Fir in a bottle

Fir tip syrup

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

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


12 thoughts on “Fir in a bottle

  1. Some years, the tree we purchase as our Christmas tree has sprouted tender green shoots in the warm room after we bring it into the house. Much to our delight. We usually choose a Frazier Fir. The next time this happens I will try this. Sprouting indoors may affect the intensity of the flavor.

    1. Yes you can use the tips from any fir but commercially grown Christmas trees – unless they are organic – are usually treated with lots of pesticides. If you get the chance to go for a walk in the woods this time of the year, it might be safer to get your hands on a few handful of fir tree tips that way.

  2. I’m going to try the fir in a bottle!
    When I was growing up, my mother taught me to pick dandelion blossoms from a “clean” area (no fertilizer or spray). We washed them, dabbed them in whipped egg whites with garlic, salt and pepper and sugar, and quick fried them in a skillet with olive oil. So good, and so much fun to fix.

  3. St. George Spirits in Alameda California makes a gin that contains Doug Fir and other local plant ingredients and it tastes like hiking through the California Bay Area forests. And Alaskan Brewery puts spruce tips in their Winter Ale. So there definitely is a role for this type of syrup in cocktails. Very interesting.

  4. Reblogged this on snoozeyalose and commented:
    I used to give tours around my gardens so people could taste my edible plants and I did try my hand at potpourri’s and other fun concoctions but I hadn’t thought about putting fir in a bottle! Great idea. 🙂

  5. Nadia, these three syrups–fir, dandelion, and lilac–are all new to me. Are they German traditions, or did you invent them? Are they ever used in making cocktails?

    It’s interesting that the fir syrups turned out orange or red instead of green.

    1. @ Linda: Fir tip syrup is no only a German tradition, I have seen it sold also as a regional specialty in some areas of Austria and Switzerland. If you google either fir, dandelion or lilac syrup in English, you will find them in different variations. They can all be used in cocktails, I think fir syrup is often mixed with gin but I am a migraine sufferer so I stay away from cocktails 😦 And yes, the color is interesting but no surprise, it was supposed to turn from a milky white after cooking to reddish orange after adding sugar. Adding pure cane sugar may also have made it darker than with white sugar.

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