After you tuck away the ornaments and garlands for next year, pause before you send your Christmas tree to the curb and consider some of these creative ways to upcycle it first!
In addition to providing a festive focal point for our living rooms, those delicious-smelling pines, firs, and spruces that many of us bring into our houses each season have numerous uses in the kitchen and around the home.
Check out these ideas for reusing your Christmas tree and get some extra enjoyment out of it this year.
Can you eat your Christmas tree?
Though it’s not widely known, many common conifers — including the pines, firs and spruces often used for Christmas trees — are not only edible, but very tasty and nutritious.
Native peoples have used the needles, bark, sap and cones for food and medicine for centuries. Rich in polyphenols and vitamin C, conifer needles are often used in tea and syrups useful for treating or preventing colds.†
Not surprisingly, conifer needles have a pine-y flavor that most people find quite pleasant. Tea made from spruce or pine needles tastes like the scent that comes into your house when you first bring home your Christmas tree.
If you want to try using your Christmas tree for culinary purposes, be sure it hasn’t been treated with chemicals or spray-painted, as many get an added coat of green to make them more appealing. Those trees should definitely NOT be consumed!
Most commercial Christmas tree operations use a variety of pesticides to control disease, though the last application typically occurs in summer and much will have broken down or been washed away by the time the winter holidays roll around. You probably consume food treated with pesticides somewhat regularly, so you can decide for yourself whether a few non-organic tree needles are acceptable in the kitchen as well. But if you can get your hands on a tree that hasn’t been sprayed with anything, your experiments with conifer-flavored creations will be all the better for you.
Before consuming your Christmas tree, make a positive identification of the type of tree you have. There are several evergreens (notably yew) that aren’t safe to consume. Consider this guide to identifying common conifers.
In addition to the needles, you can use conifer bark medicinally and the wood for crafts. Christmas tree crafts and cooking can be fun projects to do with kids home for winter break.
Recycle Christmas tree ideas
Using pine, fir or spruce needles
The easiest way to reuse your Christmas tree is to harvest needles that can be used in the kitchen or to make cleaning or body products. Whether you decide to brew tea, make cookies or create a DIY cleaner, conifer needles have a surprising number of uses.
1. Conifer Tea
Pine, spruce and fir can be brewed into a tasty and medicinal tea that you can enjoy anytime or drink to help alleviate cold symptoms. To make, simply steep 3 tablespoons chopped needles per cup of boiling water.
2. DIY Cough Syrup
Pine is a popular ingredient for soothing coughs, which is why you sometimes find it in cough drops. To make a homemade cough syrup, simply brew a strong infusion (1 cup pine needles in a cup of boiling water) and allow the mixture to cool. Add honey to taste and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
3. Festive cookies or shortbread
Pine and other conifer needles make a fun addition to baked goods, especially shortbread and cookies. To use, chop ⅓ cup conifer needles finely or run through a food processor and add to your favorite recipe. Some bakers arrange needles in a tree shape on the tops of cookies.
4. Seasoned salt or sugar
Flavored sugars and salts add a tasty pop of pine to savory and sweet foods. To make, run 1 cup of coarse salt or sugar with ¼ cup conifer needles through a food processor to blend. Don’t blend too long, or the mixture will get pasty. Store your seasoned salt or sugar in the refrigerator or spread on a baking sheet to dry in an oven at the lowest setting. Use conifer salts as a seasoning for savory dishes and infused sugar to enliven baked goods.
5. Pine or spruce vinegar
Conifer-infused vinegar can be used to add a piney flavor to cooking or some extra cleaning power to homemade natural cleaners. Infusing vinegar is easy: Just combine 1 cup conifer needles with 2 cups white wine vinegar for culinary purposes or plain white vinegar for cleaning and allow to infuse for 2-4 weeks, shaking every few days. Strain and bottle.
6. Herbal hair rinse
You can make your own shine-enhancing herbal hair rinse with a simple mix of apple cider vinegar and conifer needles. Infuse for 2-4 weeks, strain and bottle. Learn more about herbal hair rinses here.
7. Tincture or flavored vodka
Similar to infused vinegar, steeping conifer needles in vodka produces a medicinal tincture or an unusual flavoring for cocktails. Fill a jar ¾ full with chopped pine or spruce needles and cover completely with a high-proof vodka (or gin if you prefer for cocktails). Allow to infuse 4-6 weeks before straining.
8. Healing balm
Pine-infused oil is often recommended for DIY vapor rubs or sore muscle rubs. Similar to the process of infusing in vinegar, you can infuse oils with pine for homemade body rubs. You can also use Christmas tree needles in DIY lip balm to extend your enjoyment of the holiday season.
8. DIY Air Fresheners
Boil or simmer needles from your Christmas tree in a crockpot or on the stove to give the air a holiday scent. You can also add needles to homemade potpourri or a fresh-smelling sachet. Potpourri and several of the ideas above make great homemade gifts as well.
Using conifer bark
Long used by Native American tribes, the bark of many conifers has medicinal value. Touted for its antioxidant capacity, pine bark extract is being studied as a source of antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties that may promote cardiovascular and neurological health.†
The primary species studied to date is the maritime pine, extracts of which can be purchased as supplements.
If you want to try tea made from the bark of your Christmas tree, harvest with a knife and simmer in water on low heat for 30 minutes. Strain and enjoy.
Other Christmas tree uses: DIY crafts from the wood
You can use slices of branches of different sizes for loads of fun wood crafts, such as
- Fridge magnets
- Holiday ornaments for next year
You can also let kids use their imaginations to make creatures or objects from a combination of wood slices, twigs, needles, and bark. The possibilities are endless!
Give your Christmas tree extra life this season with one (or many) of these fun upcycling projects.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
Longing for some Christmas-tree goodness but don’t have a tree handy? Try some of these: