This post was originally on our old blog, Tiny Peasant, in 2013. We’ve updated to add a few new ideas!
If you had a fresh cut tree and if it is organic or pesticide-free, consider honouring your tree by using all of it, or as much of it as you can. After your celebrations are over, harvest the pine or spruce needles for use in teas, infused honey, oxymels and more. Pine and spruce needles are high in vitamin C and have been traditionally used as a remedy for respiratory issues. Local expert and fest teacher Laura Reeves, of Prairie Shore Botanicals, says that though pine needles are great for breaking up phlegm, she sticks to the tea and chewing on the needles as the syrup is quite “medicinal-tasting”.
Or, if you’re into handcraft, there are so many ways to give new life to your tree friend, so it can be appreciated for years to come.
And, if neither of those ideas are up your alley, we encourage you to consider:
// seeking out a local farm with resident goats – they are often looking for Christmas tree donations at this time of year, and the goats love this tasty seasonal treat!
// using your tree for a hugelkultur bed or windbreak in your garden or on your farm – resinous trees are often cautioned against due to the potential detrimental allelopathic properties. However, we have seen many instances of their use in the permaculture community, such as here. Also a discussion here. Decide for yourself – or mix with other tree types : )
Read on for recipes and ideas to make even a bit more magic with that magical Christmas tree…
We got in touch with Laura to get the low-down on some common Canadian conifers. She shared:
The great thing about conifers is that, with very few exceptions (see below), they can be used interchangeably to make delicious and refreshing tea that is high in vitamins A and C and excellent for relieving cold symptoms. (If you don’t have any growing near you, be sure to gather some needles the next time you’re in their company and dry them for later use. Spread them out in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and leave them in a dry place until they snap when bent.)
Medicinally, conifers are astringent, meaning they help to dry out raw or otherwise damaged tissues and pull them back together. This is why sipping on conifer needle tea is soothing for sore throats. Conifers are also expectorant, which means they will help to clear up excessive mucous – like when you have a wet cough. I found this out first hand one day when I was out for a morning run. I was passing a row of jack pine trees when the morning sun lit up a ball of sap that had collected on a trunk where sapsuckers had made holes in it. Remembering that some people like to chew pine pitch, I decided to try it out. I stopped to put some in my mouth and continued on my run. I enjoyed the flavour as I chewed on it, but quickly experienced its astringent and expectorant properties as it dried out my mouth and throat, making it difficult to breathe. Mental note: conifer pitch or tea should not be consumed during cardiovascular activities!
Conifer Needle Tea
Note: Before you make tea, be sure that you have correctly identified a variety of conifer that is safe to consume. Several conifers are poisonous to humans, so do your research and be sure you have a positive ID. Avoid Ponderosa, Yew and Norfolk Island Pines.
To Make Your Tea:
Boil some water.
Rinse your collected needles.
Cut the needles using kitchen scissors or chop with a knife, removing the brown ends.
If you have a loose-leaf tea steeper, place the needles inside and cover with recently boiled water (not boiling). Use a ratio of roughly 1/2 c needles to 3 c water.
Steep at least 10 minutes, ideally 20 minutes.
Optional: Add in some dried orange peel, rose hips, star anise or other herbs for a more dynamic flavour!
In the summer you can also add honey and then refrigerate the tea and enjoy it as an alternative to traditional iced tea.
Note: Do not consume any of these herbal teas while pregnant. Please consult a physician if taking any medications or if you have any medical conditions… do not consider this article as medical advice.
Conifer Needle Cookies
Make your favourite cookie recipe, and add in ½ -1 cup of washed and finely diced conifer needles for a woodsy addition. We particularly enjoy these in shortbread cookies.
Conifer Needle Syrup
Wash your needles, and pat them dry. In a saucepan, add equal parts organic honey or sugar (cane, panela, sucanat), water and chopped needles. Gently heat until the honey or sugar is dissolved, and bring to a gentle boil before removing from heat. For a deep flavour, allow the needles to infuse in the simple syrup overnight. Strain and bottle the syrup. Keep refrigerated for up to four months. Great for use in tea during cold season, or even in some fun mixed drinks!
Conifer Needle Honey
Wash and finely chop your needles, then pat dry. Partially fill a small jar with raw honey. Next, add your chopped needles and blend them into the honey. Put the lid on the jar and let sit for two or more weeks. Shake every now and then while the conifer goodness infuses into the honey. Once the honey is infused to your liking, strain out the needles using cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer.
Conifer Needle Oxymel
Take some time to look around online and get familiar with oxymels, which are herbs and/or foods infused in a mixture of honey and vinegar (often apple cider vinegar). We created a mixture of 1 part finely chopped needles to 3 parts of a honey and apple cider vinegar (with mother) blend. Let your mixture infuse for 2 weeks in a place shaded from the sun and then strain and add to spritzers, use as a salad dressing and as an aid to soothe sore throats.
Conifer Needle Bath Soak
Add some conifer needle tea or needles blended with oats and/or other herbs (in a muslin bag or sock) to your next bath!
DIY Tree Trunk Craft Ideas
You can use the trunk of your Christmas tree for making some beautiful goods for your home or for gifts:
// blocks for play – slice the lateral branches into pieces, sand and polish with a homemade or purchased beeswax polish
// coasters – slice the trunk, sand, stamp with designs/wood burn/add pen art, and polish with a homemade or purchased beeswax polish
// sign holders – slice branch or trunk rounds depending on the size you’d like, and then cut a slit in the top of the round to hold a business card, sign, or artwork – sand and polish with a homemade or purchased beeswax polish
…and. if you carve or have access to tools like a drill press, then the options are many (think candle holders, wooden spoons, wood toys, and more.