Spruce trees are a symbol of the arctic taiga. Yet their purposes extend far from a land cover on beautiful postcards from Alaska. Spruces are also used for paper and Christmas trees and in the past had many food and Medicinal uses by the aboriginal peoples of North America. This article hopes to address some of these uses and identifications of spruce trees.
Most temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including mountain ranges and taiga.
Coniferous, evergreen trees with scaly bark. Leaves pointed, 4 sided needles. Spruces are very large trees, from 2060 meters tall when mature, and are easily distinguished by their whorled branches and conical form. The needles of spruce trees are attached each singly to the branches in a spiral pattern, each needle on a structure called a pulvinus (this is the scientific name for the small peg-like structure). The needles are shed when they grow to be in the range of 410 years old, leaving the branches rough with the retained pulvini. It is these retained pulvini that give the bark a characteristic scaly appearance.
Spruce beer was popular among some of Canada’s first travelers. It apparently tasted like root beer, and helped prevent scurvy. Dried inner bark can be ground into a nutritious meal during times of famine.
The sticky sap or moist inner bark was used in poultices on slivers, sores and inflammations. Sap mixed with fat provided a pain killer for chapped hands, cuts, scrapes, burns and rashes. Teas made from the inner bark were said to cure kidney stones and stomach problems.
Spruce bark was sometimes used to make canoes. Lumps of hardened sap were chewed on to keep boredom away and to whiten teeth. Pitch made from the tree sap was used as lamp fuel or fire starter. Roots were corded to stitching canoes and baskets and to make fishing nets. “Native Americans in eastern North America once used the thin, pliable roots of some species for weaving baskets and for sewing together pieces of birch bark for canoes.” Today, spruce is used widely for pulp and paper products as well as a source of lumber. Paper made from spruce pulp is very strong because the fibers in the wood bind together very strongly. Certain species of spruce, notably Picea abies and P. omorika, are used quite extensively as Christmas trees for the holiday season.
Spruce resin can cause skin irritations and reactions in some people. Evergreen teas and spruce needles should be taken in moderation. Remember that consumption of wild plants can always be dangerous and unknown pesticides or infectious material may have dirtied the food. In general, those with blood pressure problems or in pregnancy should stay away from wild plant products.