nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

edible wild – spruce gum

with 2 comments


In my part of North America, we have freezing temperatures and snow on the ground from December to March. With a few exceptions, most plants go into sleep mode during these months and foraging for edible plants is difficult. You can dig beneath the snow to find a few evergreens, but most of the edible wild is above ground.

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When I am in the woods, even in winter, I am always on the look-out for spruce gum, a natural sugar-free treat from the forest.  Spruce gum is found, as the name suggests, on spruce tree bark. We have a large stand of spruce in our grey woods, but the tree below grows, conveniently, beside our driveway. For a map of our woods, see the right hand column ‘map of the grey woods’.

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When a branch is broken or the bark is wounded in some way, the spruce oozes a sticky resin that eventually dries to a hard amber-coloured nodule.  These nodules can be harvested and chewed like gum. My mom taught me about spruce gum, how to identify the spruce tree and to look for the sticky dark lumps where resin is hardening.

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It is possible to collect a quantity of spruce resin, pulverize, melt and strain the substance, and solidify it, cracking it into bite-sized pieces. I chew the nodules right from the tree, with a little scraping to get rid of any rough bits. At first the gum is hard and crumbly, sticky and intensely aromatic, a little risky for dental work and made interesting by the accidental inclusion of bark bits. After a few minutes of chewing, the gum becomes pliable, woodsy-tasting and orange to pink in colour!

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photos of chewed gum are a bit disgusting, but I want to show what normal-looking gum a two-minute chew produces.  A rough nodule is shown above the chewed gum for comparison.

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People of the First Nations have always known about this woodland edible and used it for medicinal purposes. In the nineteenth century, spruce gum was harvested with long handled spruce scrapers and sold commercially. Woods-workers made small carved boxes with sliding tops (gum books) to carry and store the resin nodules.

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Robert Frost, wonderful poet of all things rural, wrote about spruce gum (‘The Gum Gatherer’. Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1916):

 

He showed me lumps of the scented stuff

Like uncut jewels, dull and rough …

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You can find the rest of the poem at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29345/29345-h/29345-h.htm

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My upcoming book of poetry  within easy reach includes a poem about spruce gum.  The poem begins:

 

Black Spruce weeps if wounded

oozes to heal, embeds

pain in amber …

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As I wait for spring, I intend to ration my small store of spruce gum and use it as a kind of countdown toward the end of our winter weather.

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some very clean seeps of resin – these will harden eventually and make great spruce gum !

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Copyright  2016 Jane Tims

2 Responses

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  1. I’ve seen resin oozing from spruce trees. Until I read this post, I never realized that it was edible.

    Liked by 1 person

    Sheryl

    March 8, 2016 at 1:28 am


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