Once beyond the Christmas festivities, we must decide the best way to make use of our trees. Whereas once most were prone to sending them to a landfill, more environmentally responsible methods are now becoming ubiquitous. A greater number of treecycling initiatives, as they are wonderfully known, are appearing across the UK, just like Christmas tree rental services, those that will replant your tree to be sold again next year. You can also plant your Christmas tree in your own garden too, should you have the room.
One way to give your Christmas tree even more significance and celebration, as well as helping to reduce the estimated £22 million of landfilling costs, is to eat it.
Most residents across the UK will have welcomed a conifer, whether a fir, spruce, or perhaps a pine tree, into their home and, the needles that cover them, those that all too quickly collect beneath, are actually edible. In fact, not only are they edible, but they’re versatile and delicious too.
Before you start chomping away, however, there are a couple of important points that should be addressed. Firstly, you should know its source. Where did the tree come from and how was it grown? This is important because some trees are grown in nurseries that can rely upon the usage of potentially potent pesticides. And, secondly, know your tree’s identity. While few people are likely to bring a yew tree into their home without knowing, mistakes can be made, and because of the yew’s poison, it would be costly.
And, of course, you can forage for conifer needles from woodlands too. Though do be sure to wander safely through the woods, especially in high winds. Our local village of Millbrook has recently seen a number of trees topple during a number of extreme gales!
Once you’ve checked all queries and are feeling both confident and creative, then you’re ready to take your ingredients to the kitchen.
The most straightforward way to consume your Christmas tree is to steep your needles as tea. Such brews can have a number of reported health benefits, as well as a range of delicious flavours, depending on your type of tree, with needle teas being commonly consumed by many cultures throughout history. We would recommend tasting your brew throughout its various stages to ensure that your tea is steeped well, neither being too weak or too bitter. Some can take around ten minutes to fully release their natural oils and subtle flavours.
A great way to begin using your Christmas tree as an edible ingredient is to strip your dry needles and grind them into a fine powder, before storing them in an air-tight container with your other spices and seasonings. These can then be utilised in any number of ways. Try adding them to a curing mix, such as you would use for bacon and ham, or even a gravlax. I’m currently adding a portion of my Christmas tree to a salt mix in which I will be curing egg yolks! If you prefer sweet over savory, Vix regularly whizzes her needles in a food processor with sugar, which she has (very successfully!) added to shortbreads, sorbet, and other festive treats.
Each tree will have its own flavour profile, so be sure to get to know yours. Spruce are said to generally have fruitier notes compared to the earthy firs. This should give you a good starting point for any recipes that you want to create. While Christmas tree recipes are still relatively few, with many stemming from Julia Georgallis’ book, How To Eat Your Christmas Tree, we’ve seen a number of recipes that use various Christmas trees as ingredients in pickles, ice creams, cakes, even cocktails, and suspect that each year will bring even more inspired dishes.
If you have any ideas of your own or create something fantastic, be sure to share them with us via Instagram or our new foraging TikTok channel. For us, it’s now back to wild food headquarters, which is undergoing a number of changes ready for launch of our Community Food Support Hub in 2022!