In Chippewa, a’ninandak’, balsam fir is an edible and mostly medicinal tree that’s the closest local plant to frankincense that I know of, scent-wise. (But it’s not a sedative.) Its resin can also be used to make Balm of Gilead, mentioned in poplar posts.

A little ecological history: When the fight against eastern spruce budworm vs firs started, so did the fight over the spraying of forests. But there’s a topic for another time! Fir is a widely used medicinal and was even available in drug stores back in the day.

Edible Uses of Balsam Fir

Balsam Fir - Abies Balsamea
Balsam Fir – Abies Balsamea

As a starvation food the inner bark of balsalm fir was grated and eaten, or dried and ground into meal to extend flour supplies. It’s not very palatable.

The bitter bark gum or branch tips can be used to make a tea, like spruce tip tea!

Needles high in vitamin C and antioxidants.

Medicinal Uses of Balsam Fir

Balsam fir is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Antiseptic, Astringent, Diuretic, Expectorant, and Stimulant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the resin for colds and cough, and also for sores and wounds (including in a version of Balm of Gilead – covered here). The resin is commonly used both to wash and dress wounds and sores.

Fir has been a best bud this last winter. I popped some resin out for my stuffy nose numerous times, and gathered boughs with my sticky hands to stuff in my pillow to help me breathe clearly at night. Better change those every few days or they’ll fall apart and end up sticking all over you if they get out of your pillow case!

Alternative Uses

It’s a popular Christmas tree because it holds its needles longer.

The resin or gum from bark blisters was a vintage cottage industry – it was used to make turpentine. It has also been used for soaps, candles, deodorizers, perfumes, and unsurprisingly once you’ve had it on your fingers, as a cement glue.

And for fun, there’s the balsam sap boats:

Growing

Firs like to grow all around their parents, often in clusters, where few if any will survive long term. Reminds me of when someone called a tree I planted “dirty”. “Fertile” sounds better. So once you find some mature firs, you’ll likely spot many young trees that are losing the race to the top of the forest, to begin with, that can be used as an Xmas tree or replanted in sunnier spots. (From trees to grouse to raccoons and so on, most forest dwellers die young.)

Speaking of age here’s young fir tree bark (left) next to an old fir tree’s bark (right). Amazing difference, isn’t it?

Popping resin out of a blister on a relatively young fir.

Warnings

The resin can cause a reaction in sensitive skin.

It may induce vomiting in strong doses.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

REFERENCES

wiki/Abies_balsamea

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies

Ontario Nature Guide

Forest Plants of Central Ontario

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