Burdock & Rose

wildly-crafted plant tales from herbalist, forager & author lisa rose

Month: December, 2014

Holiday Cooking with Pines, Spruce & Firs

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Spruce tips (Picea spp) are a wonderful culinary flavoring in the kitchen.

 

From firs to pines to spruces– these favorite evergreens adorned many homes for the holidays with their fragrant boughs.

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to take down the trimmings– but wait! The boughs can serve an additional purpose: Before directing that greenery out to the compost or to the curb for recycling, think about repurposing those evergreens in the kitchen for both culinary flavorings and herbal medicine.***

Pines, firs and spruces are all edible and have various notes of flavor in their needles and branches. There is no finer way to bring the aroma of the forest into the kitchen and onto the plate than by cooking with these evergreens. High in vitamin C, the needles of pines, firs and spruces are notably bright, slightly sour, and citrusy in flavor. The needles can be used as a culinary flavoring in most recipes that call for lemon. Chop the needles and use them as an herb to flavor salads, butters, and vinegars for dressings. Add the needles to potato salads, bean salads, and pasta salads with other fresh salad greens. The needles, chopped, can also be used to flavor rustic breads in place of rosemary.

For the bar, spruce and pine needles can be made into a simple syrup or infused honey that can flavor mixed drinks or martinis. Beer brewers are becoming interested in using foraged ingredients and can use the fresh spruce or pine tips as a flavoring agent in the second fermentation cycle of brewing. A short fermentation will capture the desired aromatics and citrus high notes for a Belgian or wheat-styled ale without making the brew overly “tree” flavored.

Roasting meat or fish? Water-soaked boughs and needles can be used to roast or steam white-fleshed fish to infuse the meat with the flavors of the evergreens.

And for dessert, concoct a pine or spruce-infused honey to drizzle over ice cream (or can flavor ice cream!). The infused honey can also be served alongside a Stilton or local cheddar cheese — It is a sumptous way to savor the magical forest flavor.

These conifers also have a place in the herbal apothecary. As an herbal remedy, spruce, fir or pine needles can be made into a tea. Add boiling water to a pot of needles, cover, and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Its aromatics can open up stuffy sinuses and the astringency of the tea can help dry up runny noses and sinus gunk. Sweeten with honey, sip, and inhale the aromatics for best results.

Other musings on these conifers and their uses:

Pine needle tea

Fir body balms: (My friend and herbalist Rebecca McTrouble makes a divine White Fir Body Butter)

Spruce tip beer

Aromatic steam inhalations for colds and flus

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***Foraging note: Some things to give consideration before using the evergreen boughs for food and herbal use — make sure your boughs were sourced from a tree farm or nursery that uses chemical-free growing practices. It’s common in commercial Christmas tree farming to spray the trees with a fire retardant also, in addition to possible herbicides and/or pesticides used in the fields.

Don’t decorate your home with conifers for the holiday? The branches and boughs can be sustainably harvested off the forest floor after a winter’s wind storm without having to gather directly from a mature tree. 

Holiday Merriment Means Movement

IMG_2009It’s that time of year again when holiday stress is high.  Holiday parties, plates of butter cookies, and glasses of cabernet are the temptresses: singing to us like sirens on the rocks with their promises to way-lay the best set plans for getting in some exercise. We all kvetch that there is little time to “get it all done,” much less build in time for movement and exercise.

But movement and physical activity (especially movement in the brisk, winter’s air) is as important as making healthy choices during the holidays and getting adequate rest. Movement is something all bodies regularly need to both fight stress and build immunity: With proper hydration, movement keeps muscles and ligaments juicy and lymphatic glands moving. It helps blow off elevated cortisol from a stressful day and over time and in tandem with a healthy diet, can have a significant impact on blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Too many group commitments? Instead of another cookie party meet up, suggest a walk around the neighborhood as a way to get in some movement and fresh air. Or consider other group activities — from ice skating to sledding to roller skating, a group could even hit up the open swim at a local pool for a game of Marco Polo. It doesn’t really matter your current physical fitness level — it just matters that you make the decision and move!

And don’t let the snow and cold be a deterrent to getting outside.  The cold winter air is great to help build immunity and stay strong during cold and flu season — it just requires a mental re-frame about the winter weather and a bit of clothing planning. Remember, there is never the wrong weather — only the wrong clothing.

Here are some ideas to try that will keep your heart rocking, your glutes burning and will mix it up for the holidays. The tips are Grand Rapids specific, but wherever you are located, you can check into community resources in your area for similar activities — and all these suggestions are group and family friendly! Mix it up and get moving!

Ice-skating. There’s nothing more picturesque during the holiday season than an outdoor ice-skating rink.  Grand Rapids locals know one of the most fun and magical locations for ice skating is outdoors at Rosa Parks Circle located in downtown Grand Rapids in the city’s center adjacent to the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It’s our own little Rockefeller, and has affordable ice skate rentals. Afterward, you can stroll the local streets for some last minute holiday shopping or stop into the Art Museum to check out their most recent exhibit. There are also many private rinks in the area featuring rentals and open skate throughout the holiday season.

Skiing. Whether it’s classic cross country or downhill adventure seeking you crave, the snow machine has been ON in Michigan since Thanksgiving, allowing nearly all the local hills and resorts to have established base conditions for this early in the season. For cross country lovers, Kent Trails provides miles of fantastic cross trails, and many ski resorts offer both rentals and groomed trails where you can spend the day testing your cardio, quads and glutes on the skis. For a resource on all things ski related, including resort and conditions reports, check out MISkiReport.

Sledding Hills. Yes, wax the toboggan, it’s time for some sledding. West Michigan boasts some great sledding hills especially at the lakeshore state parks (Hoffmaster is especially nice) as well as in the city here in Grand Rapids (GR Kids GR Sledding Hill Guide), Pando is also a local favorite for tubing down the hills, and also has trails and gear for the ski enthusiast.

Roller skating. Roller skates! Yes, the 80s are alive and well (infused with a bit of Taylor Swift top 40 hits) at local rinks in the West Michigan area including Tarry Hall in Grandville. So, get your best Limbo and Hokey Pokey ready — it’s time to lace up and go for a roll!!!

Trampolines. Want to blow through a ton of calories playing on trampolines? Check out SkyZone Indoor Trampoline Play . This is exactly what is sounds like! Indoor trampoline play great for kids and adults alike—  you can even book “court time” to accommodate a group for an organized session of Dodgeball.

Hiking.   Grand Rapids is surrounded by extensive trail networks that are ready for a nice Christmas or New Year’s hike with family, a trail run or even a session on snow shoes. Enjoy the benefits of the great Michigan outdoors in winter. It’s magical and good for your spirit as well as body, and a great time to practice winter botany for upcoming spring foraging haunts!

Foot Races. There are some of us running junkies (ahem, you know who you are) who will want to get a race or two in over the holiday. Well, I am not going to say no to that one. The classic year-end Wolverine World Wide Resolution 4 mile Run/Walk is a great way to wrap up 2014 on New Year’s Eve, and then you can wake up and race all over again with a New Year’s Day race at the lakeshore for the Sgt Preston Yukon King Run.

All in all, don’t sweat the small stuff — just make sure you do sweat some over the holidays. It’s that first step that’s always the most difficult, but in the end so very worth it for your health. Your body and loved ones will thank you!

Happy Holiday Trails!