Over the next week, millions of trees will be taken out of homes across the UK as the Christmas celebrations approach.
But rather than sending pine, spruce, and spruce trees off for recycling or replanting, more and more environmentally conscious families are trying to make the most of them by eating different parts before discarding them. Spruce trees can be used in ice cream, pickled vegetables, and even to flavor gin.
Food experts say the needles can be used like rosemary or bay leaves in cooking to create a citrus-and-pine flavor, and are a good source of vitamin C. The wood can also be burned to make pine ash, which can be used in gardens as well as for cleaning in the kitchen.
Michelin-starred chefs are also among the admirers. John Williams, executive chef of the Ritz, says the “aromatic and spicy” needles can be used to enhance the flavor of the celery among other ingredients. Rene Redzepi, of the three-Michelin-starred Noma in Copenhagen, told Foreman Pine nuts have been a staple in his restaurant for nearly 20 years.
“You can pretty much eat everything,” said Julia Georgalis, author of How do you eat your Christmas tree? “You can use the needles as you would rosemary or bay leaves for flavor.”
She recommends wearing gloves to handle spruce, as it can be very prickly. For a more chef-like option, she suggested making pine ash by placing sections of the tree in a hot oven until charred before whisking in a blender to make a black powder to use as a flavoring.
The needles can also be used to pickle eggs or vegetables, and in drinks and infusions. For those replanting their trees, she recommends eating the new shoots in the spring.
The London-based baker and food writer has been working with Christmas trees for years. She said when she first started, few people showed any interest. Since then the idea has quickly gained traction.
Her Christmas Tree Supper Club will be running later this week at the Host of Leyton in East London. The menu includes fried stuffed olives, pickled carrots with beetroot and spruce, fir ice cream sundae, and pine fudge brownie served with pine tea crisp and white pine tea.
She said that while the popularity of foraging and shuffling has played a role, the climate crisis is the main driving force. “It made everyone more aware of how they eat, what they eat, and how they buy and grow things.”
It would be better for the environment not to have Christmas trees in the house at all, said Georgalis, but for those who cannot give up this habit, the tree should be used as much as possible.
She said the five-foot-tall Christmas tree was probably about 12 years old. “I don’t know why in the climate crisis, when trees are our best armory, we’re cutting down thousands a year to stay hostage in our homes.”
Pine products can also be extracted from live trees. Redzepi said he started cooking with pine nuts nearly 20 years ago, using forest shoots after reading about them in a French book. “We went into the woods and stared at the pine buds being picked – it was amazing,” he said. “We then discovered that mature needles can add pine and citrus notes.”
But he warned that it is necessary to use only organic trees, which are grown without pesticides. “We only go to the wild forest,” he said, “because some of the pine cultivation can be very toxic.”
Redzepi loves the versatility of pine nuts: “Think of it like rosemary—you can use it for just about anything.”
He said organic pine needles can be crushed to flavor gin or vinegar. “This is something I think British people would enjoy a lot. You can also mix it in vinegar to get a pine flavor – that’s great too.”