Picea spp. – Spruce

SprucePicea spp.

Picea = pi-kee-a, from L. pix “pitch” (the resin);

Identification: There are several species of spruce in the area, two of which are found throughout the mountains. Picea engelmannii (Engelmann Spruce) is 25-30 m tall and it is usually found in the subalpine where it merges with Picea glauca (white spruce) at about 5,000 to 6,000 ft. above sea level. White spruce is found at lower elevations and in more northerly locations. There is a very wide integration of hybrids between these two species. The third spruce, Picea mariana (Black Spruce) is found more to the north. Spruce can be distinguished from fir by its square needles and their prickly feeling.

Distribution & Habitat: Spruces are quite common throughout the area.

Preparation & Uses: The gum of spruce has been used as a healing agent for many years. The gum can be applied to cuts and wounds and used as plaster for setting bones. The young shoots of some spruce can be boiled and taken warm for colds and catarrh, producing sweat if taken hot. The vapour has been inhaled for bronchitis. The needles and shoots are used in a calming bath. The gum can be applied to the skin to protect against sunburn.

A beer of spruce root, which tastes similar to root beer, can occasionally be found in health food stores and is delicious. We can also find spruce still being used as an ingredient in some “natural” root beers.

I spotted an interesting old recipe for spruce beer in the The Druggists Recipe Book (1871) by Henry Beasley:

– 10 gallons of water
– 6 pounds of sugar
– 4 oz. spruce oil

Ferment. Then bottle.

I haven’t tried the recipe but it sounds fun. Many old recipes require a bit of experimentation but can add delightfully to your larder. The roots were also used for weaving baskets.