While I lack the time to explore all the edible plants in the woods and meadows around us, I sometimes tinker with what is within quick and easy reach. Last year, my “backyard foraging” consisted of making dandelion blossom syrup and lilac blossom syrup.
This year I visited our Douglas fir tree regularly to see when its new shoots would shed their small brown hulls so I could pick a few handfuls of the tips to make fir syrup. The tender, bright green shoots of fir trees, so I had read, make delectable syrup packed with vitamin C, and a tasty remedy against cough. In the process I learned that Douglas fir is botanically not a fir but a separate genus in the pine family. You live and you learn, especially as a gardener! In the end it did not matter because the tips of Douglas fir are just as edible as those of the true fir. Douglas fir is native to North America, and Native American folk medicine uses it for all types of ailments.
I made two batches of syrup, one with Douglas fir, and second one with Concolor fir (a true fir this one), and using two slightly different methods. The Concolor fir syrup is mellower, whereas the Douglas fir syrup has a slightly harsher taste. In both types, the flavor gives away the pine.
There is conflicting information about how long the syrup will keep, from a few months to more than a year due to its high tannin content. I store in the fridge what we use within one month, and process the rest in canning jars in a boiling water bath.
I like the syrup both as a spritzer mixed with sparkling water on a hot day, and as a sweetener for hot tea on a cold day.
Fir Tip Syrup
4 packed cups (4½ ounces/120 g) young fir or Douglas fir shoots, rinsed thoroughly under cold water to remove any insects
4 cups (1 l) water
3½ cups (700 g) pure cane sugar
1. Method 1: Bring the shoots to a boil with the water. Cook for 10 minutes until the needles lose their color. Method 2 (lengthier but preferred): Soak the shoots in the water overnight. Proceed as described in Method 1.
2. Let the shoots cool completely in the liquid. Pour through a fine sieve back into the pot, and squeeze the shoots with your clean hands to extract any liquid.
3. Mix the liquid with the sugar. Slowly bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, to the desired consistency, about 1 hour to 1.5 hours for a light to medium thick syrup. Let cool and pour into a sterilized glass bottle with a tight-fitting cap or cork. Refrigerate and use within 3 to 4 weeks.
4. For long-term storage up to a year, pour the piping hot syrup into sterilized glass canning jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Makes 3 cups/one 750-ml bottle
Photos by Ted Rosen