Evergreen trees: edible and medicinal—pine, spruce, tsuga
At the height of summer, it seems the whole world is lush and verdant. This is a good time to think about evergreens. Yes, evergreens. We tend to pay attention to them only during the winter, as we decorate our homes for the holidays. But evergreens are year-round allies; they are edible and can be used for medicine.
It may sound odd that you can eat your Christmas tree, but you actually can. The idea of eating evergreens may also sound odd because the hemlock tree is an evergreen, and most of us have heard of “poison hemlock”. This is one of those instances where the common name is misleading; the two are completely unrelated botanically.
Poison hemlock is actually in the Umbelliferae family, with the highly divided leaves of carrot or parsley. It’s an annual with a white flower and it dies back in winter. The tree is entirely different.
Common edible evergreens
Granted that the yew tree, an evergreen, is an ornamental and is toxic, most common and wild evergreens are edible, including hemlock (Tsuga genus), pine (Pinus genus), juniper (Juniperus genus) and cedar (Cedrus genus).
The evergreens’ leaves are a rich source of vitamin C—very useful in the winter. It’s said that Native Americans showed settlers how to eat evergreen needles to prevent scurvy.
While you can harvest the needles at any time of year, they are most tender and delicious—with a nice, sour tang—during spring and summer. Mid-summer, when the season’s growth at the tips is 3-6 inches long, is the best time to harvest for making medicine.
Make sure to harvest on a dry day when it hasn’t rained the night before (the second dry day in a row) in the afternoon, after the morning dew has dried. If there is moisture on the leaves, it can contribute to mold forming during processing.
Making evergreen oil
Evergreen oil is excellent massage oil and particularly nourishing for breast massage. The oil is analgesic (pain killing), antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-tumor.
To make evergreen oil, harvest the tips and stuff them into a jar. Fill the jar with good, organic olive oil, cap and let it sit for 6 weeks, occasionally poking the plant material down and topping off with olive oil.
For the scoop on how and when to make herbal oils and other medicinal preparations, you may want to check out my concise Wise Woman Medicine Making Chart. My students love this handy chart as a clear reference for the why's and how's of using and making herbal infusions, tinctures, vinegars, salves, and oils.
I know there are many plants that call your attention as your daily paths and gardens burst into bloom. Although you may be distracted by showier foliage, don’t overlook the evergreens during the warmer months. These stalwart plant allies are there for us throughout the year.
Corinna Wood, seasoned teacher and mentor along the wise woman path–from herbs to self love
"I was initiated into the Wise Woman Tradition at the tender age of 22, by Susun Weed and a beloved patch of nettles. Today, I support women with inner growth and healing tools to ground you in your own innate wisdom, needs and desires. My teachings on heart and soul healing draw on earth wisdom of our foremothers––the shoulders on which we stand––to navigate the challenges we face as women in the world today."