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Essential Oils

Douglas Fir - A Diverse Essential Oil with Myriad Benefits

Most familiar as a Christmas tree, Douglas fir has benefits beyond dressing up homes for the holidays.

According to Midwest Living, the Douglas fir is the sixth most popular Christmas tree. It is most popular on the West Coast, where it grows prolifically, but it is shipped to the rest of the country, including Hawaii.

Douglas fir (genus Pseudotsuga, family Pinaceae), is one of six coniferous evergreens (conifers have pine cones) native to western North America. While it is called a fir tree, it is not a true fir.

These trees have long, flat needles that grow from the branch. Winter buds are shiny, pointed, and brown.

Douglas fir essential oil pairs well with citrus oils including grapefruit, wild orange, bergamot, tangerine, and lime ; spicy oils including any in the pepper seed family; the warm spices cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg; herbal oils including thyme, rosemary and lavender; woody essential oils such as white fir, cypress, cedarwood, white fir and sandalwood, as well as eucalyptus, lavender; and the mint oils peppermint and spearmint.

pinecones hanging from a pine tree


The History of the Douglas Fir


Fifty million years ago, the first member of the genus Pseudotsuga, an ancestor of the Douglas fir was discovered in Mexico.

From there, the evergreen migrated north. The seeds steadily traveled on the winds of the ocean, where they evolved into an evergreen similar to the spruce. The migration continued to Alaska, as well as parts of Asia.

Still, the Douglas fir is considered native to North America, which is where many naturalists were left in awe of the tree’s massive size.

There are two varieties of this tree. The Coastal Douglas fir grows from central British Columbia south to central California. The Rocky Mountain Douglas fir grows in the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia south to Mexico. It is most prolific in western Washington and Oregon, which ships many of its trees across the United States to serve as Christmas trees.

Discovery of the Douglas Fir


Native Americans used the Douglas fir for a variety of purposes. They recognized its medicinal benefits and used parts of the tree for nourishment. For instance, they chewed the pine pitch as gum to freshen breath.

In 1791, Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies traveled to the Northwest Coast of the United States with Captain George Vancouver, a British officer of the Royal Navy. Menzies noted a tree that had not yet been recorded by a botanist, but it would be Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clarke fame) who, in 1806, wrote extensively about the Douglas fir in his journals.

On February 6, 1906, Lewis wrote about six evergreen conifers found near Fort Clatsop, a winter retreat for the Corp of Discovery, a division of the United States Army given the task of traveling with Lewis and Clarke on their expedition of the rugged United States so the two would not have to go it alone.

Lewis called the Douglas fir “No. 5” in his notes and wrote that it “is a species of fir which arrives at the size of (Western hemlock and Pacific silver fir), the stem simple, branching, diffuse and proliferous. The bark thin, dark brown, much divided with small longitudinal interstices and sometimes scaling (sic) off in thin rolling flakes.”

Lewis said the Douglas fir had very little pine pitch, although what is available has been used to make incense and gum, and both the branches and the needle-like leaves are longer and thinner when compared to those of other pine trees. 1

Origin of the Name


The evergreen was first cultivated in 1827 by Scottish botanist David Douglas, whom the massive tree (Douglas firs have grown to heights of up to 400 feet) is named after. (The Latin name, Pseudotsuga menziesii , gives a nod to the other Scot involved with the Douglas fir’s discovery, Archibald Menzies). He planted the first at Scone Palace, a historic house in Scotland that represents Georgian Gothic architectural design when he was a gardener there.

The trees are able to grow so large because they are extremely hardy. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Douglas firs can live for up to a thousand years because of a thick bark that allows the trees to survive “moderate” fires that other trees could not withstand.

Douglas fir essential oil is a lovely shade of deep green, the color of the holiday season, with sweet notes that are rare for essential oils made from needles.

It is one of the most common Christmas trees in Western countries.







Douglas Fir Fun Facts


Eau de Vie de Bourgeons de Sapin, an Alsatian brandy, used the buds of the Douglas fir for flavor.

The Douglas fir is the Oregon state tree.

The only tree that grows taller than the Douglas fir is the coastal redwood.

Most parts of the world use the hearty Douglas fir for timber.

The Douglas fir is also used in the making of paper.

In an unaired Christmas episode, the teen drama “Glee,” mentioned the Douglas fir in one of the songs.

The Douglas fir is also known as the Oregon Pine, the British Columbian Pine, the Douglas Spruce, the Red Fir, and the Douglas Tree.

Native Americans used the wood of the Douglas fir to craft spears, harpoon shafts, fishing hooks, and tool handles. Branches covered the floor of structures, such as sweat lodges.

Bears will scrape the bark off of a Douglas fir to access the sap underneath, which they eat in winter when other food supplies are scarce.

There is a fable that plays on the Douglas fir’s ability to survive adverse conditions. It is about a mouse that was, depending on who is doing the telling, attempted to escape a fox or a forest fire by hiding in the pine cone of a Douglas fir. The mouse survived, and the cone still bears the imprint of the mouse’s back legs and tails, hidden beneath its scales.

Chemical Properties of the Douglas Fir


There are numerous active compounds in Douglas fir essential oil that give it special health benefits. Highlighted below are some of the most important compounds:

Sabinene


This terpenoid helps fight free radicals that can damage healthy cells, including the protein cells that make up the skin’s structural layer. It also helps support healthy inflammation while acting as an anti-microbial and antifungal.

Alpha-pinene


Alpha-pinene could protect the brain. The terpene is believed to inhibit the activity of a certain enzyme that targets the neurotransmitters responsible for sending messages from the brain to the rest of the body, giving it the potential power to protect brain functions including memory. Alpha-pinene also interacts with the same neurotransmitters impacted by anti-anxiety drugs such as those in the benzodiazepine class, making it a potential option for stress relief.

Carene


The terpene, carene (also known as Delta 3-carene) can help ease anxiety and insomnia. It is effective because it has molecules small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, so it can interact with neurotransmitters linked to feelings of stress, acting as a sedative. It also has been shown to help ease inflammation, making it a beneficial treatment option for joint pain.

Beta-pinene


Another monoterpene, beta-pinene is believed to help improve mood, making it a potential option for the future study of natural remedies for depression. It also reduces the presence of toxins, making it a natural antibacterial.

Terpinolene


An antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal, terpinolene acts as a sedative and may help protect against the spread of some cancers. 2

Camphene


A monoterpene, camphene could help protect against cardiovascular disease. According to the results of a study appearing in the journal Plos One, camphene reduced cholesterol and triglycerides when administered to mice, opening the door to human studies. 3 Camphene also acts as an antibacterial, antioxidant, and antifungal. It can keep insects at bay, making it a great addition to camping supplies.

Limonene


A terpene, limonene gives Douglas fir a hint of citrus that not only elevates mood but also helps relieve stress. Limonene also enhances the antifungal and antibacterial properties found in Douglas fir oil. It also works in synergy with other terpenes, helping them absorb better, either through the skin or the mucous membranes when used in aromatherapy.

Bornyl acetate


Bornyl acetate gives Douglas fir essential oil analgesic properties, allowing it to help relieve pain when applied topically. It also helps relieve inflammation.

Uses for Douglas Fir Essential Oil tall fir trees against a blue sky


Breathing in the aroma of Douglas fir essential oil evokes memories. The scent of Christmas as a child, full of the anticipation and the aromas of a day spent hiking through a serene forest, crushing pine needles beneath the feet,

Douglas fir essential oil has a sweet, woodsy scent. It immediately brings to mind camping trips, fall hikes, and any quality time spent in nature. Those memories alone are enough to bring down anxiety and create a sense of calm, no matter the surrounding chaos.

“When we make a happy memory, engram cells undergo physical and chemical changes to encode it. We can retrieve it when those cells are triggered,” said Susumu Tonegawa, a Nobel-winning molecular biologist at MIT who is experimenting with the relationship between happy memories and depression treatment. 4

Some other health benefits associated with Douglas fir essential oil, either when used in aromatherapy or when applied topically, include:

Douglas Fir Improves Appearance of Skin


Douglas fir essential oil contains a large number of antioxidants. These antioxidants fight free radicals that target the skin proteins collagen and elastin. Skin cells are less likely to show signs of aging when protected from damage. This includes fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, and lackluster color. It also clears away toxins that can clog pores and lead to blemishes.

Boosts Mood


Douglas fir’s sweet scent brings to mind a relaxing walk through the forest – the Japanese call this Shinrin Yoku, or Forest Bathing – and breathing in the heady scent eases anxiety, reduces stress and boosts a blue mood. The oil helps to interact with the neurotransmitters that control the hormones responsible for triggering feelings of stress. It is an excellent substitute if you are unable to go “forest bathing” every time stress and anxiety find you.

Provides Relief From Symptoms of Colds or Congestion


The woodsy aroma of Douglas fir can help encourage airways to open while clearing away congestion.

Maintains Healthy Immune System Function


The oil stimulates the immune system thanks to antimicrobial properties that help support recovery from colds and flu. A few drops used with steam can help ease coughing and speed the healing of bronchial infections.

Cleans the Home


Douglas fir essential oil has antibacterial properties that make it a wonderful option to add to natural cleaning supplies. To create a gentle, safe cleaner suitable for floors and to naturally purify countertops and others surfaces, add it to natural cleaners or use it in a spray bottle with water. For cleansing, Douglas fir pairs well with lemon.

Increases Energy


The aroma of Douglas fir essential oil brings to mind the crisp chill of the winter air that accompanies the holidays. The feel-good effects of this essential oil can also spark energy levels. This makes it the perfect scent to help you power through all the holiday tasks.

Flushes Out Toxins


Douglas fir can help flush the kidneys by encouraging the flow of urine, one of the most effective ways the body rids itself of toxins. It can also induce sweating, another way for toxins to escape the body, generating better health.

Improves Focus


If you have trouble concentrating, Douglas fir can help bring some clarity to your thinking by calming racing thoughts that can serve as a distraction. The same benefits that come from a walk in the woods can come from the scent of essential oil.

Promotes Healing


The antibacterial properties can help speed the healing of cuts, bug bites, and other skin irritations. It does this by encouraging the body’s immune system to kick into gear. The sabinene in this essential oil helps encourage the production of collagen. Collagen speeds the healing process by mending the damage to the skin’s structural layer.

Relieves Tired Muscles


When mixed with a carrier oil and used for massage, Douglas fir essential oil can help ease the pain of a rough workout, rheumatoid arthritis, or stiff muscles.

Douglas Fir Alleviates Pain


Douglas fir oil stimulates activity at the skin’s surface, encouraging more blood to travel to the surface of the skin, helping to flush toxins, speed healing, and ease the pain, thanks to the analgesic benefits of the bornyl acetate in the essential oil.

Mix Douglas fir essential oil with a carrier oil and apply topically to relieve cramping and ease swelling.

Try using this essential oil in the following ways to maximize the oil's benefits:

    • Use a few drops of oil in a diffuser to create a holiday aroma or bring the outdoors in to create a sense of calm.

    • Mix a few drops with skin care products such as facial moisturizer to help detox skin. It can also be used in homemade soap, especially those made to help treat acne-prone skin.

    • Pair Douglas fir with lavender essential oil to enhance a sense of calm.

    • Add Douglas fir to blood orange for added clarity.

    • Mix Douglas fir and wintergreen with a carrier oil to create a massage oil for aching muscles.

    • Add Douglas fir and lemon oil to water in a spritz bottle to freshen the air in your home or clean surfaces naturally.

    • Breathe this essential oil directly from the bottle to help you focus.

  • Sprinkle Douglas fir essential oil on pine cones during the holidays to create rustic potpourri.

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