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  • Paul Tappenden

Have You Eaten Your Trees Lately?

The Adirondack tribe gained its name from the Iroquois word for “bark eaters”, as they would prepare and eat the inner bark of a number of conifers, when more regular foods became scarce. However, they were far from the only tribe that would either eat trees or use them for sources of medicine.

There is a rich history throughout North America, of using trees as sources of food and medicine, particularly throughout the winter months. Although it may be difficult to conceive of the idea of eating trees, species such as the Oak have sustained people for centuries. The average Oak tree, during a mast year, will drop thousands of pounds of acorns, which can be processed and turned into flour or grits, providing a nutritious food source. However, Oaks are not the only trees that provides a source of nutrition.

The inner bark of Pine trees can be used in a number of ways. It can be cut into strips and boiled like pasta, fried in a pan until it becomes crispy (much like jerky - without the flavor), or even dried and ground into a type of flour. It is well to note that it tastes more like sawdust than gourmet cuisine, but we are discussing a survival food.

I read about someone who makes oatmeal cookies, by replacing half the oatmeal with pine bark flour. Although I haven’t tried the recipe, it certainly sounds more palatable than using the flour as is.

Of course, most of us are familiar with drinking the sweet sap of the Sugar maple, and reducing it to create Maple syrup, but the same can be done with Birch Sap. I have also used the inner bark of the Black Birch to make a tasty drink reminiscent of root beer.

One day, my intern arrived at my door with several chunks of Shagbark Hickory bark. She told me that she had read that, if we were to roast the bark in an oven and then boil it up in a simple syrup, that it would take on a flavor similar to maple syrup. So, we gave it a try, and much to our delight, the end product, both looked and tasted like regular Maple syrup.

During the Spring, when conifers, such as the Blue Spruce, sprout their young foliage, I will often gather some of the clusters of fresh young needles and use them as snack food or infuse them into a tasty tea, which is rich in vitamin C and tastes pretty good, into the bargain. The same can be done using Pine needles, which is said to contain about 4 times the daily requirement of this essential antioxidant.

The inner bark of Willow, Cedar and Slippery Elm are all known for their medicinal properties - usually prepared as a decoction, or turned into tinctures by infusing them in alcohol.

Of course, there are innumerable fruit bearing trees, which supply us with food and medicine, many of which can be of use, even when they are not in season.

I would be remiss, if I didn’t emphasize that you should not damage a tree, just to verify that you can in fact use them as food and medicine. However, with hurricanes and other natural disasters, there is a likelihood that you will come across downed trees, or broken branches. That is a perfect time to try out some of these ideas I have suggested. And, of course, these are not the only edible or medicinal trees in the forest.

For example, If you find a live limb, broken from a Black Birch, take it home, shave off the bark (the green, inner bark has all the flavor, but they are hard to separate). You'll need a fair pile of shavings to make a tasty tea.

Recipe - Birch Bark Tea

Fill 1/3 jar (or more) with the bark shavings

Fill the jar with warm water (up to @180 degrees F). Add lid. Shake

After a while, shake it up again (stirring would do)

Let it sit for at least 8 hrs (overnight is good). Pour it through a tea strainer, into a cup


It shouldn’t need any sweetening

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