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Common Name: black and white spruce
Latin names: Picea mariana and Picea glauca
Uses: food, medicine, shelter, fuel and tools

Black and white spruce trees are found throughout the Gwich’in Settlement Region. Except for high alpine areas they inhabit any areas with suitable habitat. White spruce is commonly found on well-drained soils, while black spruce favours wetter areas. In general, the Gwich’in treat the two types of spruce as one type when preparing medicines. Spruce gum is not found in large quantities on black spruce, but small black spruce can be chopped up into small pieces to make medicines, using the same method as described under “cones” or “young spruce tips” [below].

Spruce cones are used to make a tea that relieves colds and helps maintain good health. Of all the parts of the spruce tree, some Elders believe that cones make the best medicine. Cones are picked year round from the tops of young trees. Usually five to 15 cones are gently boiled for 10 to 15 minutes in a pot of water. The longer they boil, the stronger the medicine becomes. Branches are sometimes put into the pot with the spruce cones. Some people prefer straining the liquid before drinking it. Spruce tea relieves coughing and sore throats and chests. Those who are sick with colds can take it three or four times a day for about five days. Some Gwichín drink between one-quarter cup and one cup of spruce tea every day to stay healthy. You can drink this medicine when it is hot or after it is cooled, though it should never be gulped. Many people keep the medicine in a jar in the fridge for later use.

Sticky Gum
Sticky gum is the clear, sticky sap that can be found year round on spruce trees and in green firewood. This is new sap that has recently run from the wood of the tree. The gum can be removed from a tree using a knife, stick or your fingers, and stored in a container. When you are finished, baby oil, lard or butter will help get the remaining gum off your hands.
Sticky gum is used to soothe irritated skin and, when applied to cuts, helps healing and reduces the chance of infection. It is also used for mouth infections such as cankers, by applying it directly to the sore. When made into a tea, sticky gum can be sipped to soothe sore throats. Sticky gum can also be used as glue to waterproof a canoe.
Sticky gum can be applied just as it is, or it can be made into a salve, by melting the sap at low heat and mixing it with lard or grease (Vaseline, vegetable oil or animal fat will do). Melting sticky or spruce gum tends to spoil the pot so it is best to use just one pot to prepare the medicine.
Mary Kendi, from Fort McPherson, says to spread sticky gum on warm canvas and then stick it on the chest. The dressing is kept on until it drops off by itself. This remedy helps relieve the symptoms of chest colds and tuberculosis (TB).

-pg. 17-19, Gwich'In Ethnobotany: Plants Used by the Gwich'In for Food, Medicine, Shelter and Tools by Alestine Andre and Alan Fehr (2002)

White and Black Spruce Cones
White Spruce Needles
White Spruce
Black Spruce


It's so good to know what kind of medicine to make or what to use it for.