Spurred on by an oft-cited herbal curiosity, but even more so by a well-nigh obsessive pursuit of the highest-possible quality, Black Forest Distillers embark on botanical expeditions each year. In 2019, the journey led them into the very depths of the Black Forest on a hunt for … spruce shoots! One in three of the botanicals in Monkey 47 are locally sourced from the Black Forest, and spruce shoots are one of them. Along with the typical resinous note you’d expect to find, they contain a tangy bit of limonene that gives Monkey 47 its fresh citrus aroma.
The shoots of coniferous trees have long been employed in folk medicine and traditional cuisine. Their uses were described by the polymath Hildegard von Bingen in the Middle Ages, and they are also mentioned in the works of hydrotherapist Sebastian Kneipp. In addition to essential oils and secondary plant compounds, spruce shoots contain chlorophyll – and in particular, vitamin C. (This is why they were once so highly valued by sailors as a means of preventing scurvy.)
The spruce is the subject of many myths and tales due to its prevalence in the Black Forest’s renowned scenery. The region is home to the common (European) spruce, which can reach heights of up to 60 metres and live for as many as 600 years. Its trunk, meanwhile, can measure up to a metre and a half in diameter. The tree’s pointed top comprises several levels, and its evergreen needles spiral around their branches; this is one of the main ways in which the spruce differs from the fir tree, whose needles typically run along opposing sides of a branch.
Spruce shoots are harvested when they are in bloom in April and May, or even in June in rare cases. To avoid disrupting the growth of spruce trees, it’s important to remove only isolated “May shoots” – the soft, fresh, bright-green tips of the branches – before they open up. Black Forest Distillers take this very approach in securing their own harvest, which then needs to be dried before joining the numerous other botanicals that go into each bottle of Monkey 47.