture. Eventually I told him how spruce tips, pine tips, and fir tips have long been used medicinally and for flavoring food and drink. We talked about explorers like David Thompson and wondered if there were days that he collected and dried spruce tips for tea or if he ever snacked on them when food was scarce.
Long ago explorers like David Thompson traveled through Bonner County. This was before there were houses, stores, or even roads. He would have to find, catch, and trade for any food he needed. He could have even gathered spruce tips for food just like we are.
David Thompson was a map-maker, surveyor, and fur trader that spent some time exploring and mapping the northwest, including Northern Idaho in 1809-1810. He set-up some trading posts in the area, including the Kullyspell house near Hope, Idaho (built by Finan McDonald). We imagined we were early explorers and tromped though the woods collecting tree tips. Finally, we snacked on our fir tips and were surprised by the citrusy pine flavor. Not terrible!
Around Mother's Day is the perfect time of year to start looking for spruce, fir and pine tips. All three varieties are edible. Avoid yew, or any other unidentified trees or shrubs. Once you have located and identified safe trees, you can look for the bright green new growth at the tips of the branches. There should be some evidence of a papery brown skin just starting to peel off (like onion skin). This is when they are best and tastiest to pick. Its a lot like picking berries. If you have little children, fir trees are a good choice because the needles are much less pokey than the spruce. The two white lines on the bottom of the flat fir needle also make it easy to identify.
Once you have collected your tips, consider these uses:
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