Your Christmas Tree Is Edible

Here's how you can put it to tasty use in the post-holiday season.

discarded Christmas tree

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Did you know that Christmas trees are edible? This fact, which may surprise you, has been confirmed countless times by Julia Georgallis, author of "How to Eat Your Christmas Tree: Delicious, Innovative Recipes for Cooking With Trees" (Hardie Grant, 2020). 

Georgallis maintains that you can put your Christmas tree to good use in these days and weeks following the holiday season before setting it out on the curb for pickup. Of course, trees are not the most instinctive thing to eat—generally, we humans eat the fruits and nuts grown on trees, not the actual trees themselves—but her book offers a variety of delicious ways to put them to good use.

Christmas trees, she writes in the book's introduction, are a pretty big deal, but we don't treat them with the love they deserve. 

"They have become commodities of Christmas, treated as nothing more than an expendable crop, appreciated for just a few short weeks and promptly forgotten about for the rest of the year. Trying to eat your tree is not only a way of extending the already-short shelf life of something that has become so inappropriately disposable, but is also an opportunity to really scrutinise keeping Christmas trees in the first place."

Georgallis says she's "under no illusion that cooking with conifers is going to freeze any ice caps or save any turtles." She makes no grandiose claims of reversing climate change with this quirky culinary experiment, but writes that there is value in letting food "make us think about things that we wouldn't usually think about." She hopes that eating bits and pieces of one's Christmas tree can help a person to reconsider what is waste, what can be reused, and how to celebrate an important holiday in a more sustainable fashion.

Things to Know Before Eating Your Tree

Christmas trees are a commercial crop, and thus have likely been sprayed with pesticides if grown on a tree farm. The Center for Biological Diversity reports that eight pesticides chemicals make up 85% of the chemicals most commonly used on Christmas trees. These are chlorothalonil, atrazine, simazine, glyphosate, hexazinone, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, and dimethoate.

As Beyond Pesticides explains, "These chemicals have numerous adverse health effects, including cancer, hormonal (endocrine) disruption, neurotoxicity, organ damage, reproductive/birth defects, asthma, and more." It adds, however, that "it's unclear how much pesticide residue remains on the tree once it makes its way into your home."

So it's best if you seek out an organic Christmas tree, either sourced from an eco-minded tree farm or one grown in the wild. (You'll get that Charlie Brown Christmas tree look, too.) For perspective, however, the above-mentioned pesticides are used on other conventionally grown agricultural crops, so unless you buy exclusively organic food, chances are your food has come into contact with them before. 

You'll need to know what type of tree you're cooking with, too. Fir, spruce, and pine are all safe and delicious. These are also the most commonly bought trees. Avoid cedar and cypress, which are less common but inedible. Yew trees are "incredibly poisonous" and should never be eaten. Any kind of foraging requires accurate identification, so don't let that slide even with a Christmas tree.

How to Prepare

spruce needle tea

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Georgallis recommends washing needles thoroughly before using. "Snip some larger branches from your tree. Wash the branches under cold, running water, making sure that you get rid of all possible bits of mud and dirt. You may notice that there are balls of sap, but this is safe to eat, as are the dried buds which might be at the end of some of the branches. Turn the branch upside down over a bowl so that the needles make a chevron shape. Using scissors, cut upwards so that the needles fall directly into the bowl. I usually then wash the snipped needles once more before using them."

Her recipes include various ferments and preserves, beverages, desserts, and main courses. In an interview with Modern Farmer, she shared recipes for Christmas-Cured Fish (trout wrapped in a pine needle-sugar-salt-lemon mixture), vegetables pickled in a tree-infused vinegar, and (her all-time favorite) Christmas Tree & Ginger Ice Cream. Pine needles can be used to infuse gin or vinegar or to pickle eggs, in addition to vegetables. An even fancier option, told to the Guardian, is "making pine ash by putting sections of tree in a hot oven until charred before whizzing in a blender to create a black powder to use as flavouring." You can find lots more in her actual cookbook.

It's unlikely that you'll eat your entire tree, but it's fun to play around with some of it, if only to reduce the amount that gets wasted and to learn some new techniques and recipe that are sure to impress any dinner guests.

For the rest of the tree that cannot be eaten, consider donating to a farm with goats, as they will happily devour it, sinking it in a pond where it provides habitat for fish, or sending it off to your region's municipal compost or mulch program.