Working with evergreens

| 02 May 2014 | 01:22

Look around, in your mind’s eye if you can’t see out a window. Do you remember seeing any evergreens on your way to where you are? Whether in an office park or yard, these trees can be found in abundance. Did you know that they all have incredible medicinal properties?

(Caveat: Two plants have green needles and leaves in the winter that I’d like to omit: holly and yew. Both have edible and poisonous parts.)

Pine needle tea

You can drink the needles from any pine, as well as spruce, fir, hemlock, arbor vitae, or cedar, which have the same medicinal properties but are listed in descending order of taste.

At any time of year you can harvest a handful of green pine needles and make a delicious tea that’s rich in vitamin C. Just take a pair of scissors, cut a small handful into pieces, simmer water on medium heat, drop the needles in, put a lid on the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Keeping a lid on your teas helps to keep in the essential oils. Strain and add maple syrup or honey.

In late spring the evergreen trees start to show their new leaf growth. Tiny lime-green buds appear on the tips of branches, and as the heat of the season settles in, they open up and elongate. Spruce, fir or hemlock “tip tea” is more delicate and sour; these young tips all have a good lemony flavor and can also be eaten straight as a trail snack.

Tea should generally never be boiled unless we are dealing with roots, or woody parts such as stems, or polypore mushrooms.

Tea is not only for drinking. You can use a strongly infused water for anything from mopping your floor, to inhaling vapor when sick, pouring in your bath, or putting in a spray bottle to make an organic and chemical-free house freshener.

The issue with infused water is that it will go bad in a few days. To preserve it, mix the water with 50 percent alcohol by weight. Otherwise you can add it into vodka or brandy, which can then can be consumed, applied topically, or used to wipe down surfaces.

Healing sap

The medicinal properties of evergreen sap are often overlooked. The sap is antifungal, antiseptic, and antibacterial, but why?

If we explore a pine tree with our intuitive awareness we can notice that the sap of a tree is dripping from a wound. That tree is just as invested as your arm in keeping out infection in the form of virus and bacteria. What blood is to the human, sap is to the tree.

Making a tincture from pine sap can help open breathing passages and alleviate asthmatic conditions. Capacity for breathing openly is directly related to feeling open-hearted. You can easily collect enough pine sap once the wounds of the trees are sealed, infuse it in alcohol for a month, and then strain the sap. You now have a tincture that will help with respiratory congestion, cough, and bronchial troubles.

Pollen for protein

Pine drops its pollen in mid-May. Once you realize what a health craze pine pollen is it’s funny to see people get frustrated by the yellow film on their cars and spray windshield cleaner all over it. I bite my tongue to keep from telling them that they would do better to lick it off.

Pine pollen is one of the highest crude sources of protein on earth, at about 30 percent protein. Eating pine pollen is good for everyone, but because it helps to regulate testosterone, it would be excellent for men reaching 50 or weight lifters. It is being sold to this crowd as a very expensive supplement, but save the cash and wait until it pours out of the sky. I harvest with a bucket, tapping on each male cone. It’s a bit tedious, but more enjoyable than other imagined jobs to get money to buy pine pollen! Native people mixed the powder into their flat breads and porridge. You can add it to cereals, smoothies, stir fries, or rice.

Bark: sort of like bacon

Evergreen bark is high in calories, can be harvested in abundance, and does not run when you chase it! Adirondack is actually slang meaning “bark eater.” Apparently other native tribes called the Adirondack tribe this because of their habit of consuming the inner bark. It was quite a smart strategy.

Harvesting inner bark should be only done on broken tree limbs, such as in the winter, when the snow breaks them off. It is then that you would harvest enough for a supply until next season.

To harvest pine’s inner bark, there are three layers one has to understand: the outer bark, the cambium or inner bark, and the heartwood. You want only to harvest the cambium for eating. The most edible and tasty part of the inner bark is that which is closest to the heartwood – the center or hardwood of the tree. This portion has an almost sweet taste, but a bit like turpentine, which takes some getting used to. The closer the inner bark is to the outer bark of the tree, the stringier and more resinous it becomes.

If you try to eat it raw you can chew for a month and not get very far, but you can still suck out the starch and get some nutrition, if needed. As with any food, preparation is everything. Either take the strips you harvest and sun-dry them until crisp, then powder them and add them into just about anything. Or else roast or fry them crunchy in a skillet, either dry or with any kind of oil. This method gives them a palatable taste, almost like bacon.