The leaves and twigs yield 'spruce oil', used commercially to flavour chewing gum, soft drinks, ice cream etc. Pitch, obtained from crevices in the bark, has been chewed as a gum. The leaves and young shoots have been chewed as an emergency food to keep one alive when lost in the woods.A herbal tea is made from the leaves and shoot tips. These tips are also an ingredient of 'spruce beer'.
The bark contains 8 - 18% tannin and is a major source of tannin in America. A reddish-brown dye is obtained from the bark. A decoction of the bark has been used to clean rust off iron and steel. A pitch (called hemlock pitch), is obtained by distillation of the young branches. The pitch is rubbed on the hair to get rid of head lice. Tolerant of light trimming, plants can be grown as a hedge. This species makes a good hedge in Britain.Wood - light, hard, tough, easy to work. Commercially superior to other members of this genus, it is an important tree for construction, the outside of buildings etc and for carving into spoons etc. It is also a major source of pulp. The wood makes a slow-burning fuel and so can be used to bank up a fire to keep it burning overnight.
The bark is astringent, diaphoretic and diuretic. A decoction of the pounded bark has been used in the treatment of haemorrhages, tuberculosis and syphilis. The boiled bark, combined with liquorice fern (Polypodium glyccyrhiza), has been used in the treatment of haemorrhages. An infusion of the inner bark or twigs is helpful in the treatment of kidney or bladder problems. It can also be used as a good enema for treating diarrhoea and as a gargle or mouthwash for mouth and throat problems. Externally, it can be used as a wash on sores and ulcers. A poultice of the plant has been applied to bleeding wounds. A moxa of the twigs has been used to get rid of warts. The powdered bark can be put into shoes for tender or sweaty feet or for foot odour. The gum obtained from the trunk has been applied to cuts. It has been applied to the skin to prevent chapping and sunburn.A poultice of the chewed leaves has been used in the treatment of burns.
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Occasionally cultivated for its timber in Britain, it can grow 60 - 150cm per year. New growth takes place from mid-May to mid-September, at first it hangs downwards but begins to straighten towards the end of the season. There are trees more than 50 metres tall in Britain. Trees live for several centuries in the wild and often produce large quantities of seed. Plants often form pure stands and cast a dense shade, thus preventing the regeneration of other trees whilst being able to reproduce itself.Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus.
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