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October 20, 2022 6 min read

The Power of Indigenous Foods

We live in a time where nothing is true unless it is ‘backed by science.’ Sure, you may do yoga and meditation regularly and feel wonderful life-enhancing effects, but it’s only when a double-blind, placebo-controlled study verifies the calming effects of meditation that society is truly convinced of its efficacy. 

We are all familiar with the Salem Witch Trials; the Massachusetts witch hunts in 1692 that started with a plant, a fungus infestation of rye and ended with 20 women being executed. In reality, it’s likely some of these ‘witches’ were women not dissimilar from those like Rosemary Gladstar and Susun Weed, in touch with the ways of Mother Nature and the ways of nutrition and natural healing. According to some herbalists, this equated to a great loss in the wholistic health community at large, as the knowledge of herbs that had been passed down for countless generations - was now lost forever, either to the grave or for the fear of being accused as a witch.

Indigenous foods are in the same vein, where their use is now falling out of collective human knowledge due to disease, cultural genocide, modernization, and technological development. But, there is a power in these ancient cultures and foods - nutrients we do not obtain from our modern diets. It’s worth paying attention to this wisdom that was learned over the course of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of years of human history in living with Mother Nature.

Medicinal Conifer Use Through the Ages

You’ve likely heard the stories: old-time pirates under Captain Cook drinking spruce tip beer at sea, or Jacques Cartier's crew cured by an Iroquois decoction with vitamin C levels high enough to eliminate scurvy. The medicinal use of pine needles and spruce tips goes back much further than the 1700s.

Both have been used since ancient times among indigenous populations in Alaska (especially the Tlingit), as well as the First Nations & indigenous peoples of Canada, Norway, and Russia. Native American tribes like the Cherokee, Iroquois, Apache, Hopi, Chippewa,​​ and more used 20+ species of coniferous trees for various culinary, medicinal, and practical applications.

Spruce tips and pine needles were often crafted into balms, tinctures, teas, baskets, and trays - wise, as there was no shortage of these resources in an otherwise harsh climate (especially in winter). Spruce trees are endemic to the temperate and boreal regions in the northern hemisphere and have grown wild since ancient times. One of the oldest trees on Earth was a 9,550-year-old Norway Spruce in Sweden (nicknamed Old Tjikko). 

Much like pine pollen, harvesting these other coniferous parts can be a therapeutic experience of connecting with Mother Nature - although it will take some practice, as spruce tips have about a ten-day window of viability before maturing too far. These delicate new growths form at the ends of branches and begin as small bud-like protrusions inside a thin sheath. 

Before long, it emerges, displaying a tight cluster of bright green needles that contrasts with the darker colors of older growth. These tips are soft and tender with a delectable crisp and succulent consistency, imbuing a bright citrus flavor to anything it's used for. Different trees have various fruity, earthy, piney, or warm terpene notes in their tips.

Spruce Tips + Pine Needles Health Benefits

Pine needles and spruce tips offer impressive health benefits for the immune, respiratory and urinary systems, thanks to their rich and unique phytonutrient and antioxidant content. Depending on the region they come from, nutrients present in these superfoods can include: 

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Minerals (magnesium, phosphorus, etc.)
  • Amino acids (arginine) 
  • Shikimic Acid
  • Stilbenes: Trans-piceatannol, Trans-astringin, Trans-resveratrol, Trans-piceid, Trans-isorhapontin
  • Flavonoids: Kaempferol, Quercetin, Catechin, Naringin, Orientin
  • Terpenes (for example, alpha and beta-pinene, limonene)

One of the most common uses for pine needles and spruce tips throughout history has been to soothe sore throats and coughs while also acting as an expectorant (helping the body to thin and remove mucous). The Algonquin in Quebec used decoctions from Pinus strobus to treat cough, breathing disorders, rheumatism, and kidney disorders. Spruce species were used by the Iroquois to treat respiratory ailments and urinary problems, and as antifungal medication.  


Pine needle tincture

Various clinical studies have supported these traditional uses of coniferous products for different immune challenges: 

Pine needles and spruce are often said to help with congestion and cough, and any benefit is likely due (in part) to the terpene content. From a 2019 study titled Therapeutic Potential of Alpha and Beta Pinene: A Miracle Gift of Nature: 

“A wide range of pharmacological activities have been reported, including antibiotic resistance modulation, anticoagulant, antitumor, antimicrobial, antimalarial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-Leishmania, and analgesic effects. This article aims to summarize the most prominent effects of α- and β-pinene, namely their cytogenetic, gastroprotective, anxiolytic, cytoprotective, anticonvulsant, and neuroprotective effects.” 

Ethanolic extract of pine needles can have protective effect on depression-like behavior in animal studies, likely due to some of these amazing natural compounds.

Shikimic acid is another potent compound in pine needles and spruce tips. This substance is the starting material for synthesizing oseltamivir (a pharmaceutical antiviral for H1N1). Additionally, Tamiflu is created from the seed pods of Chinese Star Anise - these pods contain up to 7% shikimic acid. 

While levels vary based on many factors, studies have shown pine needles to average between 1-3% shikimic acid content. Indeed, our ancestors' use of these foods to combat colds and coughs was right on the money.

Spruce Tips for Sale

The Truth About Vitamin C

Did you know that Vitamin C is:

  • Great for enhancing white blood cell activity and the immune system
  • Required for the synthesis of collagen
  • Needed for the production of adrenal steroid hormones
  • In greatest concentrations in adrenal glands, brain, pituitary, leukocytes, and eyes
  • The most abundant water-soluble antioxidant in the body
  • Can regenerate other ‘spent’ antioxidants like glutathione and Vitamin E
  • Needed to synthesize carnitine (vital for fat burning) and norepinephrine (major neurotransmitter for mood and focus)

The Vitamin C content of the spruce tips and pine needles we use to make our Evergreen C Tincture should not be underestimated. You may think that keeping your Vitamin C levels high is as simple as downing a packet of EmergenC - but that is not the case. 

Synthetic Vitamin C supplements (as well as the vast majority of ‘immune boosting/cold supplements’ available) utilize ascorbic acid, an inferior form of this nutrient with poor bioavailability and limited effects on health. Ascorbic acid is produced in a lab, mostly from GMO corn sugar glucose. Calling ascorbic acid Vitamin C is like calling the orange peel the whole orange - ascorbic acid is best thought of as the antioxidant skin of the entire Vitamin C complex. 

According to the clinical research of Dr. Royal Lee, considered the Father of Holistic Nutrition, isolated ascorbic acid failed to bring complete systemic relief to scurvy as he did when using whole foods. 

Additionally, much suggests the general recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, while enough to prevent symptoms of scurvy, is insufficient for optimal health. Urinary excretion of Vitamin C increases during stress, persistent pesticide or electromagnetic radiation exposure, heavy metal or microbial toxicity, or viral infection. Likely, most of us don’t get close to the ideal amount of Vitamin C-rich foods, which is where Conifers come in handy! Our Evergreen C Tincture provides a highly-bioavailable and all-natural plant source of Vitamin C - alongside the myriad of other powerhouse nutrients for general health and wellness.


Photo by Yoshi Takekawa on Unsplash

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