The deep, resiny scent of Balsam Fir not only smells amazing—like walking through the forest with fresh brush underfoot—it’s good for you, too. The Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) is an evergreen conifer that’s found abundantly in the Boreal Forest here in Canada (where we source our oil). But more than making your Foot Butter smell like a Christmas tree or perking up your Cleanse soap, fir has a long history as a remedy for a variety of ailments.
At Rocky, this ingredient finds its way into quite a few of our products because it contains active compounds that trigger the body to release toxins. That’s why you’ll find it in our Cleanse line of bath salts. The antiseptic properties of Fir are also great for fighting acne. Find it in our Cleanse Community Bar and our Cedarwood and Fir bar soap. Get ready to detox!
The healing and antiseptic properties of Fir also make it a star ingredient in our Foot Butter. It works to banish cracks in your skin while helping prevent bacterial growth. Not to mention it smells like a little forest you can keep in your pocket. What’s not to love?
In folk medicine Fir was used as a remedy for a whole host of ailments, from scurvy to ulcers, burns to bronchitis, as it was reported to be:
That’s a LOT of uses, so also a lot of ailments to treat.
Unsurprisingly, the Balsam Fir has a long history with many First Nations as a remedy. The antimicrobial effects of Balsam Fir were found to be potent enough that Indigenous Peoples used the oil as an antiseptic on wounds. The Chippewa First Nation reportedly used the gum as an analgetic (to relieve pain) and the essence of the root to treat inflammation from arthritis, according to the Handbook of Energy Crops. Many other Nations used the tree to treat things like cold sores, cuts, pains, for sweat baths, and even as a cancer treatment. Researchers have also found the oil to have some anti-tumoral (prohibiting or preventing the growth of tumors) properties.
Boreal forests cover approximately 30% of the world’s forest area “and store as much or more carbon than tropical forests,” writes the Aromatic Plant Research Center. The forests also provide 33% of world lumber and 25% of paper. According to the Center, the Balsam Fir is abundant and nowhere near endangered, so we don’t need to worry about running out or damaging the ecosystem anytime soon. More importantly, the essential oil we use to make our products is distilled from the needles and bark stripped from trees that have been logged for timber. This way the oil is a byproduct of the existing timber industry, rather than a competing production. Although the tree is (thankfully) thriving for now, the habitat where Balsam Fir trees grow is, in some cases, protected. For example one of our Community Bar Partners, Nature Conservancy Canada, protects more than 100 properties where the trees grow—stretching from Newfoundland to Saskatchewan.
While most people may not find the Fir too appetizing, it’s certainly edible and may help sustain you in an emergency (let’s hope it never comes to that!). The resin has also historically been munched on like a (very strong flavoured) chewing gum. We’re not recommending this, however. You can even find a recipe for Balsam Fir bread in Erika Gaertner’s book, Reap Without Sowing: Wild food from nature’s cornucopia (though we haven’t tried it, and it sounds complicated!). The author also warns people not to confuse the Fir with a Canadian Yew, as the mistake could be fatal! Gaertner also warns that the bread doesn’t keep well, and to only eat fresh or from frozen “if you care about your reputation as a baker.” Bon appetit!
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