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Needle trees are once called as "Tree Of Life"

Christmas tree medicine

We all know the Christmas tree right? I mean, we know that people use needle trees such as spruce and fir as a decoration for Christmas. But do you know they are edible and medicinal? Not all but most of them are. Needle trees such as Spruce, Pine & Fir have a long tradition of use as a medicine by native people in many parts of the world. In this article, I am going to talk about Norway spruce.

Norway spruce, which is also known as European spruce, is a native tree to Europe. They are widely cultivated in Germany to be used as a décor tree for Christmas. Norway Spruce has a history of saving many lives in the past. The needles of this tree have been used to relief cough, flu, heal wound and most notably to fight scurvy.

What is Scurvy?

Scurvy is a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by swollen gum, bleeding gum and the reoccurring of previously healed wounds. This disease has affected many poorly nourished sailors until the end of the 18th Century. Vitamin C is a very essential nutrient for our body. The human body by nature is not designed to synthesize vitamin C unlike the vitamin D, which can be made by our skin through the sunlight.

Therefore, we need to obtain vitamin C from food. Vitamin C is high in fresh fruits and veggies. There are two active forms of vitamin C: L-ascorbic acid and dehydroascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is absorbed through our small intestine and stored in all tissues. A lack of vitamin C can be deadly, as we can read from the story of Captain James Cook and many other sailors, who had gone on long voyages in ships. Due to lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, this disease had taken a hold on them.

An estimated two million seamen died of scurvy during those years of sea exploration. Graciously, the needles of conifer tree have been introduced to Captain Cook and a tea made from spruce needles had brought a great relief to the dying sailors.

Why in colder climate we need more Vitamin C?

Vitamin C tend to deplete faster for those living in colder climate. This is because, vitamin C is used for energy production by the body. Vitamin C is used to manufacture an amino acid called 'Carnitine'. Carnitine is then used for burning fat and generating heat for our muscle.

Therefore, our human body need more vitamin C during the cold climate. In the past, people who exposed to harsh winter, became the easy victim of scurvy due to the lack of food high in vitamin C, as fresh fruits and veggies were not growing in that season. Fortunately, coniferous trees continued to grow around the year, including in winter, while all the other plants had gone dormant.

Evidence shows that certain cultures had withstand harsh winters by depending on coniferous forest for food, fiber and medicine. When crops are no longer growing in winter, people have used coniferous trees such as Norway spruce for vitamin, essential amino acids, antioxidants and other nutrients to combat many ailments, especially the scurvy.

The role of vitamin C in human body

The discovery of vitamins C played an important role in understanding human nutrition. The first symptoms of vitamin C deficiency occurs, when the total pool of vitamin C in the body falls below 5 grams.

The body need vitamin C for many important function such as to burn fat & carbohydrates, make stress hormones, neutralize free radicals, form collagen, absorb iron from food and for strengthening our immune system.

Symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency

  • Bleeding gum

  • Loosen teeth

  • Loss of hair

  • Loss of sensation on parts of leg (Femoral Neuropathy)

  • Peeing less (Oliguria)

  • Edema (especially in the lower extremities)

  • Poor responses to stimuli (loss of sensation)

  • Slow wound healing (due to capillary fragility)

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (with abnormal fluid accumulation in the knee joint & limited joint movement)

Do you know the Vitamin C in Norway Spruce exceeds than in lemons and oranges?

Studies show, the vitamin C in needles of spruce exceed the vitamin C in lemon and orange. Approximately, the content of vitamin C in orange and lemon is around (50 mg / 100 g) while 100 g of fresh red spruce contain about 169 mg of vitamin C.

According to the ancient Ethnobotanical literature, white and black spruce was recommended for the treatment of scurvy. Many ancient herbal literature, recorded spruce as anti-scorbutic medicine next to pine needles.

How to use spruce for healing?

You can use both the young or the matured needles. Typically the young shoots are preferred due to more pleasant taste. The young needles are harvested in spring, when they are still soft and light green in color. At this stage, the needles of spruce are rich in volatile oil, vitamin C, folic acid and minerals.

But if you can't get the young shoots, you also can use the matured one. Both the young and matured spruce needles have a citrusy flavor while the matured one additionally has a more hint of resin. You can then use these needles to make a tea.

A warm spruce tea promotes perspiration, combats cough & catarrh and fights bladder infection. A topical application of spruce ointment helps to heal wounds, sores and ulcers. Traditionally, the needles of spruce are also used to make a non-alcoholic beers as an anti-scorbutic drink.

Consideration before drinking spruce tea

  1. Make sure you identify the right tree for harvesting spruce needles

  2. Do not over harvest the young shoots as this will diminish the growth of the tree

  3. Pregnant women are not advised to drink spruce tea

  4. Since spruce tea can cleanse your urinary tract, those who taking kidney medication, should talk to an experienced Herbalist or Naturopathic doctor.

How to identify Norway Spruce

  • Each single needle grows individually on the stem, not in cluster or in group

  • Needles are stiff and sharp

  • Needles can be easily rolled in between your fingers

  • The cross section of the needles are either triangular or square

  • The young cones of spruce are reddish to maroon in color and the matured one will have papery, thin and overlapping scales with light brown in color (see picture above)

  • When you pluck needles from the stem, each of it leaves a woody projection behind thus making the stem rough

How to make a spruce tea

I prefer to drink my spruce tea as a cold infusion, mixed with lemon slices. This drink is absolutely delicious and rewarding to make. Especially when you are really thirsty, this tea will quench your thirst with great satisfaction. The combination of lemon and spruce will complement each other in a beautiful way.

Usually, for the cold infusion, it is best to leave it over night for a proper infusion to take place. Do not boil your spruce needles as this will break down the vitamin C content in it. Another method you can employ, is to pour hot water into a cup, place the needles in it, close with a lid to avoid the volatile oil from escaping, after 20 minutes you can start to drink this tea.


Ingredients & Method

Chop a handful of young spruce needles, thinly slice half a lemon, place all these items in a jar, pour 500 ml of cold or boiling water, let it infuse overnight or for 20 minutes if its with boiling water. Enjoy your drink.

If you make a cold infusion in a hot climate, place your infusion in a refrigerator to avoid the drink to get spoiled.


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