White Spruce

White Spruce

WHITE SPRUCE: Yields pale, butter to dark golden yellows and beige

Source: Backyard and woodlot

Throughout North American history and more importantly Canada,  natives such as the Algonquin, Cree, Ojibwe, Iroquois and Inuit, made use of White Spruce in foods, medicines, building materials, hunting, fishing and everyday household items; and also for DYE.

Traditionally the wood was used to produce a yellow/brown dye for tanning hides and the reddish wood burned to smoke and tan moose skins.  By boiling then simmering branches and needles in a dye bath, yellows and browns are attained to dye wool. Other colours are possible through manipulation and creative "recipes".

The tree grows in abundance throughout Canada,as far North as the Arctic Circle and South of the border in some Northern U.S. States. Its name originates from the Latin Picea Glauca meaning " pitch", the sticky substance coming from the bark and "milky", the whitish secretion from the needles.

Historical birchbark canoes were built using the wood for ribs and gunwales, also the paddles. The roots were used as twine and the pitch (or resin) to seal/waterproof the canoes. The pitch also glued feathers to arrows for hunting.

Roots were also stripped like twine to build kayaks, weave snowshoes, fishing lines/nets, baskets, mats and rugs to sit on.  Tools were carved as well as ceremonial masks and headgear.  The boughs & needles covered the ground as bedding and pillows. Burning the needles also kept mosquitoes away.

Wood was used for building log houses & cabins, including bath houses. They also made sleds, spoons, bowls, trays, brushes and brooms.

The tree held many traditonal medicines and nutritional properties. The inner bark, resin and needles were chewed like gum or made into a drink for flu, colds & coughs, digestion, arthritis & rheumatism,  a laxative and for respiratory infections like tuberculosis. More importantly, because of the high vitamin C, the tonic helped cure scurvy. As a poultice or salve, these were applied to wounds for infection, rashes, boils and scabies. The inner bark was also ground like a flour and used when food was scarce to thicken soup, in cereals and breads. The rotted wood was crushed and ground into a powder to use for rashes on the skin and bottoms of babies.

The gum/pitch was more often chewed for pleasure like a candy and chewing gum. The teas infused from branches, buds and needles were drank by mountain travellers and natives alike.

It's important to note that the White Spruce makes up the larger part of the Boreal Forest, even today. The large numbers have a positive effect on climate change.  The forests are home and protection to local wildlife,  including lynx, wolves, bears and caribou and hundreds of bird species. The White Spruce has always been a favourite ornamental tree in front yards and especially popular for the annual Christmas tree.