Balsam Fir

A genus of about 50 species of large, evergreen conifers, distributed throughout subalpine and temperate zones in the northern hemisphere and C. America. Abies is the original Latin name for these trees. Silver and balsam firs are too large for most gardens, but A balsamea Hudsonia Group is an attractive dwarf cultivar suitable for small spaces. Many firs are economically important for lumber and resin. Abies alba was the original Christmas tree, later superceded by the Norway spruce (Picea abies) and others. Its medicinal uses have also declined; it was the source of Strassburg turpentine, listed in the London Pharmacopoeia until 1788, but it has now been replaced by various species of pine (Pinus).

Conical tree with dark gray bark that becomes fissured in older specimens and flat leaves with two gray to white stripes on the undersurface. Erect cones are purple when young, up to 1.5-2.5cm (½-2in) long, turning brown when mature.

Common Name:
Balsam Fir
Other Names:
Balm of Gilead
Botanical Name:
Abies balsamea
Native Location:
C and E Canada, and NE USA
Deep, moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil in sun or shade. Young trees and A. balsamea Hudsonia Group are more tolerant of alkaline conditions. Firs are sensitive to atmospheric polution. They may also be damaged by late spring frosts as the new shoots appear earlier in mild areas than they would in the wild. Planting in light shade, rather than full sun, minimizes damage. Maintain a single leading shoot by cutting out competing shoots flush with the main stem in spring. Firs may be attacked by sap-sucking adelgids, and are prone to dieback and rust caused by fundal infections.
By seed sown in spring.
Leaves and young shoots are collected in spring. Bark is removed throughout the year. Resin is tapped from 60-80 year old trees, in spring, for distillation of oil. Oleo-resin is collected at any time from blisters on the trunk.
15m (45ft)
5m (15ft)
Parts Used:
Leaves, bark, oleo-resin, oil.
An aromatic, astringent, antiseptic herb that stimulates circulation and acts as a diuretic.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally in commercial mixtures for diarrhea, but in excess is purgative. Externally, in bath extracts for rheumatic pain, and as a mouthwash. Oleo-resin is known as "Canada Balsam" or "Spruce gum"; it is use for chewing, and in traditional N American medicine for chest infections, venereal disease, wounds, and burns.
Culinary Uses:
Shoot tips are used for tea.
Economic Uses:
Oleo-resin is used in food flavoring, and as a lens cement and a sealing agent for mounting microscope slides. Oil is used in dentistry in sealing preparations, and as a fixative and for fragrance in soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pps. 96-97