< Back to Newsletters

Fir Balsam

Fir Balsam

Dear Friends-
Today we will explore the world of the Fir Balsam/Abies balsamea. Before taking up that sweet work I would like to mention a few things-

" In ages past, our old ones were the storytellers. This was the way things were passed along to the generations that followed. For this reason the aged people made it a point to remember every detail so they could relate it at a later time. They were the word and picture carriers making history and spirtual values alive and important. In recent times we have made our old ones think they are not so important. We spoof their stories and make them feel foolish. The truth is that we are ignorant of what is precious and how to 'a da li he li tse di -- appreciate age. Rigidity can creep in and set even the young mind if there are no soft memories, no laughter, no times too deep for tears. Age is grace -- a time too valuable to waste."
A Cherokee Feast of Days - Daily Meditations, Joyce Sequichie Hifler

"The forest was snow-covered, and ethereally dazzling beneath the late-November moon. The fir trees were crystalline spires, and even stark shadows were brightened by reflected light. I looked down and saw two deer, ghostly in the lunar effulgence . . . They bolted into the woods-shades and silhouettes vanishing beneath the laden boughs of a balsam fir. I've witnessed countlessdeer at night, but all in the glare of headlights; I had never glimpsed them in moon glow, in their natural demeanor of phantoms."
The Snow Lotus
Exploring the Eternal Moment Peter M. Leschak

The explorations we are endeavoring to make are a small attempt at bringing into the field of the attention a way of living that has been a natural part of the bodies, hearts, minds and spirit of cultures that have lived in close proximity to natured as a result integrated into every cell of their being a way of experiencing the universe that was in many ways balanced and respectful. It is a bit difficult to capture the "spirit" of such people and how they really felt about the plants, animals, insects, rivers, oceans, etc that were part of their world. Indeed one has to live like they lived to really understand it. But at least we can in our own various ways allow our hearts to connect with theirs as best we can.

I realize that presenting the type of information contained in these newsletters does little to capture that feeling. The type of knowledge we have in the West is broken up into boxes and leaves much to be desired in terms of the inner resonance of things. It is up to each one of us therefore to infuse our attention with the meaning beyond the knowledge that is outwardly presented. Actually this is within all of our reach. We can definitely access finer dimensions of our own being where we can experience in a simple way the hidden unity of all life. This is a gift given to each person no matter what type of social, political, religious, etc background they come from. When we allow ourselves to enter that quiet domain then all knowledge becomes "luminous" and full of meaning beyond the written word. In that place we can delight in the beauty of the lives of people living in times and places other than are own.

Then we can perceive that all these wonderful plants which they revered and appreciated so much are alive and conscious and wish to share their wisdom with us.
They have an incredible ancient story to share that is imparted to us through their colors, textures, aromas, environments they live in and so many other things. If we begin to see that each and every plant is living out its life in a interrelated community in which soil, weather, other plant species, insects, birds, animals, etc play their part, then we become overwhelmed with the grandeur and mystery of life.

Before starting this sharing of information about Abies balsamea/Fir Balsam I thought it would be helpful to share a few of the words of the Elders of the Native American nation. Their beautiful words help to bring us into that receptive place where we can sense the miracle that of the individual plant and its place in the profound secrete of the creation

The Wise Man believes profoundly in silence - the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind and spirit. The man who preserves his selfhood ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence - not a leaf, as it were, astire on the tree, not a ripple upon the surface of the shinning pool - his, in the mind of the unlettered sage, is the ideal attitude and conduct of life. Silence is the cornerstone of character.
Ohiyesa (Charles Alexander Eastman) - Wahpeton Santee Sioux

"Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of the earth. We learn to do what only the student of nature ever learns, and that is to feel beauty. We never rail at the storms, the furious winds, the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensifies human futility, so whatever comes we should adjust ourselves by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint. Bright days and dark days are both expressions of the Great Mystery,
and the Indian reveled in being close the the Great Holiness."

"From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things -- the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals -- and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery.

"The Lakota could despise no creature, for all were of one blood, made by the same hand, and filled with the essence of the Great Mystery. In spirit, the Lakota were humble and meek. 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth' -- this was true for the Lakota, and from the earth they inherited secrets long since forgotten. Their religion was sane, natural, and human."
Luther Standing Bear
(Ota Kte, Mochunozhin)
(1868-1939) Oglala Sioux chief


"I was warmed by the sun, rocked by the winds and sheltered by the trees as other Indian babes. I can go everywhere with a good feeling."

Goyathlay ("one who yawns")
Chiricahua Apache chief (1829-1909)
"You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round... The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds
make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours... Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves."
Black Elk (1863 - 1950) Oglala Sioux Holy Man

When a man does a piece of work which is admired by all we say that it is wonderful, but when we see the changes of day and night, the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky, and the changing seasons upon the earth, with their ripening fruits, anyone must realize that it is the work of someone more powerful than man.
Chased by Bears (1843 -1915)
Santee-Yanktonai Sioux
"Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.". . . .
Chief Seattle


Abies, from the Latin, "silver fir, fir tree"
balsamea, from the Latin, "balsam-like"

A native, evergreen conifer with a mature height of 40'-90' and a diameter of
12"-30". Maximum age about 200 years.
Form narrowly pyrimidal with dense crown terminating in a slender spire. In the
open, live branches may reach to the ground but in more typical forest settings
persistent dead lower branches are common.
Needles flat, resinous, and short (0.4"-1.2").
Cones cylindrical, perched upright on year-old branches in the crown.
Bark thin, gray, smooth with resin blisters; brown and scaly on older trees.
Root system shallow, mostly confined to duff and upper mineral soil layers, rarely
penetrating more than 30" except in sandy soils.
http://www.nfmuseum.com/ flora_gymnoindex.htm
http://www.ifdn.com/natnote/ jan1794.htm

Cooke, Rose Terry, 1827-1892: AIRS OF SUMMER. [from [Poems, in] Hillside and Seaside in poetry (1877)]

            Airs of summer that softly blow,
            Sing your whispering songs to me,
            Over the grass like a shadow go,
            Flutter your wings in the rustling tree;

            Curl the wave on the sunny sand,
            Rock the bee in its rose asleep,
            Scatter odors from strand to strand,
            Over ocean in laughter sweep;

            Kiss the snows on the mountain height,
          Vex the river that leaps beneath,
          Sing in the fir-trees your sweet good-night,
         And cease like a baby's slumbering breath.

Essential Oil
pale yellow or almost water white mobile oil of peculiar oily-balsamic,somewhat resinous, but also fresh and sweet order resembling the odor of spruce oil and pinus pumilo oil...
serves as 'pine and spruce' fragrance in fresh balsamic 'fir-needle' blends, Christmas tree odors, fougeres, air refreshners etc

dark green, semi liquid or syrupy mass of sweet courmarinic, somewhat fruity and intensley balsamic odor: briefly it is very true to nature should be used with utmost care(because of its strength) particularly in perfumes other than pine type. Additions far below one percent in the perfume oil are often sufficient to introduce the wanted 'naturelness' to a pine fragrance, and much smaller concentrations can be used to obtain warm and 'special effects' in many other perfume types.
The absolute blends well with bergamot, cypress, labdanum, lavindin, oakmoss products, rosemary, sage clary, thyme oil, etc...

Belongs to the Fresh-balsamic conifer odor group which includeds other species of Abies, Douglas Fir, Spruce species, Pine species This group is related to the Amber group which includes Amber oil, rectified and Port Orford Cedar; the Turpentine 'balsam' group which includes Larch turpentine, Oregon balsam; the balsamic-ambre-like group which contains cypress, juniperberry and Pinus pumilo; the turpentine group which contains Juniper wood oil; and the lemony-turpentine group which contains kauri copal and templin(pine cone) oils

Balsam fir is a major food of moose during winter. It tends to be utilized more when snow is deep and moose populations are high [41]. Moose may browse balsam fir in winter to save energy because the twigs
weigh 8 to 13 times more than deciduous twigs of similar length and therefore it requires less time and effort to consume equivalent amounts [41]. Balsam fir is unimportant in the diets of caribou and white-tailed deer. Spruce and ruffed grouse feed on balsam fir needles, tips, and buds, which often make up 5 to 10 percent of the fall and winter diet. Red squirrels feed on balsam fir male flower buds, and less frequently on leader and lateral buds in late winter and spring when other foods are scarce [5]. Stands attacked by the spruce budworm attract numerous insect-eating birds, especially warblers and woodpeckers [30].

Harvest: "Turpentine" is usually collected July-August by breaking the turpentine blisters into small metal cans with sharp-pointed lids. Trees are then allowed to recuperate 1–2 years. For the leaf oil, it would appear that branches should be snipped off younger trees in early spring (January-March). Fifteen year old trees yield 70% more leaf oil than 110-year-old trees; oil yields are highest in January–March and September, lowest from April to August.

Reducing sugars are said to account for 47% of the DM of balsam fir bark. The leaf oil contains 17.6% bornyl acetate and probably 1-a-pinene, Canada balsam contains ca 20% 1-b-phellandrene and smaller quantities of a- and b-pinene bornyl acetate, and the alcohols androl and bupleurol (Guenther, 1948-1952). Oils are also reported to contain juvabione and dehydrojuvabione (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979). The term Canada Balsam is a misnomer because balsams are supposed to contain benzoic and cinnamic acids, both absent from the Canada oleoresin. "Turpentine" is also a misnomer, implying that the oleoresin is entirely steam volatile. Actually it contains 70–80% resin, only 16-20% voaltile oil (Anderson, 1955). One analysis of the essential oils reports 14.6% bornyl acetate, 36.1% b-pinene, 11.1% 3-carene, 11.1% limonene, 6.8% camphene, and 8.4% a-pinene (Erichsen-Brown, 1979).

3-CARENE Plant 720 - 1,550 ppm DUKE1992A
ALPHA-PINENE Plant 545 - 5,050 ppm DUKE1992A
BORNYL-ACETATE Plant 950 - 2,045 ppm DUKE1992A
CAMPHENE Plant 440 - 950 ppm DUKE1992A
EO Leaf 6,500 - 14,000 ppm DUKE1992A
LIMONENE Plant 720 - 1,550 ppm DUKE1992A

Hopper, Nora, 1871-1906: FEBRUARY [from [Selected Poems] (1906)]


            I purify
            With my clear rain the sombre sky;
            I wake the snowdrops from their sleep
            In the earth's bosom brown and deep.
            I am the stained world's lavender.

            Because of me
            The birds make love from tree to tree:
            I whisper to the daffodil
            Her hidden cup with gold to fill
          Since March is on his way to her.
          I bid the drooping boughs and bare
          A crown of almond blossoms wear.

          I call to Earth,
          Asleep beside her fireless hearth,
          To rise and come into the air,
          And shake the snow from feet and hair,
          What time the new lives in her stir
          And sap runs sweet in larch and fir.