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Medicinal Trees: Abies, Fir

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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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Twenty four varieties of Abies are used medicinally:

Abies alba - Silver Fir, Abies amabilis - Red Fir, Abies balsamea – Balsam Fir, Abies cephalonica – Grecian Fir, Abies concolor - Colorado Fir, Abies delavayi, Abies firma - Momi Fir, Abies fraseri - She Balsam, Abies grandis - Grand Fir, Abies homolepis - Nikko Fir, Abies lasiocarpa - Subalpine Fir, Abies magnifica - Californian Red Fir, Abies nordmanniana - Caucasian Fir, Abies pindrow - West Himalayan Fir, Abies procera - Noble Fir, Abies recurvata, Abies religiosa - Sacred Fir, Abies sachalinensis, Abies sibirica - Siberian Fir, Abies spectabilis - Himalayan Fir, Abies squamata - Flaky Fir, Abies veitchii - Veitch Fir, Abies veitchii sikokiana

Only the Fraser Fir grows in my region.

The needles, resin, roots, bark and branches are used.

This is a mountain tree. It grows in nine counties in North Carolina, but just two counties each in Virginia and Tennessee… only one county in Georgia. However, cultivated firs are truly abundant. This is one of the main trees grown on farms as a Christmas tree.

The primary medicinal use of the firs is as an astringent. As such, it is extremely useful because it both tightens tissue and increases blood flow. We will discuss the astringency of several trees, but this is one that is particularly effective against anything from sore throats to dysentery, especially when there is danger of the tissue becoming “boggy”. In cases of severe, chronic or intense inflammation, the inflamed tissue can suffer serious damage. Boggy tissue occurs when the tissue loses its tone. It often develops a purplish hue and loses its ability to tighten back up. It is flaccid and filled with fluid. When this happens for instance. in the throat, the results can be deadly. The astringency of this tree not only tightens the tissue and reduces swelling, but its ability to increase blood circulation to the affected area both helps transport the fluid away from the site of inflammation and speeds healing.

Dioscorides included Abies under Pine:

Moist resin also comes out of the pine tree and the pitch tree brought from Gallia and Hetruria. Previously it was sometimes brought from Colophon from which it had its surname of colophonia, as well as from Galatia (which is near the Alps) which the inhabitants of that place in their proper tongue call the larch tree. This is particularly good (taken in a linctusn [syrup] or alone) for lasting coughs. They are also different in colour for one is white, another of oil colour, and another looks like honey, such as that of the larch tree. Moist resin also comes out of the cypress tree, good for the same purposes. Of that which is dry there is some called strobilina [from pine cones], elaterium, peucine and pituine. Choose that which smells sweetest and is clear — neither too dry nor too moist, but like wax and brittle. Of these that of the pitch tree and fir tree excel, for they have a sweet smell and resemble frankincense in their odour. The best are brought out of Pityusa (an island which lies near Spain), but that from the pitch tree, strobilus [pine cones] and the cypress are of a meaner sort and are not the same in strength as the others, yet they are made use of for the same purposes. Lentiscina matches terminthos in strength.

Saint Hildegard von Bingen, likely the most wise and profound herbalist of all time, wrote of Fir around 1100 AD:

When the tree is green and has not yet lost its sap, as in March or even May, take the bark and leaves of this tree, and even some of its wood, and cut it into tiny bits. Add half as much sage and then boil this until it thickens. Then add cow’s butter, prepared in May, and strain it through a cloth, making an ointment. If someone ails in his head so that he is virgitiget, raving or mad, and if his heart is failing in strength, first anoint his heart well with this ointment. Then, having shaved his head, anoint his head with the same ointment. Repeat this on the second and third day, and his head will recover its health, and he will return to his senses. If someone ails in his spleen, first anoint his heart with this ointment, because of the weakness of his heart. Soon afterward, anoint his stomach, if that is where the pain is, or his spleen, if he is ailing there. The ointment will pass through the skin with its strength, so that he will be cured quickly. For one who is congested in his chest, who coughs, and who even ails in his lungs so that they are swollen and beginning to be putrescent, burn the wood of the fir tree, when it is fresh and the sap is still in it, until it is ash. Let nothing else be added to this ash. Into these ashes put twice as much burnet saxifrage and the same amount of fennel, and half as much licorice as saxifrage. Cook this together in good wine with some honey. Strain it through a cloth to make a spiced wine. Drunk often, it will purge the chest, restore the lungs to health, and therefore cure the person.

“Virgitiget” is an old German term that can mean anything from paralysis to rheumatism or arthritis. Saint Hildegard also recommends Fir for venereal Crabs, and for swollen lips and mouth.

The British herbalist and plant collector, John Gerard wrote of Fir in 1597:

A. The liquid resin of the Fir tree called turpentine, looseth the belly, driveth forth hot choleric humours, cleanseth and mundifieth the kidneys, provoketh urine, and driveth forth the stone and gravel.

B. The same taken with sugar and the powder of Nutmegs, cureth the strangury, stayeth the Gonorrhoea or the involuntary issue of man's nature, called the running of the reins, and the white flux in women.

C. It is very profitable for all green and fresh wounds, especially the wounds of the head: for it healeth and cleanseth mightily, especially if it be washed in Plantain water, and afterward Rose water, the yolk of an egg put thereto, with the powders of olibanum and mastic finely searced, adding thereto a little saffron.

The puckish and rebellious Nicholas Culpepper, who infuriated the British medical and academic establishments by translating their medical books and formulas from Latin, into the English language of the common Englishman, was more effusive in his unique style. He further upset the educated classes by including astrology, folklore and the “Doctrine of Signatures into his works; the Doctrine of Signatures being the belief that God designed herbs so that the appearance of the plant would indicate its medicinal use. Writing in 1652:

Government and virtues. Jupiter owns this tree. The leaves and tops of both sorts are used in diet-drinks for the scurvy, for which they are highly commended by the inhabitants of the northern countries. It is said a good quantity of them are put into Brunswick mum. From this tree, of which there grow great numbers in several parts of Germany, is gotten the Strasburg turpentine, which is clearer, of a pale colour, and of a thinner consistence than Venice turpentine, of a bitterish taste, and of a pleasant smell, a little like lemon-peel. It is of a mollifying, healing, and cleansing nature; and, besides its uses outwardly in wounds and ulcers, is a good diuretic, and of great use in a gonorrhoeœa and the fluor albus; given in glysters, mixed with the yolk of an egg it is very serviceable against the stone and gravel. It is likewise a good pectoral, and often given in affections of the breast and lungs.

Tar is likewise the product of these trees, which are cut into pieces, and piled up in a heap, and being set on fire at the top, the resinous liquor is driven out by the heat of the fire, and, running down, is received into trenches made for it, and so put into the casks; and by boiling is hardened into pitch.

Tar is by some accounted a good pectoral medicine, and used for obstructions of the lungs, and shortness of breath.

From the young branches of this tree is produced the famous spruce beer; and the juice which runs from the trunk upon its being tapped, is what is sold in the shops here under the name of the Balm of Gilead. The young tops of this tree make an excellent antiscorbutic either infused or boiled in beer or wine; experience has sufficiently confirmed their efficacy in that distemper in our American plantations, where the inhabitants used to be severely afflicted with it, who since they have taken to brewing a kind of liquor of molasses, in which they boil the young fir-tops in the room of hops, they are very little troubled with the scurvy; and many of our sailors whose diet on board of ships makes them subject to it, have had reason to commend that liquor. This tree yields two resinous substances; a thin liquid sort, which comes forth from the young firs, and is known in the shops by the name of Strasburg turpentine; and a dry substance resembling frankincense, to which it is not unlike in quality.

An Irish Herbal (written in 1735) states:

The leaves and top of this tree can be used against scurvy. The turpentine, or liquid resin extracted from this tree is somewhat purgative, and also provoking urine and is beneficial to the bladder, kidneys and arthritic conditions. It is good for wounds, being healing and cleansing.

Fr. Künzle wrote of Fir in 1911, showing its use in the tradition of German Folk Medicine:

Finely chop green fir tree twigs or, if you can't get them, European spruce (picea abies) will also do and you chop it thinly. Fill 8-10 baskets and put them in the patient's bedroom or, if there is not enough space, hang them up like lamps; every evening before going to bed, stir and shake every basket so that the scent comes out.

If the twigs no longer smell after three to four weeks, replace them filled with the fresh ones. I have seen tuberculosis patients who could only move with the help of sticks cured in this way. In mountainous areas a much stronger and more effective variety of pines thrives, namely the 12 dwarf mountain pine; it is hardly as tall as a man, but it spreads countless branches that crawl over the rocks up to the top of the tree line.

Speaking of a man who was successfully treating tuberculosis, he wrote:

Uelis Sepp goes outside three times a day, into the healthy, dust-free air, if it is possible, he should stand under a fir tree, slowly and deeply breathes in with an open mouth and spreads out arms like on a cross so that the chest is expanded; as soon as his lungs are completely full, he folds both his hands as tightly as he can on his chest and breathes out; he repeats that ten to twelve times, always before taking a meal. This exercise ensures that the illness no longer destroys his lungs and so that those still healthy parts of the lungs remain intact.

Every hour Uelis Sepp takes a sip of the medicine made according to the recipe for lung patients. He can eat whatever he wants.

The kidneys and bladder of the lung patients usually work badly; as a result, entangled urine substances get into the lungs and new mucus is produced every day; no cure is possible before the kidneys and the bladder start working properly. The tea for lung patients drunk 2-3 weeks could help to make the kidneys and bladder function; Furthermore, warm herbs such as marjoram, thyme, mint and nettles are placed as a poultice as close as possible to the kidneys and to the bladder, and this bandage is worn for three to four weeks and during the cold season continuously. 10 - 20 warm hip baths in boiled pine or fir twigs strengthen the cure. This would make the kidneys and the bladder start working properly; more urine comes out; no more new mucus would develop in the lungs; the old mucus is excreted; without mucus, the Tuberculosis bacteria cannot multiply so quickly, the lungs become stronger and overcome the crisis.

In case of a very advanced tuberculosis, however, there is no guarantee that this remedy will help.

The Thomsonian System of Medicine, published in 1905, states:

BALSAM FIR. Abies Balsamea. This balsam is obtained from a tree known in all parts of the country; it is taken from small blisters which form in the bark. It is of a very healing nature and is good to remove internal soreness. In cases where the mucous membrane is irritated it should not be given, but is very good in relaxed and torpid cases, as in cystic and renal congestions, gleet, etc. In bronchial and pulmonary congestions it is a stimulating expectorant. It is an excellent remedy for aged persons suffering from congestion of the kidneys as it then acts as a kidney tonic. In old coughs it is also excellent. Dose: It should be given only when mixed with glycerine and honey. One ounce Balsam Fir, Glycerine and Honey, each four ounces; flavor to suit, mix thoroughly, and give one teaspoonful four times a day

King's American Dispensatory, 1898 tells us:

Abies Canadensis.—Hemlock Spruce.

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—A strong decoction of the bark of this tree is beneficial in leucorrhoea, prolapsus uteri, prolapsus ani, diarrhoea, etc., administered internally, and used in enema; it is likewise of service as a local application in gangrene, and in aphthous, and other oral ulcerations.

The essential oil of this tree, the oil of hemlock, has occasionally been used by pregnant females to cause miscarriage, but serious effects are apt to follow therefrom. As a liniment this oil has been used in croup, rheumatism, and other affections requiring a stimulating local application. The essence (oil) of hemlock is diuretic and highly stimulant. Dr. W. K. Everson states it to be a superior remedy in gastric irritation to allay vomiting in cholera morbus, etc. The dose is 5 or 10 drops in water, every 10 or 20 minutes, until relief is afforded.

The alcoholic preparations of this drug usually pass under the name of Pinus canadensis. Such preparations are of much value where a mild stimulant and astringent is required, and especially in catarrhal disorders of the mucous tissues, with marked pallidity and relaxation. It is likewise of value in passive hemorrhages and is useful topically in scalds and burns. Tincture, 5 to 30 drops; specific Pinus canadensis, 2 to 10 drops, preferably in equal parts of water and glycerin; the oil, 2 to 5 drops.

Specific Indications and Uses.—General asthenic state, with feeble digestion, vascular weakness, and pale mucous membranes; broncho-pulmonary irritation, with profuse secretions; coughs and colds; renal torpor; pyrosis and gastric irritation, with vomiting and diarrhoea; some cutaneous affections. Never to be used in inflammatory or sthenic conditions.

Mrs. Grieves wrote of Abies in her A Modern Herbal, written in 1931:

Abies Nigra.—Black Spruce.

Action and Medical Uses.—An aqueous decoction of the young branches, strained and concentrated, forms the well-known Essence of Spruce, which enters into the formation of Spruce Beer, an agreeable and salutary summer beverage, possessing diuretic and antiscorbutic properties, and valuable on board ships. Spruce Beer may be made as follows: Take of ginger, sassafras bark, and guaiacum shavings, each, 2 ounces; hops, 4 ounces; essence of spruce, 10 ounces; water, 4 gallons; mix them and boil for 10 or 15 minutes, then strain. Add 10 gallons of warm water, 3 quarts of molasses, and 12 fluid ounces of yeast, and allow it to ferment. While fermentation is going on, put the fluid in strong bottles and cork them well.

ESSENCE OF SPRUCE is a viscid, molasses-like liquid, having a somewhat sour and bitterish, astringent taste.

Plants for a Future states:

Medicinal use of Balsam Fir: The resin obtained from the balsam fir (see "Uses notes" below) has been used throughout the world and is a very effective antiseptic and healing agent. It is used as a healing and analgesic protective covering for burns, bruises, wounds and sores. It is also used to treat sore nipples and is said to be one of the best curatives for a sore throat. The buds, resin, and/or sap are used in folk remedies for treating cancers, corns, and warts. The resin is also antiscorbutic, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant and tonic. It is used internally in 14 propriety mixtures to treat coughs and diarrhoea, though taken in excess it is purgative. A warm liquid of the gummy sap was drunk as a treatment for gonorrhoea. A tea made from the leaves is antiscorbutic. It is used in the treatment of coughs, colds and fevers. The leaves and young shoots are best harvested in the spring and dried for later use. This plant was widely used medicinally by various North American Indian tribes. The resin was used as an antiseptic healing agent applied externally to wounds, sores, bites etc., it was used as an inhalant to treat headaches and was also taken internally to treat colds, sore throats and various other complaints.

Traditional and Healing Herbal Beers tells us:

Like cedar, fir has traditionally been used by many indigenous cultures as a spirit medicine. It is commonly used in sweat lodges and for its antiscorbutic actions. It is also a traditional indigenous medicine for high fever, weight loss, anemia, lack of energy and appetite. .. It has traditionally been used for urinary tract infections, coughs and colds, external wounds, asthma, and as an analgesic for wounds, burns, sores and ulcers. Like pine, it is strong and may irritate mucous membranes.

Peterson Field Guides Eastern and Central Medicinal Plants tells us of balsam fir:

Canada balsam an oleoresin is collected by cutting bark blisters or pockets in would July through August used as an antiseptic an in creams and ointments for piles and root canal sealers diuretic it may irritate mucous membranes American Indians applied the residence as an analgesic for burns sores bruises and wounds leaf tea used for coughs cold and asthma the olio resin is a pale yellow to greenish yellow transparent an pleasantly scented it is primarily commercial application and has been a ceiling agent for mounting microscope slides warning the resident may cause dermatitis in some individuals

Fraser fir she balsam: Cherokees used the resin for chess helmets coughs sore throats urinary tract infections and wounds.

Eastern hemlock: American Indians used tea made from leafy twigs for kidney elements in steam bass from rheumatism colds and coughs and into induced sweating inner bark tea used for colds fevers diarrhea coughs stomach troubles and scurvy externally used as a wash for rheumatism and stop bleeding bark is very astringent formally used as a pollsters for bleeding wounds and in tanning Leathers.

Botany In a Day states:

Fir contains turpentine, made of essential oils and resin. The oleo resin is stimulant, diuretic and sometimes diaphoretic and externally rubefacient. The needles can be used as an aromatic bath for rheumatism and nervous diseases. Steeped fir needles make one of my favorite wilderness teas.

This article is an excerpt from The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide by Judson Carroll

Author: Judson Carroll.  Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His weekly articles may be read at http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/

His weekly podcast may be heard at: www.spreaker.com/show/southern-appalachian-herbs

He offers free, weekly herb classes: https://rumble.com/c/c-618325

His New Book is The Encyclopedia of Bitter Medicinal Herbs:

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Available for purchase on Amazon: www.amazon.com/dp/B09P7RNCTB
Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People by Judson Carroll

You can read about and purchase Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People here: southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/10/herbal-medicine-for-preppers.html

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The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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