While preparing a Christmas-themed dinner party in 2015, Julia Georgallis brainstormed ideas for eco-friendly meals. As people chopped trees outside to prepare for the holidays, Georgallis developed a plan: She could incorporate her already-purchased Christmas tree into the dishes.
Since then, Georgallis has devised dozens of Christmas tree recipes. The 34-year-old has helped catapult a small but global movement of people implementing tree ingredients in their food and drinks before discarding their holiday hallmarks.
“It kind of started as something really lighthearted,” Georgallis, now a food writer and researcher, told The Washington Post. “I didn’t mean it to end up capturing people’s imaginations. I sort of thought, ‘I’ll do it, and then that’ll be it.’ It’s amazing how much people love Christmas trees.”
Between 25 and 30 million Christmas trees are sold annually in the U.S., per the National Christmas Tree Association. Those trees are typically disposed of in a landfill or through incineration or composting.
While animals have long devoured Christmas trees, more people have joined the feast in recent years. Still, Christmas trees sprayed with pesticides or other chemical compounds are dangerous to consume, and yew trees, which some people purchase during Christmas, are poisonous. Consumers should confirm their trees are edible before cooking them, cooks told The Post.
Lottie Muir has been consuming plants around London for most of her life. Her mother, Ann, gave her honeysuckle flowers to suck on hot days and often added pineapple weed to lemonade or cleavers and violets to tea.
In 2012, Muir opened a bar on a rooftop garden in her hometown. Soon, the Woodland Martini, which uses Christmas tree ingredients, became the Midnight Apothecary’s signature drink.
Muir blends Douglas fir tree needles and stems with vodka and then adds syrup made from dark wildflower honey and sage leaves. After adding dry vermouth and wormwood bitters, Muir shakes and strains the drink and garnishes it with a fir sprig.
The 53-year-old said the tree ingredients, which are a source of vitamin C, create a lemony taste and smell.
“I wanted to make a cocktail that tasted and evoked a walk in the woods,” Muir said. “Some people think it tastes [bad], and some people really love it.”
Artur Cisar-Erlach, a woodland ecologist near Vienna, has studied for decades how plants and wood are incorporated into food. After chopping down a tree for Christmas in 2019, Cisar-Erlach cooked with that tree’s components.
He started by cutting needles from his tree and adding them to tea. He later blended the needles with pecans and cheese to create pesto.
Cisar-Erlach, 34, now cooks every part of the nine-foot Christmas tree he obtains each winter. He stirs bark with flour, sugar, butter, eggs, baking powder and salt, and combines the dough with a sweet cream made from tree needles. The result is a cookie similar to an Oreo. Cisar-Erlach also fries cambium, a thin tissue layer in trees, to create chips, and has baked bread with wood.
Now Cisar-Erlach is as excited to decorate his tree as he is to eat it.
“I like to not just have it as a single use,” said Cisar-Erlach, who wrote a 2019 book about consuming trees. “I can eat it afterwards, and there’s a lot of really great dishes I can make from it for a long time. There’s actually a lot of material in one of those trees.”
Like Cisar-Erlach, Georgallis’s 2020 book includes a variety of Christmas tree recipes. She buys a spruce and fir tree annually, and her tree-themed supper clubs have flourished.
Georgallis has continued to discover breakthroughs, including baking branches in ash to create a bitter powder and pickling new vegetables with tree needles. After Christmas, when Georgallis passes stacks of holiday trees near garbage bins, she laments that they were wasted.
“They’re still going to go to landfill,” Georgallis said. “But use as much of them as possible before you throw them out.”