Synopsis: Fir profile and specifics on use, history, and aroma of several Fir trees and includes chemistry and hydrosol.
Fir – Abies alba and Abies balsamea
Essential Oil & Hydrosol Profile
By Jeanne Rose
Abies balsamea and Abies alba
Essential oils to examine are courtesy of Eden Botanicals.
Common Name/ Latin Name/ Country of Origin: Fir, balsam Abs, Fir, balsam SD and Fir, Silver SD are the common names for the needle oil of two of the most commonly used Firs. Their Latin binomial and country of origin is this:
Abies balsamea or Balsam fir is a North American fir, native to most of eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States. Balsamea means it produces balsam from the bark.
Fir, Silver SD or Abies alba, the European silver fir or silver fir is a fir native to the mountains of Europe, from the Pyrenees north to Normandy and east to the Alps and the Carpathians as well as south to Italy Bulgaria and northern Greece.
Endangered or not: Of least concern
Safety Precautions: Use moderately in your blends and perfumes. Remember that the conifer needle oils contain alpha- and beta-pinene and have been known to cause sensitivity and skin irritation in some.
Storage: Keep in a cool dry place and replace every year or so.
There is something richly evocative of the forest in the scent of the Balsam Fir needle absolute. Woody, conifer, green, somewhat vegetative, earthy and deeply scented of the forest – a wonderful oil to use in a perfume.
The Balsam Fir steam-distilled oil is very similar to other conifer needle oils and hard to differentiate if you do not have 5-6 to compare. It is, of course, green, conifer, slightly vegetative and herbaceous with that sweet airy note we smell as we walk in the conifer forest. So these Fir and Pine oils can pretty much be used interchangeably.
The essential oil of white Fir Abies alba, is clear and colorless, fragrant with the notes of the forest, green and heady. After smelling other conifer needle oils this one has a sweet and heady scent. A resinous essential oil can also be extracted. This conifer-scented oil has soothing qualities and is used in perfumes, bath products, and aerosol inhalants.
Choose the one that you like best to use. I have a special kit of 20 Conifer oils for sampling – the cost is $140 and needs to be pre-ordered. But for trying out different Conifer scents it is the best.
Best method of application and Properties or what do you use each for. With the alpha- and beta- pinene in these oils, you really can’t go wrong. Just choose the one whose scent is most pleasing to you.
The essential oil of Silver Fir needle oil, is clear and colorless, fragrant with the notes of the forest, green and sweet. This conifer-scented oil has soothing qualities and is used in perfumery, bath products, and aerosol inhalants especially for the health of the respiratory system. The cone and leaf oil are steam-distilled in the Tyrol area of Austria from carefully harvested and maintained forests. Young twigs and leaves have a delightful odor. This EO is used in all kinds of ‘pine’ compositions such as room sprays, deodorants, and baths. In Aromatherapy it is used for inhalation for respiratory ailments, colds, etc.; and used externally, in preparations for rheumatism, aching muscles and other muscular-skeletal ailments. The cone oil has a suave balsamic odor and serves as an adjunct in all kinds of ‘pine’ needle scents.
A is for amiable (soft feel) or Abies and Fir is for friendly (needles don’t ‘stick’ or hurt you)
Balsam Fir produces Turpentine oil and Turpentine oils are produced both from Abies balsamea called Canada Balsam Fir andPseudotsuga taxifolia. This product is a true turpentine because it consists of both resin and volatile oil. The component is principally l-a-Pinene. Abies balsamea is Balsam Fir contains up to 90% Monoterpenes. Like the other needle oils, it is antiseptic and antispasmodic and is inhaled for the respiratory system or applied externally in blends to ease the muscular system. Balsam fir essential oil has a characteristic woody aroma. This oil usually contains between 6-9% of bornyl acetate and over 1% santene. The most common problems encountered with coniferous tree oil are contamination with other species during distillation and also misidentification of the distilled species. So, in a genuine balsam fir oil, it’s always important to have β-bisabolene, piperitone, and longifolene which are signature compounds for this species. Obviously, we also find commons monoterpenes in A. balsamea oil like β-pinene (the major component), α-pinene, camphene, myrcene, Δ3-carene.
Courtesy of Laboratoire PhytoChemia
And the Absolute of Balsam Fir is just the best for perfumery or blends for calmness and relaxation. This delicious warm and woody forest-y scent comes thick and dark and will need to be dissolved in high-proof (80-95%) alcohol so that you can measure and use it. I fell in love with this product when it was first received a year or so ago. Love it for my ‘Muscle Relaxation’ blend that also soothes the mind. [see end for formula]
Hydrosol Uses: The conifers, especially the needle oils, when steam- or hydro-distilled yield a quantity of hydrosol. These hydrosols are very useful in a steam bath for the respiratory system, in a bath just for soaking and as part of the water in the Neti pot for cleansing the sinus. The hydrosol is used in baths, steam inhalations, compresses to soothe the skin, ease muscle tension and just to make you feel good as you inhale the forest. It is not hard to use and doesn’t need a lot of instruction. Just get the hydrosol — taste it or drink small amounts occasionally (1 oz./8 oz. water) for a cold or flu, pour into the bath (no quantities needed although I like a 50•50 mix with Rosemary hydrosol) for anti-aging and relaxation, and then use it.
PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.
Portion of the plant used in distillation, how it’s distilled, extracted and yields: Balsam Fir and Silver fir needles are used in steam- and hydro-distillation. Silver fir yield is .25-.35% EO while Balsam fir is 0.65% essential oil, ranging to 1.4% or higher.
Chemistry: Abies balsamea or balsam fir is a North American fir. Turpentine oil is produced from Pseudotsuga taxifolia as well as from Abies balsamea aka Canada Balsam Fir. This product is also a true turpentine because it consists of both resin and volatile oil. The chemical 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.
Silver Fir oil contains alpha and beta pinene and is antiseptic if used externally or when inhaled for all respiratory needs. Burn the oil on charcoal for refreshing the air.
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 the needles when pulled off leave a Flat scar].
SPRUCE = Picea and the P is for prickly and S is for Spruce is for spiky feel. [Picea for prickly needles, Peg-like scar after needle is plucked and Spruce for spiky feel]
Fir absolute (Abies balsamea)
Historical Uses and Interesting Facts: Abies alba is “the whitewood or silver fir, and the tallest European tree growing to 350 years old. It is much grown for construction work and telegraph poles and was favored by the Greeks and Romans for building fast warships, especially for oars of triremes (as it loses its lower branches early), but since 1900 is has been attacked by aphids and is now being replaced by the (deliciously scented) Grand fir, Abies grandis. It is a source of Alsatian or Strasburg turpentine called Vosges, essential oil is used in bath preparations and medicine especially respiratory uses when inhaled and is the principal Christmas tree of the Continent.”—Mabberley.
- balsamea is named by Linnaeus and is the balsam fir of North America. The pulp contains juvabione which is a homologue of insect juvenile hormone. (juvabione because of the ability to mimic juvenile activity in order to stifle insect reproduction and growth). This tree is used in North America for paper products and is also a source of Canada balsam which is used in microscope preparations and as a local medication and for Canada pitch.
- Perfume ~ There are few ingredients in a perfume that perform so well to make a scent both soft and attracting as well as masculine as the sweet, green, conifer (deep forest) scent of the Balsam Fir Absolute. All you need to do if you want this comforting scent of the forest is to add to your basic blend. I would suggest it in the blend up to 25%, although my favorites have always been about 15%. There is something deeply relaxing and compelling about this wonderful odor.
- Haircare – I rarely use the Fir oils and balsams in my hair care although I have on occasion added a drop to shampoo along with Rosemary CT. verbenone to assist in hair health.
- Body Care – The Fir oils are excellent to be used in all manner of skin care in amounts up to 15% of the total blend to condition the skin, add a forest scent, refresh the body in a lotion.
- Jeanne Rose Tips for Uses:
This is a beautiful potpourri that if made with fresh picked cuttings of conifers and bay and some nutmeg will make a wonderfully fresh-scented room deodorizer. After a few days, make an infusion of the contents and throw into the bathtub for a soothing skin bath.
- Amazing Tomato Tales the Jeanne Rose stories ~
Fir Absolute Limerick
I am liking the Fir absolute
The scent is so full, resolute.
Sweet in the wood
Don’t need a hood
It is like a very sweet tasty fruit…
Jeanne Rose tips and tricks: Always pre-dilute your absolutes to a 50•50 with a 95% neutral grape spirits before using. I only use Alchemical Solutions for my alcohol. It is organically grown from grape, cane, corn and wheat. https://organicalcohol.com/
Aromatherapy Blend for Relaxation
First you will need to dilute your Balsam Fir Absolute to about 50%
Then take equal quantities essential oils of Piñon Pine, Black Spruce and Atlas Cedar,
About 30 drops total and add 15 drops of the diluted Balsam Fir Absolute.
Add or reduce these oils as you wish.
Shake it up by succussion. Let it rest and use with a carrier oil for
Muscle relaxation or for inhalation for the mind.
Source: I am very fond of the needle oils including the Firs that come from Eden Botanicals
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Abies grandis ~ Grand Fir, an American native tree.
There is another Fir I would like to mention that has a lovely citrus odor and is wonderful at Christmas time and that is the Grand Fir or Christmas Fir. [fall 2001 issue of the Aromatic News]
This large, grand tree is Abies grandis, the Grand Fir that lives in the coniferous forests of the Northwest as well as being used as a landscape tree in many places of the world. Here in San Francisco, Grand Fir is used throughout the city for its shapely beauty and scent. In Strybing Arboretum, in the Redwood Forest (which 100 years ago was a lake on the edge of the Sunset District), the Grand Fir has a prominent place. When walking in the Redwood Forest, take along a 5 foot long hooked cane so that you can pull down a branch of this handsome tree and smell the needles. There is a conifer and citrus note to the needles that is particularly appealing.
History: Kwakwakawaku shamans wove its branches into headdresses and costumes and used the branches for scrubbing individuals in purification rites. The Hesquiat tribes used its branches as incense and decorative clothing for wolf dancers. Grand Fir bark was sometimes mixed with Stinging Nettles and boiled and the resulting decoction used for bathing and as a general tonic. The Lushoot tribe boiled needles to make a medicinal tea for colds (it contains vitamin C). The Hesquait mixed the pitch of young trees with animal oil and rubbed it on the scalp as a deodorant and to prevent baldness.
Abies alba which is the tallest European tree and lives to 350 years is much grown for construction work and telegraph poles and was favoured by the Greeks and Romans for building fast warships, especially for oars of triremes. But since 1900 this tree has been much attacked by aphids and has been replaced by A. grandis (D. Don) Lindley (white or giant fir) from Northwest America. This tree reaches 100 meters and was introduced into Great Britain in 1834 and grew to a height of more than 62 meters by 1989.
Current Uses: Grand Fir has that delicious holiday Christmas tree odor. It is green and vegetative in its back note, slightly citrus in its subsidiary note and strongly coniferous in the top note. The smell is rich and sweet and joyous. Grand fir is used during the holiday season to scent the air and keep it fresh and airy or to aerate the sickroom. Use a mixture of 10% Grand fir to 90% water or a conifer hydrosol to spray the room and scent the air or use 50•50 Grand Fir to Rosemary or mint hydrosol water solution for refreshing the sick room. When using at holiday time and this includes any time during the season between All-Hallows and Valentines Day, spray the tree, spray your rooms, spray the wreaths, spray the bathrooms, spritz the decorations or the furniture, to keep everything fresh and smelling good.
Perfumery and Cosmetics: Grand fir can be added as a fresh note to many different types of perfume blends. When one is traveling and comes across those nasty smelling amenities that smell of Bitter Almonds it is only Grand Fir essential oil that can be added to the shampoo or hand lotion samples that will negate the bitter almond smell and add its own delicious sweet conifer note. Grand Fir essential oil mixed with other essential oils can act either as scent or therapy to all kinds of custom skin care products. Grand Fir can also be used as an inhalant with other conifers for all types of respiratory problems and conditions.
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Coombs, Allen J. Dictionary of Plant Names. Timber Press, Portland, OR. 1995
Harman, Ann. Harvest to Hydrosol. botANNicals. 2015
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book. Third Edition of Cambridge University Press. 2014
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,
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
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©