30 June 2011

Useful Trees & Shrubs of the North Woods (A Five Part Series) Balsam Fir

The old saying that "Nature Provides" couldn't be more true when applied to the Balsam Fir, Abies balsamea.

  • Flattened needles that are about 3/4 inch long, the needles are dark green on top and silvery-blue on the undersides.
  • The green resinous cones stand vertically and are two or three inches long.
  • The bark is grayish-brown and smooth with raised blisters containing a sticky resin.
  • Height of up to 80-ft  with a very narrow crown.
  • Prefers well drained acidic soils and cold climates, but I've found it almost everywhere here in Northern Minnesota.
I've found that the blisters are more prolific on the younger trees, not so much on the older trees.

Some images to help ID the tree:

  • Topical applications
    • Painkiller
    • Antiseptic
    • Salve for the healing of wounds such as cuts, abrasions, burns, sores, and chapped areas.
    • Prevention of chapped lips.
    • When applied to chapped lips it speeds the healing
  • As a warm tea
    • Bronchitis, cough, consumption, and sore throats
    • Inflammation of mucus membranes
    • Colds and flu
    • Dysentery
    • Earache
One of the best ways to use balsam fir pitch is to dab it on cuts, abrasions, sores, and wounds as a salve. The pitch will form a protective cover that aids in healing and destroys organisms that would otherwise find the area a hospitable place to grow and multiply.

The following images show how easy this is to do, I busted a knuckle open, just a small cut. Using the pitch in this manner seals the cut, keeping harmful stuff from entering. You can use it to seal a cut together as well, since the pitch has antiseptic properties it's like putting Neosporin in the cut, except the pitch is sticky and holds better. You could put a couple butterfly closures to truly close it up.

This is a Balsam right outside my shop, popped the blister with a pocket knife, apply directly to the cut.


  1. Great article. How much sap should be used for a single serving of tea?

    1. Hey Joseph,

      To make the tea you'll use the needles not the sap though I suppose that could work too I never actually tried the straight sap in a tea.

      I harvest needles and store them in a mason jar. Let them dry for at least a week. One teaspoon of needles per cup of water. Slice or crush the needles a bit before boiling as that helps to get a more robust flavor.