Ode to the Balsam Fir

  • By Andrée Beauchamp
  • 24 Jan, 2017

Abies balsamea

Are you a tree hugger?  Not surprising,  as trees have nourished the earth for the last 225 million years. To give you some idea how old the trees are, the first human being walked the earth  approximately 200, 000 years ago.  Tree medicine has re-emerged, and is being researched and utilized in Europe to support us with deeper chronic conditions. Trees have exist far longer than plant life on earth, as such trees have constituents that are complex and concentrated and deeper acting than plants on the whole. With the health of humanity  in such crisis, tree medicine has been called upon, to serve us once again.
Hug a tree today. Walk  in a grove of trees. Explore what trees resonates with  you. Feel the healing energy of tree medicine. White pine, Oak, Poplar, Maple, Balsam fir, there are so many to choose from. We are so very fortunate to have an abundance of trees right here in the Kingston corridor. Tree medicine is people's medicine.

At Christmas we choose a fresh tree to adorn our hearth. As a child the scotch pine adorned our home, and of the past years here in Ontario, the  balsam fir has been our choice. This year Sophie's boughs were whimsical and graceful and curling in unexpected ways, with an extra wonderfully, spicy scent.  Perhaps, it is because i acknowledge and recognize now,  the beauty and the healing power of trees, that i noticed how special this balsam fir  felt.  i simply cannot just throw her out, and will give her back to the earth through our fireplace.

Hence Balsam fir!  Balsam Fir grows up to sixty feet in height and is possibly the most popular Christmas tree today. The balsam is the most affordable of Christmas trees, and known for its magnificent shapes, and  delicious aroma, due to the strong retention of the needles long after the tree has been cut down. Well that's why then.

Balsam fir was universally used by all First Nations in North America and found its way into the U.S. pharmacopoeia in the mid 19th century as an effective tree medicine.  Primarily the aromatic resin of the tree was used, which is highly antiseptic, analgesic, ant-scorbutic, diaphoretic and diuretic. The young shoots are rich in mucilage, Vitamin A and C, as well as rich in minerals, calcium and iron, as is the bark. The resin was made into a salve for treating all kinds of skin conditions, for burns and wounds or bites and sores of the skin. Native American women found a salve highly effective in treating sore nipples during childbirth and nursing.The gum of the balsam was used in the treatment of toothaches, especially in the cases of abscesses in the mouth, or externally on the skin.

The early Americans were taught by the First Nations to make a tea or a decoction with the young shoots, branches or bark, for the treatment of chest pains.  Balsam fir's inner bark ameliorate all kinds of respiratory infections, and persistent coughs, as well as asthma. The bark was also noted to treat urinary tract infections like cystitis.  The twigs steeped in water were used as a natural laxative.The Native Americans chewed on the root of balsam for treating oral sores and other problems relating to the mouth.  An herbal decoction prepared for the bath, or with the branches smoked in the sweat lodge were used to alleviate muscular spasms and joint pain as well as alleviate pulmonary disorders. 

Balsam gum had also been traditionally used in dentistry as a glue, in the making of candles, or as a cement in the production of microscopes and slides-due to its highly refractive index similar to that of glass. The balsam fir pitch was used by the Native Americans to waterproof the seams of the canoes.  Nearly 8-10 oz. of resin can be obtained from one balsam fir tree.  The wood of the balsam fir is light, soft and coarse and primarily used in the pulp paper industry to manufacture crates and cardboard boxes. 

The young shoots of balsam are collected in the springtime and stored for later use. The resin and the gum obtained from the inner bark is most often collected in the late summer and fall, and consists of about 70-80% pure plant resin. The volatile oil content of the Canadian Balsam fir is about 15-25%. You will be sure to find me in the forest come the springtime to collect the young shoots to make a tree medicine.

Reference: Glossary Herbs- Herbs 2000.com
Dr. Bruno Chacornac ~Phytotherapy
Here is a simple balsam fir recipe you can make yourselves. 
Balsam Fir Syrup 
2 cups water
8 oz. balsam young shoots or bark
1 cup honey
In an enamel covered saucepan simmer the balsam shoots or bark for 15-20 minutes. Let stand for 1 hour.  Strain.  Add the honey and cook on low for more 15 minutes. Let cool and bottle in an amber bottle. Store in the refrigerator and consume within 3 months at a rate of 1 tablespoon per day before each meal.  Excellent preventive and cough remedy - to clear congestion of the lungs and intestines. Om.

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