Drink Nature: Pine Tree Soda

Pine needles float in water. My glass smells of citrus with hints of mint. A few adjustments and the flavor is complete; I’ve captured the essence of spruce while standing at my kitchen counter.

Boiling pine needles to prep the syrup

Forget Coke and Sprite. What about homemade “pine tree soda”? My goal this month was to create palatable carbonated beverages with ingredients foraged from the woods.

Steeping natural ingredients is a time tested, if sometimes forgotten, tradition. Lemon grass, teas, shoot, even coffee, represent humanity’s ingenious ways to extract nutrition and flavor from nature’s bounty. But in the modern world few remember the pungent ingredients right outside the front door.

The flavor of pine needle soda syrup is bright and verdant, matching its color in my glass. I let the sip linger before taking another… because, Lord! This just tastes like fresh air, like springtime itself.

Olfactory Confluence

We all have favorite methods to bring our outdoor memories home. We haul cameras into the backcountry or write poems, maybe doodling little sketches in the margins. Years later, we can share and re-live those moments.

I’m learning to tap my other senses to invoke memories of trails past and adventures far and wide, making sodas that take me back there to the woods, to trips North, to my childhood, too.

Pine tree soda and other natural carbonated concoctions

Pine needle tea inspired my first experiment. Years ago, I’d been introduced to the classic campfire drink. A few handfuls of spruce tips steeping in a cup at day’s end were something to look forward to.

Now, near home, I foraged enough to flavor a batch of simple syrup (a basic combination of sugar and water). Added to chilled club soda, the crisp, bubbly result was even better than I remembered.

The author harvesting a few tender needles for his experiment

The smells in the room, the piney crackle on the tastebuds – I was on the trail again. A few days later, recalling another camping episode when I’d found some wild mint, I used spearmint from a local co-op to concoct a ‘northwoods mojito’ flavored syrup. That was put to good use, too.

I’d discovered for myself a way to record those trip highlights that a point-and-shoot never could.

• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 2 cups water
• 2 – 3 handfuls of spruce tips (look for young, bright green needles)
• bottled club soda

Editor’s note: Pine (and some other wild plants) should not be consumed by pregnant women or those who may become pregnant. Be certain to positively identify any wild substance before consuming, and do so at your own risk.

1) Chill club soda. Combine water and pine needles in a large, deep-side saucepan. Bring to a boil over med-high heat; boil for 5 minutes. Add sugar, stir to combine.
2) Keep at med-high, stirring occasionally for 7 – 10 minutes (until liquid thickens slightly, but not “Aunt Jemima syrup” thick).
3) Remove from heat and pour ingredients through a large strainer over a large glass or ceramic bowl (not plastic, which taints the flavor).
4) Discard the spruce tips. Allow the syrup to cool, uncovered, to room temperature. Transfer to a glass jar or bottle.
5) Fill chilled glasses 3/4 with club soda and add syrup to taste, stirring to combine. Add ice cubes if desired, and serve.

More “natural” soda ideas on Page 2…