The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year for many reasons. For many people, December means the warm aroma of gingerbread, baking cookies, peppermint, and the spicy and soothing scent of a Christmas tree. Even if the holidays get a bit stressful, a fresh fir standing in a living room lit by lights provides relaxation and joy.
Balsam fir essential oil bottles up the happiness of the holiday season for use year-round. The oil can evoke memories of sleigh rides and cups of hot chocolate, but it is more than just a mood booster. This essential oil has also been used to reduce pain, treat illness, and freshen up both the house and body.
The History of Balsam Fir
You may know the balsam fir by one of many names including Eastern Fir, Canada Balsam, Silver Pine, or the common Christmas Tree. Long before fir trees were adorned with garland, lights, and ornaments, they were sought after for a variety of medicinal uses.
Icelandic writings from as far back as 1475 praised the balsam fir for healing earaches and wounds with excessive bleeding.1 The tree was also incorporated into dysentery treatments and was thought to improve memory.
In the 19th century, the founder of the Eclectic Healing Movement experimented with balsam fir. The founder, Dr. Wooster Beech, found that the tree acted as a stimulant and laxative when consumed, as well as a coolant when applied externally. 2 External application of balsam fir essential oil is common today to treat sore muscles and cold and flu-like symptoms.
Balsam fir also has a rich history in Native American cultures. The needles of the fir were used to stuff pillows and promote restful sleep, while other parts of the tree helped in the treatment of infections. Many tribes made tea from the fir needles to relieve cold symptoms. The highly aromatic needles were also commonly burned, as the steam could relieve congestion, respiratory issues, and headaches.
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Today, the balsam fir tree is a popular species to harvest for lumber, and many families place a balsam fir in their home for the holidays. Most importantly, however, when the needles are dried and steam distilled, they produce an essential oil with a wide range of health benefits.
While balsam fir may capture the magic of the holidays, its benefits are backed by science. A few distinct chemical components work together to give this essential oil antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying properties.
The bulk of balsam essential oil is made of terpenes—both monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes—that contribute to the oil’s distinct, woodsy scent while providing a range of health benefits. Some of these compounds include:
Balsam fir oil also contains esters, such as bornyl acetate, that provide a relaxing fragrance with anti-microbial benefits. Additionally, a relatively high concentration of the 1,8-cineole oxide allows balsam fir essential oil to act as an expectant, which can be useful for treating coughs and colds.
Together, each chemical component of balsam fir makes it a beneficial oil to have on hand.
Uses for Balsam Fir Essential Oil
Balsam fir has historically been used for two purposes: medicinally healing the body and healing the mind and spirit through aromatherapy. The modern uses for this essential oil have not changed much. The most common uses for balsam fir essential oil are highlighted below.
Alleviates Stress and Anxiety
Balsam fir is well-known for providing grounding when used aromatherapy. Perhaps it is because the scent is reminiscent of the joy of the holidays, balsam fir essential oil can melt away stress and soothe anxieties for a wholly relaxing experience.
Balsam fir can be used aromatically in a number of ways. Dried needles from the fir tree are occasionally added to potpourri mixes. The oil can be added directly to a room diffuser for prolonger relaxation. Alternatively, a few drops can also be placed at the bottom of a hot shower for a relaxing steam or diluted with massage oil and applied to aching muscles.
The scent of balsam fir is distinctly fresh, woodsy, and a little bit earthy. The oil is not too overpowering and can be easily mixed with others to create a unique scent that will fill the whole room. Experiment with balsam fir essential oil mixed with cedarwood, eucalyptus, frankincense, lemon, lavender, peppermint, pine, spruce, or tea tree essential oils for added benefits.
Treats Cough, Cold, Allergies, and Flu
The winter months often bring about more than gifts and togetherness. Balsam fir essential oil is a great addition to a medicine cabinet during cold and flu season, as it can help improve respiratory function. This makes balsam fir essential oil effective during the spring and summer allergy seasons as well.
The benefits of balsam fir essential oil as a treatment for congestion is two-fold. When inhaled with steam through a diffuser, the oil acts as an anti-inflammatory expectant. This means the oil helps reduce swelling in the nasal passages while loosening mucus to remove it from the body. In this way, balsam fir relieves sinus pressure and remedies stuffy noses.
Additionally, balsam fir essential oil has antibacterial properties that can fight against infection. While the oil cannot kill viruses that cause colds and flu, it can eliminate harmful bacteria, helping speed up recovery time and preventing future infections.
Reap the illness-fighting benefits of balsam fir essential oil by adding a few drops to a diffuser or and breathing deeply. The oil can also be diluted in a carrier oil like coconut, almond, or jojoba oil and applied topically to the chest, throat, and under the nose for added congestion relief.
Soothes Sore Muscles
Balsam fir essential oil is warming and relaxing. This makes the oil a fantastic treatment for tight, sore, or tired muscles. The oil works through anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that reduce swelling and increase circulation, allowing muscles to heal more readily in a shorter time frame than rest alone.
Add this essential oil to a massage oil for grounding and deep muscle relaxation. The oil can also be used to remedy joint pain, muscle cramps, muscle tension, or pain. Simply dilute the oil with a carrier oil and apply topically to the affected areas. Alternatively, put a few drops of the oil in a hot bath with Epsom salts for full body relaxation.
Detoxifies the Home and Body
Balsam fir oil makes a wonderful addition to a homemade, natural household cleaner. The oil functions as an antibiotic disinfectant to kill germs while refreshing the air.
The oil offers even more benefits by detoxifying the body at the cellular level. The antioxidant properties of balsam fir essential help reverse free radical damage from environmental pollution, stress, and sun exposure. Antioxidants can even heal the skin combat signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Try adding a few drops of the essential oil to moisturizer or lotion to reap the benefits of its anti-aging, detoxifying properties.
It is no secret that essential oils can remove odors and freshen the air. Many provide clean scents with a variety of aromatherapy benefits. We’ve already covered that balsam fir can help reduce anxiety as it leaves a crisp, calming aroma, but balsam fir can remove odors from more than just the air.
The antibacterial properties in balsam fir essential oil can decrease or eliminate the bacteria that causes body odor. 3 Since it is very concentrated in its essential oil form, balsam fir should always be diluted before topical application. Add a few drops to a homemade deodorant to receive the benefits of the oil without harming the skin. For the homemade deodorant, try mixing five tablespoons of coconut oil, a quarter cup of baking soda, and several drops of balsam fir essential oil in a small container. Rub under the arms as needed.
Safety and Precautions
Balsam fir essential oil is generally considered safe to use, but there are a few things to keep in mind about this potent oil, as it is highly concentrated.
While topical applications of balsam fir essential oil are common, the oil can cause skin irritation in individuals allergic to the tree or with sensitive skin. Always conduct a patch skin test before applying balsam fir essential oil to larger areas of the body. If you experience burning, stinging, or itching discontinue use immediately. Diluting balsam fir oil in a carrier oil or lotion before use can greatly reduce the risk of a negative reaction.
It is best to avoid balsam fir oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. The oil is also not recommended for use by children under the age of six.
Like many essential oils, balsam fir may cause sensitivity to sunlight. It is best to avoid direct exposure to the sun for three to six hours after applying balsam oil.
When used in aromatherapy, balsam essential oil promotes a relaxation while relieving cold, flu, and allergy symptoms. Topical uses for balsam fir essential oil include soothing sore muscles and eradicating free radical damage.
Balsam fir trees are a holiday favorite, but the oil derived from the tree’s needles has uses that last the whole year—this oil can help heal the mind, body, and spirit.