The spruce tree is an evergreen conifer, native to boreal and temperate regions of the world, but are often found in plantations (particularly Sitka Spruce) here in Northern Ireland.
A spruce can be differentiated from other everygreens by looking at their needles. An overly simplistic way to remember it is by looking at the first letter of the tree name, for example, S of spruce for square, P of pine for pairs and F of fir for flat. This doesn’t cover all species of conifers and some pines have different numbers of needles, but can help.
A Spruce tree has many uses, the needles can be made into a tea, although care needs to be taken in correct identification, the cones can be used for fire starting, as they are more papery than pine cones, and the reisin smells gorgeous and can be used in first aid.
On this occasion, we wanted to dig up some Spruce roots. They have been used for centuries for cordage and basket making as they are strong and flexible and we feel it is vital to know how to make cordage when outdoors.
When digging up spruce roots, look for a suitable area of ground that is conducive for digging. We used a foraging stick to dig up our roots, this is a walking stick with a pointed metal end (alpine ferrule) for digging roots, and a hooked handle to reaching high branches, a very useful tool for a forager. The roots generally are quite close to the surface so you don’t have to dig too far to reach them. Look for roots that are about pencil thick, and as long as possible.
Once you have you roots, it is possible to use them as they are or as we have done here, split down into quarter size. The outer can be removed for aesthetic reason but for our purposes it is not necessary. To split, use your knife to start the splitting process evenly, once you have started your split, try to keep it as central as possible if it runs off to one side, bend the thicker side out which will cause the split to run back into the centre again. Keep on slowly separating until you have come to the end of your piece. We used the same process to split each half down further until your desired thickness.
Spruce roots can be dried for later, but they dry hard and therefore will need soaked to make them pliable for use.
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