With spring comes quick and constant changes in the mountains. It seems that from day to day another thing is blooming, and even in Southern California, where the greens start coming up in December, it’s still a treat to see actual wildflowers-- the ceanothus and peonies and gnaphaliums and poppies. It’s an absolute treat, especially as most of them are so fragrant, and in the spring sunshine these fragrances will take over entire hillsides, intoxicating you slightly with their scents. As sad as I was to leave India, I was more excited to get back to the spring here-- to the end of chanterelle season (here, anyway), and the beginning of the busy harvesting season!
Some of my favourite things about this time of year are the spruce, pine and fir tips. So often with foraged foods you have something to compare flavours to-- for example rose hips have a slightly tangy crab apple flavour-- but with these tips, they really have a flavour all to themselves that could only be described as ‘citrus meets conifer’. But that doesn’t even do it justice. You really have to taste the different types of tips, not only to be able to describe it for yourself, but because they are exquisite. Each tree has its own flavour, ranging from more citrusy, to more acrid and coniferous tasting.
So if you hadn't guessed it by now, with all the talk and all the information AND the big banner at the top, our Wild Thing for the month of March is the spruce/ fir/ pine tip.
Spruce is used as a diaphoretic, to induce sweating during bouts with flu. It's also antiseptic, and great for kidney infections due to its diuretic properties.
Fir is good for infections, especially to do with the lungs. Both Cook and Culpepper describe it as a ‘pectoral’ herb, indicated in chronic achey coughs and colds. Culpepper goes on to say that it’s “of a mollifying, healing, and cleansing nature; and, besides its uses outwardly in wounds and ulcers, is a good diuretic”. And although I don’t have that much experience with it, Kiva sent me some of her white fir elixir, and it’s so tasty that I’ve already gone halfway through it without any reason other than the sheer deliciousness.
The most medicinally active part of the pine tree is the sap-- the tree releases it to heal its own wounds, and similarly we can use it on our skin, to heal wounds and to pull out splinters and such. Stephen Buhner goes on to say that "pins helps soften bronchial mucous and move it out of the system through expectoration," and that "in any condition where the lungs are congested without expectoration it is useful".
Much like juniper, pine is also very useful in kidney and bladder infections, though too much can irritate the kidneys and bladder too.
I’ve got some pine tips drying for tea, a fir elixir brewing on my shelf, and a quart jar of spruce needles (not tips) macerating in vodka, as I’m thinking of trying out some cocktails on my dinner guests next week (Carly, be warned). All three are also very high in vitamin C, making them a great thing to have around for teas and such anyway, and if THAT isn't enough to convince you then maybe the recipes we come up with this month will be.
Spruce, fir and pine tips are easy to identify, especially in the Spring. Check out what Butter has to say on the subject here, along with her first recipe.
Keep in mind that you don't need to escape the city to find these things-- I've seen them all over LA in the last couple of days. Just also keep in mind that you'll need to wash them first. I jumped out of the car, grabbed a few to eat, and handed one to Jamie, who spat it out immediately because it was covered in dust and dirt and all kinds of other stuff. I guess I'm used to the mountains where I just nibble on things as I go. Oops.
If you've forgotten about the Wild Things round up, you can read all about it here.
Image credit: Capital City Weekly