When I was younger I was obsessed with the television show Man vs. Wild. I was aware that the show was very produced and was not an authentic survival experience, but that was exactly what I wanted. This guy traveled to all manner of exciting places and showed us survival skills and other interesting bushcraft, like pine needle tea.
I first made pine needle tea back when I was much younger and lived in the middle of the city in Norfolk, Virginia. I had been binging Man vs. Wild and wanted to get out and have an adventure of my own. I took water, a loaf of bread, and a bit of bacon and went to my favorite place in the forested sand dunes of a state park near the Virginia Beach oceanfront. The landscape is defined by gnarled live oaks and towering loblolly pines growing out of enormous dunes. It is unlike anywhere else I have been.
I arrived as the sun began to set and built a small fire to cook my bacon and toast my bread. The night was warm with a pleasant breeze off the ocean, but in spite of the warmth I still desperately wanted to try pine needle tea. I picked a few handfuls of loblolly needles and dropped them into a glass bottle which I set at the edge of the fire to boil.
The tea was fine–exactly what you’d expect it to be. Better, perhaps, than plain boiled water, but not something I’d go out of my way to have on a regular basis, regardless of the quantity of vitamin C Bear Grylls insisted it to contain. But since then I’ve always felt there must be a better way to use conifers in the kitchen. Fir tip syrup is nearly as easy to make as that pine needle tea, but the end product is quite a bit more satisfying.
Fir tips are very easy to harvest, and can be taken from any fir or spruce at the right time of year. In spring the trees begin to push out their new growth for the year. The branches will be tipped with the neon green new growth, which can be plucked right off (try not to take too much from any one tree). The tips are soft enough to eat and more delicate in flavor than their older counterparts.
Fir Tip Syrup:
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 cup chopped fir tips (I used subalpine fir, Abies lasiocarpa)
Heat the water over medium-low heat until you have a steady simmer. Add ½ cup sugar and stir until fully dissolved. Continue adding sugar ½ cup at a time until all is dissolved.
Remove the syrup from heat and add chopped fir tips. Stir to combine well. Pour syrup into a storage vessel and steep for at least 24 hours.
After 24 hours or so, strain the fir tips out of the syrup. Syrup will last quite a while stored in the refrigerator and is excellent on waffles.