Spruce Gum

Try your hand at making spruce gum, a truly natural, sugarless treat!

| January/February 1981

Ninety years ago, a person could walk into almost any general store in America, plop down a penny or two, and pick up a trim little package of spruce chewing gum. There was even a choice of brands, such as Kennebec, Yankee, 200Lump, and American Flag ... to name just a few. People were accustomed to the unsweetened, woodsy taste of spruce gum, and their demand for it supported a thriving industry boasting nationwide distribution.

But then came the "modern" chews—which were softer, sweeter, and less expensive to manufacture—and they soon took over the market. By 1910 the spruce gum industry had been reduced to little more than a few "kitchen stove" operations with very small outputs and only scattered distribution. And so it remains to this day.

Find It!

The limited availability of the prepared product need not stand in the way, however, of your spruce gum enjoyment, since it's actually quite easy to make your own! Moreover, the black spruce tree (Picea mariana), the source of raw spruce gum, has a large enough range to make it available to most Americans ... who'll either live within the tree's native area or encounter the evergreen while on their travels.

You'll find this conifer in Alaska, much of Canada, New England, central Pennsylvania, western New York, the coast of New Jersey, western Maryland, central Wisconsin, northeast Minnesota, the south peninsula of Michigan, and—sporadically—along the Appalachians as far south as North Carolina.

For the details about more specific locations, write to the Forestry Department's Information and Education Division in the capital city of the state you're interested in. The directions you'll receive in response to your query, combined with a good field guide to trees, should be all you'll need to put yourself right in the middle of a stand of spruce! 

Harvest It!

To collect the raw gum, examine the trunk of a black spruce for breaks or scars in the bark. That's where the pitch oozes out and—over a long period of time—solidifies into the hard chunks of spruce resin you're after!

5/24/2010 10:52:34 AM

Great article! Thank you. I have a book called "Foraging New England" by Tom Seymour where he talks about red spruce as a source for spruce gum.

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