The dismantling of the Christmas tree, I’m told, is the saddest part of the holiday season, even worse than awkward family dinners or the ceremonial family fight. I’ve only ever had one Christmas tree in my life, shared with roommates. We were too young and ignorant to buy a tree bag, so one of my roommates decided he would carve off the branches with a steak knife (it happened to be the only sharp knife we collectively owned). He did this while singing the Hymn to St. Francis. Afterward, we vacuumed up the stray needles and our vacuum cleaner smelled piney fresh for months afterward. I realize this is not a typical Christmas tree dismantling experience, so I’ll accept, based on the word of all the people with more experience than I, that it’s usually more sad than ridiculous.
But before you drag your poor little tree down to the alley or the curb, you can still find a bit of use for it. At least according to Julia Georgallas, the author of a new book called How To Eat Your Christmas Tree.
“What I aimed for this book to do, really, was to get people thinking about the odd ways that they can be more sustainable in their daily lives,” she told NPR. “Eating Christmas trees isn’t going to save any turtles or freeze any ice caps. But if we start to think about everything that we do as a whole, then that builds up, you know, and that helps.”
Georgallas primarily uses the needles as a flavoring agent, much as one would use herbs. She puts them in cocktails and uses them to make pickles (a recipe is included at the end of the NPR article). Some trees still have pine nuts. And once she’s stripped it, she chars the entire tree for ash cooking.
Different trees, she says, have subtly different flavors: “Spruce is quite almost like vanilla in a way. Fir, which is a really popular choice of Christmas trees, is quite zesty. And then you have pine, which is a little bit more floral, a little bit more delicate.” But some—notably cypress, cedar, and yews—are poisonous. And many trees have been sprayed with pesticides. So make sure you know what you’re dealing with before you start cooking your tree.
Bon appétit, o tannenbaum!