Evergreens & Their Similars

Conifers are favorite trees and their essential oils perform in many formulas, therapeutics and blends — they are widely grown and healing to mind and body.

Evergreens & Their Similars

by Jeanne Rose

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)
Abies balsamea

Cedar, Cypress, Juniper, Fir, Pine & Spruce are all evergreen trees whose bark and needles and sometimes wood and cones produce essential oil. They are divided into two main groups; the Pinaceae and the Cupressaceae, that is, the ones used for their needles and the ones used for their woods.

The needle oils are commonly considered useful for respiratory care and for care of the upper, airy parts of the body and it is often said that this is because they come from tall trees whose leaves or needles are touching the sky.  They have refreshing, mind-clearing fragrances that are strong yet somehow salubrious.

When one begins to take a closer look at the evergreen plants and their essential oils, confusion quickly ensues! Totally different trees have the same common name. And as we talk about the plants and their oils individually, you will become increasingly aware of the importance of being educated and informed as an aromatherapy practitioner as well as the importance of purchasing your essential oils from a source that is educated and informed and willing to share information with you. Correct Latin binomials is increasingly important.

I have tried to make this post as clear and understandable as possible, yet when I speak individually about the oils, please remember, you are not the only one who is confused!  The company that sells you the oil may be confused as well.  I highly recommend that you perform your own research.  Collect the Evergreen plants and oils.  Compare the differences in their leaves, barks and cones.  Collect the Evergreen essential oils from various sources and be sure to use the Latin name when labeling the plants and purchasing the essential oils.  Compare the scents using the Basic 7 Vocabulary of Odor© and make a journal of the information you find.  A project such as this will help you at least to understand the confusion, if not to clear some of it up for you.

We have divided the Evergreen trees into 8 parts and given the general common name to each part. This post will be mostly the Pinaceae and soon, in the future, will be a long post about the other family of Conifers, the Cupressaceae:

Family Pinaceae

I. Pinus Pine
II. Picea Spruce
III. Tsuga Hemlock-Spruce & Pseudotsuga False Hemlock
IV. Abies Fir
V. Cedar true type

Folklore: Native American lore says that when the great mystery gave a gift to each species, the young trees were given a task to stay awake for 7 days and watch over the forest, the trees fell asleep species by species leaving only the young conifers that were so excited that they could not fall asleep. By the 7th night the only trees left awake were the Fir, Pine, Spruce, Cedar, Holly and Laurel. The great mystery was very happy, “What wonderful endurance you have” and gave them the gift of forever remaining green – thus the Evergreens. They were proclaimed the guardians of the forest and given exceptional healing qualities.

Family Cupressaceae

VI. Juniperus Cedar-wood & Juniper
VII. Cupressus Cypress & Chamaecyparis
VIII. Thuja

PINACEAE ~ Atlas Cedarwood EO, Deodar Cedarwood EO, Siberian Fir EO, Balsam  Fir absolute, Balsam Fir EO, Silver Fir EO, Maritime Fir EO, Scotch Fir EO, Sylvestris Fir EO, Pinyon Pine EO, Black Spruce, Douglas-Fir EO •
CUPRESSACEAE ~ Cypress Leaf EO, Blue Cypress  woodEO, Virginia Cedar wood EO, Juniper Leaf EO, Juniper Berry EO, Juniper Berry CO2

Taxonomy of the Conifers

Subdivision: GYMNOSPERMAE   (ovules naked, resinous wood in concentric rings)
Class: CONIFERAE  & Taxaceae    (cone-bearers), (yew-like)

conifer_cone-pinaceae-copyPinaceae – a conifer cone

Family: Pinaceae  (resinous trees or shrubs, cone scales numerous and woody or thin)
Genera include:
Pinus (Pine)
Larix (Larch or True Tamaracks)
Picea (Spruce)
Tsuga (Hemlock-Spruce)
Pseudotsuga (False Hemlock)
Abies (Firs or Balsam Trees)
Cedrus (True Cedars)


Family: Cupressaceae   (resinous trees or shrubs, cone scales are few and spiral or opposite)
Genera include:
Thuja (Arbor vita or “Cedars”)
Chamaecyparis (True Cypress)
Cupressus (True Cypress)
Juniperus (Junipers or “Cedars”)
Sequoia (Redwood and Big Trees)


In group I. we find the Pinus species in the family Pinaceæ.

There is only confusion amongst users of essential oils in that family Pinaceæ includes a variety of trees with interchangeable common names such as: Spruces, Pines, Cedars, the Turpentine pines, and other plants that are often considered Cypress, Juniper or Spruce. Briefly, family Pinaceæ includes:

Pinus – Scotch Pine and others

SprucePicea species such as the Norway Spruce (Picea abies) and Black Spruce (Picea mariana)

Hemlocks – Tsuga canadensis and T. heterophylla

False HemlockPseudotsuga douglasii  the Douglas-Fir

Fir –  Abies sibirica the Siberian Fir, Abies balsamea the Balsam Fir, and Abies alba, the Silver Fir

 Cedars – Cedrus atlantica , Atlas Cedarwood


coastal-pine-big-sur-jr  Coastal Pine – Big Sur -JeanneRose photo

Group I. Pinus (Pines)

Trees of the Genus Pinus have leaves that are persistent and of two kinds , the primary ones are linear or scale-like, and deciduous.  The secondary ones form the ordinary foliage and are narrowly linear, arising from the axils of the primary leaves in bunches of 1-5 leaf clusters enclosed at the base in a membranous sheath.

Mainly the trees that produce the essential oil called Pine oil are Pinus mugo (Dwarf Pine), Pinus palustris (Long Leaf Pine) and Pinus sylvestris (Scotch Pine).

            Pinus mugo , Dwarf Pine Needle is harvested in the Swiss Alps. It is sturdy and shrub-like and is protected by the Swiss government and is harvested according to particular rules only at certain elevations. This oil has a particularly pungent odor reminiscent of both a bark and needle oil and in fact entire branches including the needles are finely chopped up and thrown into the still for the essential oil. This combination of bark and needle make up an oil that is both airy and grounding. Components of Dwarf Pine Needle include l-a Pinene, b-Pinene, l-Limonene and Sesquiterpenes, Pumiliol, etc.

              In Europe, this plant is used for diseases of the skin and scalp and particularly at healing spas where it is inhaled for ailments of the respiratory organs, including pleurisy and tuberculosis. This is a powerful adjunct in the therapies for all sorts of ear, nose, throat and lung disorders.

            Pinus pinaster the Maritime Pine, contains Mono- and Sesquiterpenes. It is a powerful antiseptic used to disinfect the air locally. Good for chronic bronchitis, chronic cystitis, and anti-inflammatory for the lungs. Can be used externally in massage blends for rheumatism or aching joints. A particular chemotype of Pinus pinaster contains large quantities of terebenthine which is composed of 62% a-Pinene and 27% b-Pinene. This oleo-resin is used as a powerful expectorant, antiseptic, and to oxygenate the air. Indicated for infections of the respiratory system. It is used in hot water for steam inhaling treatments. Mainly used as an aerosol treatment but with possible allergies if used externally.

         Pinus palustris , Long Leaf Pine, Turpentine (See also Terebinth) is a tall, evergreen, up to 150 feet with attractive, reddish-brown, deeply fissured bark with long, stiff needles that grow in pairs. Is used mainly for the distillation of American gum sprits of Turpentine. This is a tall, evergreen tree native to the Southeast United States. The main component is Terpineol. It has been considered a powerful antiseptic spray and disinfectant, especially in veterinary medicine.  It has mainly external use as a massage for arthritis, muscular aches and pains and stiffness, and in the past, natural Turpentine was often inhaled for asthma and bronchitis.  This has been much used in commercial industry to manufacture paint, but has now been largely replaced by synthetic Pine oil (synth. Turpentine).

            Pinus sylvestris, Scotch Pine, Norway Pine is  a tall, evergreen, up to 150 feet with attractive, reddish-brown, deeply fissured bark with long, stiff needles that grow in pairs. The essential oil is produced mainly in the Baltic states. The components are greatly influenced by geographical origin and consist mainly of Monoterpenes, Pinene, some Limonene.  Pinus sylvestris is considered to have hormone-like, cortisone-like qualities. It is indicated for convalescence, inhaled for bronchitis, sinusitis, and asthma. and is used to tone the respiratory system, balance the hypothalamic/pancreas axis as well as the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal). It is a hypertensive, tonic stimulant.

The Difference between Firs and Spruces …
= 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 when pulling off a needle and Spruce for spiky feel]

The second group of trees of the Pinaceae family are generally called Spruce trees.  Some Spruce trees also have the common name of Fir.


picea-spruce-copyPicea spp.

Group II. Picea (Spruce)

Genera Picea leaves are linear, often obtuse or emarginate base of leaves persistent on the branches.  The leaves are needles and are sessile, 4-sided, or flattened and stomatiferous.

            Spruce trees which are of the Genera Picea, family Pinaceæ, are conical trees with linear short 4-sided leaves spreading in all directions, jointed at the base to a short persistent sterigmata, on which they are sessile, falling away in drying, the bare twigs appearing covered with low, truncate projections.  The leaf buds are scaly.  Cones are ovoid to oblong, obtuse, pendulous, their scales numerous, spirally arranged, thin, obtuse, persistent.

            Essential oil of Black Spruce (Picea mariana) has much value in the respiratory system. The components include 55% Monoterpenes, including Camphene, a-Pinene, g-Bornyl acetate, etc. The properties are hormone-like, possibly stimulating the thymus gland and with cortisone-like properties that affect the HPA (hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal) axis. Picea mariana  (Black Spruce) Grows in Quebec, Canada. Components also include Monoterpenes, including a-Pinene and g-3-Carene, and Sesquiterpenes.  Indicated for bronchitis; internal parasites and an antifungal for candida; prostatitis; solar plexus spasms; asthenic conditions; excellent for sudden fatigue or exhaustion.  A general tonic for the entire system and indicated as well for excessive thyroid function. Possibly this oil is extremely valuable inhaled for asthmatics who take corticosteroids.

            Picea alba  (White Spruce)  has the same chemical components as Black Spruce. Both White and Black Spruce contain Tricyclene. Uses of these oils are: included in Cedar blends for technical preparations, room sprays, deodorants.

       Picea excelsa  Norway Spruce. Young twigs and leaves are steam distilled in the Tyrol valley.  Chemical composition is mainly Pinene, Phellandrene and Dipentene, etc.  Norway Spruce has a very fragrant odor and it is used in all sorts of Pine-scented compositions, bath salts, room sprays, etc.

 Picea abies, Norway Spruce 

 Picea glauca, Blue Spruce



Tsuga canadensis

Group III.  … Tsuga (Hemlock-Spruce)
                            Pseudotsuga (False Hemlock)

Tsuga (Hemlocks)    … Leaves of the Genera Tsuga are stalked, flattened and stomatiferous below, or angular, often appearing 2-ranked. Hemlock-Spruces include Tsuga canadensis (Eastern Hemlock), Tsuga heterophylla (the Western Hemlock also called Gray-Fir or Alaskan-Pine) and sometimes the Black-Spruce and White-Spruce. These trees have slender horizontal or drooping branches, flat narrowly linear scattered short-petioled leaves, spreading and appearing 2-ranked, jointed to very short sterigmata and falling away in drying.  The leaf-buds are scaly.  Hemlocks are widely known in North America. These trees are tall evergreens with horizontal branches and finely toothed leaves. The young branches and leaves are steam distilled.  Production is normally in the Northeastern part of United States.

Tsuga canadensis, Common Hemlock

Tsuga Heterophylla, Prince Albert-Fir or Western Hemlock

Pseudotsuga (False Hemlock)… The base of the leaves of trees of the Pseudotsuga Genera are not persistent on the branches.  The leaves often appear 2-ranked, are stalked, flattened, stomatiferous below; winter-buds are pointed, not resinous. I have written about Douglas-Fir at


            Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga douglasii) also (P. Menziesii) is native to the West Coast of the United States and is now grown elsewhere. It is a  tall, attractive evergreen Fir tree, much used in the Christmas tree industry.  If you diffuse this oil in late November and early December you are sure to inspire the “Christmas spirit” in even the most grouchy of scrooges!  It is a wonderful oil to wake up to at that particular time of year.  The leaves are steam distilled to create the essential oil whose components vary considerably. The French oil contains large quantities of ß-Pinene and smaller amounts of Citronellyl acetate and ß-Phellandrene. Douglas Fir essential oil is strongly antiseptic and indicated for respiratory infections. It can be  used as a local disinfectant. This is one of the most lemon-scented of the Firs, with a powerful sweet, fresh, refreshing odor, well-liked as a room refresher or scent in soap blends. http://jeanne-blog.com/?s=Douglas+Fir

              Pseudotsuga taxifolia: Turpentine oil from Pseudotsuga taxifolia. is actually an oleo resin produced in the crevices of the tree trunk. On S-D it produces up to 35% the volatile oil, which is composed of up to 55 % l-a-Pinene, etc. Turpentine is used commercially in technical preparations


abies-grandis-foliage2-copyAbies grandis

Group IV. Abies (the True Firs)

In this group we find the common name of Firs from the Family Pinaceæ  and these include a variety of trees called Fir. The Firs are distributed worldwide and are coniferous trees with pyramid shapes. The essential oil is generally steam distilled from small twigs and needles. The base of the leaves of this group of trees is not persistent on the branches.  The leaves often appear 2-ranked but are actually spirally arranged.  The leaves are sessile, flattened and often grooved on the upper side or quadrangular, rarely stomatiferous above and on the upper fertile branches they are often crowded.  The winter-buds are obtuse and resinous.

The Difference between Firs and Spruces …
= 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 when pulling off a needle and Spruce for spiky feel]

            Turpentine oil is produced from Pseudotsuga taxifolia as well as from Abies balsamea  called Canada Balsam Fir. This product is also a true turpentine because it consists of both resin and volatile oil. Component is principally l-a-Pinene.

            Abies balsamea is Balsam Fir. It contains up to 90% Monoterpenes. It is antiseptic and antispasmodic and is inhaled for the respiratory system.

           Abies siberica  is Balsam Fir and is grown widely in Russia. Its chief constituent, 40%, is l-Bornyl acetate. Its properties are antispasmodic and used for bronchitis and asthma.

            Abies alba, White Fir contains 95% Monoterpenes. It is an antiseptic; inhaled for respiratory problems. In addition, Abies alba produces a cone oil with a very pleasant balsamic odor consisting chiefly of l-Limonene and used as an adjunct in all Pine needle scents.

           Abies sachalinensis, Abies mariana

There are Pine needle oils that are actually Firs.  They  are commonly called Japanese-Pine Needle. They contain mainly l-Limonene and Sesquiterpenes. Primarily used for respiratory inhalations and for scenting of soap.


cedrus-deodara-copyCedrus deodara

Group IV. Cedrus (True Cedars)

            The Cedrus Genera has needles arranged singly on growing shoots in tufts often called “whorls”.  There are often 10-20 needles arranged in one tuft.  The Cedrus Genera have upright cones like the Abies, but the cones disintegrate after two years.

             Cedar leaf oils are in general used externally, well diluted for skin conditions and dandruff, fungal infections and hair loss, and inhaled in blends for the respiratory system. Cedar oils are sometimes  contraindicated for people who are prone to high blood pressure and heart problems and should be avoided by people with sensitive skin. This may be because they are confused with other genera with the common name of Cedar. But true Cedar oils are normally not a problem.

          Oil from the wood of Cedrus atlantica, Atlas Cedar, from the Pinaceæ family contains up to 80% Sesquiterpenes and Sesquiterpenols. Its properties are an arterial regenerative and a lymphotonic. It aids in the removal of body fat, and is used externally for cellulite and the retention of fluid in the tissue as well as being indicated for artherosclerosis.  Atlas Cedar is a good oil for the medicine chest because it is used for the respiratory system; a single drop in a half cup water to gargle for sore throat; or with a two drops of Eucalyptus in a steaming bowl of water to reduce nasal and lung congestion.  This would be a good oil to use in a home-made vapor salve, something like “Vicks Vapo-Rub” for relief of lung and nasal congestion.  It can be added to shampoos or facial washes to reduce oily secretions.  It is also used as a fixative in the perfume industry.

        Cedrus deodara , called Himalayan Cedarwood, from the Pinaceæ family contains a quantity of Sesquiterpenes and is very close to Atlas Cedarwood both scent and organoleptic qualities and could be substituted in a number of cases. It regenerates the arterial system,  and, like Atlas is a lymphotonic and is  indicated for cellulite and water retention.

       Both Himalayan and Atlas Cedarwood are considered by some to be contraindicated for children and pregnant women because they are considered neurotoxic and abortive. In some books, this oil is neurotoxic and abortive so should not be used for children and pregnant women. However, I believe that this is incorrect.


Confusion in the Name Cedar


            Cedar is a common name used for a variety of plants from both family Pinaceæ and family Cupressaceæ. Here we encounter the confusion that common names create.  There are many types of Cedar trees: true Cedars from the Genus Cedrus and other trees which are actually from other Genera, yet have the common name of Cedar.   True Cedar, of the Genera Cedrus, is from the Pinaceae family.  There are some trees from the Cupessaceæ family which are called Cedars but when you look at their Latin binomials you will see that they are Junipers or Thujas. True Cedars from family Pinaceæ include Atlas Cedarwood, Deodar Cedarwood and Lebanon Cedarwood.  From family Cupressaceæ: Port Orford-Cedar, Hinoki- Cedar, Virginia-Cedar, Texas-Cedar, and others from the Juniper clan of this group of trees.  Remember, the trees called Cedar from the Cupressaceæ family are not true Cedars.  So I recommend, again, remember essential oils by their Latin binomial.  This way, you will know for sure from which plant your oil comes.

         Another point to be aware of when using Cedar oils is whether you are using the oil of the leaf or the wood.  Awareness of the part of the plant the oil is coming from is just as important as awareness of which Cedar the oil is coming from.   If an oil is simply labeled Cedar, how are you to know what this oil is and how it can be used safely?  All essential oils should be labeled with their Latin binomial, common name, country of origin and part of the plant used.  Although if you look at your collection of essential oils at home or in stores, you will see that this is rarely the case.

Source: I am especially fond of the essential oils that are sold by Eden Botanicals. I find them to be of excellent quality and lovely scent. http://www.edenbotanicals.com



•Britton, Lord and Hon. Addison Brown • An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canada Vol. II • (New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1970.)
•Franchomme, P. and Pénoël, Docteur D • L’Aromatherapie Exactement • (Limoges, France: Roger Jollois Editeur, 1990.)
•Guenther, Ernest, Ph.D. • The Essential Oils • (Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company 1976) (original edition 1952.) (in VI volumes)
•Rose, Jeanne • The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations • (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 3rd edition, 1994.)
Rose, Jeanne • 375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols • (San Francisco, CA: Jeanne Rose Aromatherapy, 3rd edition, 1994
*Sudworth, George B. • Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope • (New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1967.)
*Tutin, Heywood, Burgers, Moore, Valentine, Walters and Webb, Editors •  Flora Europea, Vol 4 • (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976.)


Do not Ingest essential oils: Although some oils are important flavoring oils in the flavor industry and thus ingested in very small amounts in many foods, especially meats and sausages, it is not a good idea to use them yourself either in capsules or honey to take internally.

Safety Precautions: Do not apply the essential oil neat, especially to the underarms or delicate parts of the body. Most oils are probably not to be used on babies, children or pregnant women. Many aromatherapist suggest that there are some oils not be used at all. However, as with many plants, essential oil chemistry is subject to change depending on species and terroir.

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

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. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor.  The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©



8 thoughts on “Evergreens & Their Similars

  1. When my mother lived with me in home hospice, she had end-stage asthmatic bronchitis (COPD). I used the asthma sequence EOs in a diffuser. She noticed the beautiful aromas and said that they relaxed her. She also noticed that it was easier to breathe. I did not tell her what it was for. The ability to breathe easier also helped her appetite.

  2. Pingback: Pines EO~Hydrosol | Jeanne Rose Aromatherapy Blog

  3. Excellent information – this is exactly what I needed to figure out where I want to start with the evergreens on my family’s property and potentially distilling some of them for hydrosol.

    • Thank you for your comment. Individually, the conifers/evergreens have been written about including the firs (and Grand Fir), pines, Spruce, Cypress, Junipers, Cedar and Douglas-Fir. I have not as yet written about the Hemlocks.

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