Synopsis: Specifics on history, uses, and aroma assessment of Black Spruce including chemistry and hydrosol.
Black Spruce – Picea mariana
Essential Oil & Hydrosol Profile
By Jeanne Rose
Name of Oil and Country of Origin: Black Spruce, Picea mariana, of the family Pinaceae, native to Canada, especially Quebec. The name Picea is from the root word pix meaning pitch or something that produces pitch and mariana means ‘of Maryland’.
Portion of plant used in distillation, how distilled, extraction methods and yields: The leaves/needles and young branches of the trees are either steam-distilled or hydro-distilled depending upon whether you are distilling for the essential oil or using the fresh-picked branches and needles and macerating and using for the hydrosol. The leaves are used fresh or semi-dried, whole or comminuted for distillation, teas or products. Yield of EO depends on terroir and season of the year but is often better in the spring. It us often about 0.35%.
When distilling for the hydrosol, macerated the freshly cut twig ends with needles in the distilling water for 24-36 hours and then hydro-distill for the finest hydrosol. The hydrosol from black spruce needles obtained during hydrodistillation, “has been studied by Garneau et al. (2012). Its composition is rich in oxygenated monoterpenes, mainly composed of α-terpineol (14.8%), borneol (13.5%), bornyl acetate (7.8%), and terpinen-4-ol (6.5%). As for the bark, investigations have been made to produce a hot water extract enriched in polyphenols.”
Endangered: This is a common tree species and not endangered.
Safety Precautions: None known.
Storage: Best to store all the conifers out of the light or in light proof containers. I prefer clear glass so that I can see what the essential oils look like but then I put them in wooden boxes in a cool dry place for storage.
Organoleptic and Aroma Assessment:
Color – Colorless
Clarity – Clear
Viscosity – non-viscous
Intensity – 3-5 (depends on what you are comparing it too)
Taste – bitter, astringent
Aroma Assessment: The scent of Black Spruce has a clean bright deliciously conifer scent, green and delicately spicy. Black Spruce is calming in that it seems you are walking through a green forest of trees but it elevates the mind and stimulates as well.
Method of Application:
Essential Oil Properties include uses by both AP=application, IG=ingestion and IN=inhalation): Bactericide, anti-fungal, vulnerary, disinfectant, expectorant, calmative.
By Application: Use this great oil in antifungal creams and lotions for external skin care and use as a vulnerary* as well. When applied is can be antifungal for Candida, useful on the solar plexus for spasms or excess hiccups, and as an application around the groin for prostatitis. Also used in household cleaner.
*Vulnerary is a plant or drug used in the healing of wounds.
By Inhalation: This EO has hormone-like action, possibly stimulating to the thymus and adrenal gland, seems to have cortisone-like properties that affect the HPA axis in a positive way. It is a mild stimulant, useful expectorant especially in sequential inhalation and thought to be an adrenal stimulant, grounding in a meditation, calmative, and uplifting. Useful for bronchitis and asthma.
For Emotional Uses (AP or IN): Inhalation: Useful for sudden fatigue and exhaustion, grounding, anxiety, stress, and deep healing for the dark side of the male, or active, principle.
By Ingestion: It can be taken with other oils as a treatment for asthma, allergies, chronic bronchitis. However, this should be under the care and guidance of a qualified aromatherapy expert.
Hydrosol Use: This is a fragrant hydrosol, one of my favorites, that can be used in bath, compress, and particularly in steams or nasal lavage for the health of the respiratory system and for the skin. It is soothing and cleansing.
General description of plant, habitat & growth: “A northern evergreen tree ranging from Alaska and sweeping down across Canada to the Maritime Provinces and northeastern states. The trunk grows straight and is without branches for much of its length” from Canadian Forest Tree Essence. Leaves are steam distilled. Yield is about 1.5- 3%.
The Difference between Firs and Spruces by Jeanne Rose
FIRS = Think about Abies the genus and then A is for amiable (soft feel) or Abies and common name Fir is for friendly [Abies has needles that are soft to touch and aren’t sticky and needles when pulled leave a Flat scar].
SPRUCE = Picea and the P is for prickly and S is for Spruce is for spiky. [Picea for prickly needles, Peg-like scar after needle is plucked and Spruce for spiky feel]
Chemistry Components: 55% Monoterpenes, including Camphene, -Pinene and -3-Carene, -Bornyl acetate, and Sesquiterpenes.
with thanks to PhytoChemia for this photo
Historical Uses: Respiratory aide and for parasites
Interesting Facts: Valuable for asthmatics who take corticosteroids. “It is known that Black Spruce roots were used for sewing birch bark canoes. Its resin was used as chewing gum and a poultice for sores, and the inner bark to treat a variety of other ailments” —Canadian Forest Tree Essences, p. 73.
Patch Test and Safety Considerations: Dilute before using. A patch test should be performed before use for those with sensitive skin. Patch Test: If applying a new essential oil to your skin always perform a patch test to the inner arm (after you have diluted the EO in a vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas. —The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64
Key Use: Respiratory ailments and as a vulnerary (a remedy used for treating wounds)
My Personal Recipes
- Perfume: Spruce scent usually acts as a middle or heart note and blends well with other conifers and the tree mosses. The true tree moss is a lichen that grows on the trunks and branches of both spruces and firs in the forests in central and southern Europe. Climacium dendroides is a tree moss that grows in America but is not processed for its scent.
- Body Care: I use Black Spruce in a particular way that I call Sequential Inhalation.
Sequential Inhalation (A Treatment)
By Jeanne Rose – 1986
There are six essential oils that I particularly like for colds and flus and include Black Spruce (stimulate the adrenal), Eucalyptus radiata (expectorant and mucolytic or liquefies the mucus in the lungs), Douglas Fir (antiseptic and disinfectant, Rosmarinus pyramidalis (sinus cleanser and relief), Ravensara aromatica (antiseptic, antiviral), and Fir Pine is Abies spp. (cleanser and respiratory tonic).
When there is any sort of respiratory congestion, it is good to inhale the essential oils in hot water. Your mother probably taught you to do this. You will need a pot, water, essential oils and a towel. Bring two cups of water to a boil in a small pot. Bring the pot to the table. Cover your head with a towel over the pot making a tent. Now add one drop of essential oil at a time to the pot. Inhale one at a time until the scent is gone and then add the second oil. Continue until you have used all six oils. Use the oils in the sequence as given above. This will take about six minutes. Do not add more than one drop of essential oil at a time. Inhale the scent until the scent is gone (about one minute). [If you add more than one drop at a time you will probably gag and cough which is not a healthy act and not what you want.
Inhale through the mouth, exhale through the nose; then inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Alternate throughout the procedure. This gives the essential oils a chance to cleanse both the sinus area and the throat and lungs. —using this method since 1990
- Haircare: Rosemary herb and EO and Spruce EO make a wonderful treatment for the hair. Make an infusion of Rosemary herb and strain it. To a cup of the strained herb add 1-2 drops each of Black Spruce and Rosemary. This liquid can be added to your shampoo or it can be the hair rinse or in the conditioner. I believe this is what has kept my hair dark all of these years as I have used this since 1970.
- Skin Care: In 2012 while in the rehab hospital after a hip transplant I acquired nasty little skin parasites from the bedding – probably the mattress. In the beginning I thought nothing of the itch but since it continued into 2013, I began to treat it. At that time, I did not know what was making me itch. But one of the best treatments I devised included Black Spruce oil. For any sort of itch this would be useful.
Skin Itch from Broken Skin Infection
Calendula Infused Oil or 70% alcohol – 2 oz.
Black Spruce – 5 drops
Chamomile, Roman – 5 drops
Lavender oil -10 drops
Tea Tree or Plai – 5 drops
This is a total of 25 drops per two ounces or about 2.5% EO/oz.
Apply the mixture to the itch and not to the entire body.
Use several times per day and not more than 5 days.
Alternate formulas with another.
- An Amazing Jeanne Rose Tomato Tale stories: I love a good gin and tonic and notice that many of the local conifers are being used or infused to add an interesting spirited taste to these drinks. Also, in the northern parts of the United States Spruce tips as well as Fir tips are used in the making of various gins. Gin is an incredibly popular spirit choice no matter where in the world you are and are being experimented with both in terms of distillation methods and ingredients for many times. There are now hundreds of gins made in the world.
- Jeanne Rose tips and tricks: Sequential inhalation of certain essential oils is one of my most important discoveries using these very powerful substances. They often seem to work better in sequence and in small amounts (no more than one drop at a time) than using several oils all at once and in larger quantities. I first wrote about “Sequential Inhalation” in 1980 and published it in “Aromatherapy Treatments” book about 10 years ago (available on my website).
Black Spruce – Picea mariana Essential Oil – with appreciation to Eden Botanicals
Source: I am very fond of the needle oils including Black Spruce that come from Eden Botanicals.
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Lawless, Julia. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils.
Miller, Richard & Ann. The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop. Acres USA. Kansas City. 1985.
Mojay, Gabriel. Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press,
Prakash, V. Leafy Spices. CRC Press. NY. 1990
Rizzi, Susanne. Complete Aromatherapy. Sterling. NY. 1989.
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne . Herbal Studies Course, Jeanne Rose – Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies, 1992.
Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, California
Worwood, Susan & Valerie Ann. Essential Aromatherapy, Novato, CA. New World Library, 2003.
DISCLAIMER: This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor. The content herein is the product of research and some personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©