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Toxic parts

The oleoresin (Canada balsam) is reported to produce dermatitis when applied as perfume[1][2]. The foliage has also induced contact dermatitis[2].

Edible uses


Inner bark - cooked. It is usually dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickening in soups etc or mixed with cereals when making bread[3][4]. Fir bark is a delight to chew in winter or early spring, slightly mucilaginous and sweetish, better raw than cooked[2]. Another report says that it is an emergency food and is only used when all else fails[5].

An aromatic resinous pitch is found in blisters in the bark[6]. When eaten raw it is delicious and chewy[7][5]. Another report says that the balsam or pitch, in extreme emergency, forms a highly concentrated, though disagreeable, food[2]. An oleoresin from the pitch is used as a flavouring in sweets, baked goods, ice cream and drinks[5].

Tips of young shoots are used as a tea substitute[4][5].

Unknown part

Inner bark

Material uses

The balsamic resin 'Balm of Gilead'[8][9] or 'Canada Balsam' according to other reports[6][10][11] is obtained during July and August from blisters in the bark or by cutting pockets in the wood[1]. Another report says that it is a turpentine[12]. The term Canada Balsam is a misnomer because balsams are supposed to contain benzoic and cinnamic acids, both absent from the Canada oleoresin[2]. Turpentine is also a misnomer, implying that the oleoresin is entirely steam volatile. Actually it contains 70 - 80% resin, only 16 - 20% volatile oil[2]. Canada Balsam yields 15 - 25% volatile oil, the resin being used for caulking and incense[2]. It is used medicinally and in dentistry, also in the manufacture of glues, candles and as a cement for microscopes and slides - it has a high refractive index resembling that of glass[8][9][6][13][1][10][11]. The pitch has also been used as a waterproofing material for the seams of canoes[14]. The average yield is about 8 - 10 oz per tree[12]. The resin is also a fixative in soaps and perfumery[12][11]. \"Turpentine\" is usually collected during July-August by breaking the turpentine blisters into small metal cans with sharp-pointed lids. Trees are then allowed to recuperate for 1 - 2 years before being harvested again[2].

The leaves and young branches are used as a stuffing material for pillows etc - they impart a pleasant scent[9][15][14] and also repel moths[16]. The leaves contain an average of 0.65% essential oil, though it can go up to 1.4% or even higher[2]. One analysis of the essential oils reports 14.6% bornyl acetate, 36.1% b-pinene, 11.1% 3-carene, 11.1% limonene, 6.8% camphene, and 8.4% a-pinene[2]. To harvest the oil, it would appear that the branches should be snipped off younger trees in early spring[2]. Fifteen year old trees yield 70% more leaf oil than 110-year-old trees; oil yields are highest in January - March and September, they are lowest from April to August[2]. A thread can be made from the roots[14].

Wood - light, soft, coarse grained, not strong, not very durable. Weighs 24lb per cubic foot[17]. Used mainly for pulp, it is not used much for lumber except in the manufacture of crates etc[9][13][10][18]. The wood is commercially valuable for timber even though it is relatively soft, weak, and perishable[2]. Balsam fir is used in the US for timber and plywood, and is the mainstay of the pulp wood industry in the Northeast. The wood, which is rich in pitch, burns well and can be used as a kindling[14]

Medicinal uses(Warning!)

The resin obtained from the balsam fir (see 'Uses notes' below) has been used throughout the world and is a very effective antiseptic and healing agent. It is used as a healing and analgesic protective covering for burns, bruises, wounds and sores[19][1][10]. It is also used to treat sore nipples[19] and is said to be one of the best curatives for a sore throat[20]. The buds, resin, and/or sap are used in folk remedies for treating cancers, corns, and warts[2].

The resin is also antiscorbutic, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant and tonic[21][12][1]. It is used internally in propriety mixtures to treat coughs and diarrhoea, though taken in excess it is purgative[11]. A warm liquid of the gummy sap was drunk as a treatment for gonorrhoea[22]. A tea made from the leaves is antiscorbutic[21][12]. It is used in the treatment of coughs, colds and fevers[1]. The leaves and young shoots are best harvested in the spring and dried for later use[11].

This plant was widely used medicinally by various North American Indian tribes[14]. The resin was used as an antiseptic healing agent applied externally to wounds, sores, bites etc., it was used as an inhalant to treat headaches and was also taken internally to treat colds, sore throats and various other complaints[14].


Ecosystem niche/layer


Ecological Functions

Nothing listed.


Nothing listed.


Nothing listed.


Seed - sow early February in a greenhouse or outdoors in March[23]. Germination is often poor, usually taking about 6 - 8 weeks[23]. Stratification is said to produce a more even germination so it is probably best to sow the seed in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the autumn[24][25]. Stored seeds should be moist stratified 14 - 28 days at 1 - 5°C, though fresh seed may be sown in autumn without stratification, with target seedling densities in the nursery ca 450 - 500/m2, often mulched with sawdust. The seed remains viable for up to 5 years if it is well stored[25]. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on for at least their first winter in pots. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Of slow initial growth, the stock is usually outplanted as 2- to 3-year-old seedlings or 3- to 4-year-old transplants

Alternatively, if you have sufficient seed, it is possible to sow in an outdoor seedbed. One report says that it is best to grow the seedlings on in the shade at a density of about 550 plants per square metre[23] whilst another report says that they are best grown on in a sunny position[24].

Trees often self-layer in the wild[10], so this might be a means of increasing named varieties in cultivation[K].

Practical Plants is currently lacking information on propagation instructions of Abies balsamea. Help us fill in the blanks! Edit this page to add your knowledge.


Prefers a good moist but not water-logged soil[26]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Very shade tolerant, especially when young[27][28], but growth is slower in dense shade[27]. Intolerant of atmospheric pollution[26]. Prefers slightly acid conditions down to a pH of about5[29], though the cultivar 'Hudsonia' is more tolerant of alkaline conditions[11]. Prefers growing on a north-facing slope[29]. A shallow-rooted plant, making it vulnerable to high winds[18]. Balsam fir is estimated to tolerate an annual precipitation of 60 to 150cm, an annual temperature range of 5 to 12°C, and a pH of 4.5 to 7.5[2].

The balsam fir is a fast-growing tree in its native environment[18], but it is fairly short-lived and slow growing in Britain, becoming ungainly after about 20 years[8][6][27]. It grows best in the Perthshire valleys of Scotland[8][30]. New growth takes place from late May to the end of July[30]. Trees are very cold hardy but are often excited into premature growth in mild winters and this new growth is susceptible to damage by late frosts[8]. Female strobili may be wholly or partially aborted up to 6 to 8 weeks after bud burst by late spring frosts[2]. Pollen dispersal can be reduced by adverse weather[2]. Trees should be planted into their permanent positions when they are quite small, between 30 and 90cm in height. Larger trees will check badly and hardly put on any growth for several years. This also badly affects root development and wind resistance[29]. Trees have a thin bark and are therefore susceptible to forest fires[18]. This species is closely related to A. fraseri[8]. Plants are strongly outbreeding, self-fertilized seed usually grows poorly[29]. They hybridize freely with other members of this genus[29]. The cones break up on the tree and if seed is required it should be harvested before the cones break up in early autumn[24]. Whilst the typical species is too large for most gardens, there are some named slow-growing dwarf forms that can be grown[11]. Whilst these will not provide the resin, their leaves can be used medicinally[K].

The leaves are strongly aromatic of balsam when crushed[30]. The tree is sometimes grown and used as a 'Christmas tree'[10].


Problems, pests & diseases

Associations & Interactions

There are no interactions listed for Abies balsamea. Do you know of an interaction that should be listed here? edit this page to add it.

Polycultures & Guilds

There are no polycultures listed which include Abies balsamea.




None listed.


None listed.

Full Data

This table shows all the data stored for this plant.

Binomial name
Abies balsamea
Imported References
Edible uses
None listed.
Material uses
None listed.
Medicinal uses
None listed.
Functions & Nature
Provides forage for
Provides shelter for
Hardiness Zone
Heat Zone
full sun
permanent shade
Soil PH
Soil Texture
Soil Water Retention
Environmental Tolerances
    Native Climate Zones
    None listed.
    Adapted Climate Zones
    None listed.
    Native Geographical Range
    None listed.
    Native Environment
    None listed.
    Ecosystem Niche
    Root Zone Tendancy
    None listed.
    Deciduous or Evergreen
    Herbaceous or Woody
    Life Cycle
    Growth Rate
    Mature Size
    15 x 5 meters
    Flower Colour
    Flower Type

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    "image:Abies balsamea.jpg|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki. "image:Abies balsamea.jpg|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki.

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    "image:Abies balsamea.jpg|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki., "image:Abies balsamea.jpg|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki., "image:Abies balsamea.jpg|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki. "image:Abies balsamea.jpg|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki., "image:Abies balsamea.jpg|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki., "image:Abies balsamea.jpg|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki., "image:Abies balsamea.jpg|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki.

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    1. ? Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America. Houghton Mifflin Co. ISBN 0395467225 (1990-00-00)
    2. ? Duke. J. Handbook of Energy Crops - (1983-00-00)
    3. ? 3.03.1 Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World. Keigaku Publishing (1976-00-00)
    4. ? Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption. Koeltz Scientific Books ISBN 3874292169 (1984-00-00)
    5. ? Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications ISBN 0-9628087-0-9 (1990-00-00)
    6. ? Howes. F. N. Vegetable Gums and Resins. Faber ()
    7. ? 7.07.1 Turner. N. J. and Szczawinski. A. Edible Wild Fruits and Nuts of Canada. National Museum of Natural Sciences (1978-00-00)
    8. ? Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement. Murray (1981-00-00)
    9. ? Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants. Weinheim (1959-00-00)
    10. ? Lauriault. J. Identification Guide to the Trees of Canada Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Ontario. ISBN 0889025649 (1989-00-00)
    11. ? Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London. ISBN 0-7513-020-31 (1995-00-00)
    12. ? Hill. A. F. Economic Botany. The Maple Press (1952-00-00)
    13. ? Sargent. C. S. Manual of the Trees of N. America. Dover Publications Inc. New York. ISBN 0-486-20278-X (1965-00-00)
    14. ? Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany Timber Press. Oregon. ISBN 0-88192-453-9 (1998-00-00)
    15. ? 15.015.1 Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man. Constable ISBN 0094579202 (1974-00-00)
    16. ? 16.016.1 Buchanan. R. A Weavers Garden. ()
    17. ? 17.017.1 Britton. N. L. Brown. A. An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canada Dover Publications. New York. ISBN 0-486-22642-5 (1970-00-00)
    18. ? Elias. T. The Complete Trees of N. America. Field Guide and Natural History. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. ISBN 0442238622 (1980-00-00)
    19. ? Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food. Ballantine Books ISBN 0-449-90589-6 (1980-00-00)
    20. ? 20.020.1 Genders. R. Scented Flora of the World. Robert Hale. London. ISBN 0-7090-5440-8 (1994-00-00)
    21. ? Grieve. A Modern Herbal. Penguin ISBN 0-14-046-440-9 (1984-00-00)
    22. ? 22.022.1 Craighead. J., Craighead. F. and Davis. R. A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers The Riverside Press ISBN 63-7093 (1963-00-00)
    23. ? Sheat. W. G. Propagation of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers. MacMillan and Co (1948-00-00)
    24. ? McMillan-Browse. P. Hardy Woody Plants from Seed. Grower Books ISBN 0-901361-21-6 (1985-00-00)
    25. ? 25.025.1 Dirr. M. A. and Heuser. M. W. The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation. Athens Ga. Varsity Press ISBN 0942375009 (1987-00-00)
    26. ? 26.026.1 F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956 Oxford University Press (1951-00-00)
    27. ? Rushforth. K. Conifers. Christopher Helm ISBN 0-7470-2801-X (1987-00-00)
    28. ? ? The Plantsman. Vol. 6. 1984 - 1985. Royal Horticultural Society (1984-00-00)
    29. ? Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. MacMillan Press ISBN 0-333-47494-5 (1992-00-00)
    30. ? Mitchell. A. F. Conifers in the British Isles. HMSO ISBN 0-11-710012-9 (1975-00-00)
    31. ? Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named PFAFimport-43

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    Facts about "Abies balsamea"RDF feed
    Article is incompleteYes +
    Article requires citationsNo +
    Article requires cleanupYes +
    Belongs to familyPinaceae +
    Belongs to genusAbies +
    Has common nameBalsam Fir +
    Has drought toleranceIntolerant +
    Has edible partUnknown part + and Inner bark +
    Has edible useSeasoning +, Gum +, Unknown use + and Tea +
    Has fertility typeWind +
    Has flowers of typeMonoecious +
    Has growth rateSlow +
    Has hardiness zone2 +
    Has imageAbies balsamea.jpg +
    Has lifecycle typePerennial +
    Has material partUnknown part +
    Has material useAdhesive +, Fibre +, Kindling +, Microscope +, Repellent +, Resin +, Stuffing +, Waterproofing + and Wood +
    Has mature height15 +
    Has mature width5 +
    Has medicinal partUnknown part +
    Has medicinal useAnalgesic +, Antiscorbutic +, Antiseptic +, Diuretic +, Poultice +, Stimulant +, Tonic + and VD +
    Has primary imageAbies balsamea.jpg +
    Has search nameabies balsamea + and x +
    Has shade tolerancePermanent shade +
    Has soil ph preferenceAcid +, Neutral + and Alkaline +
    Has soil teclayture preferenceClay +
    Has soil teheavy clayture preferenceHeavy clay +
    Has soil teloamyture preferenceLoamy +
    Has soil tesandyture preferenceSandy +
    Has sun preferenceFull sun +
    Has taxonomy nameAbies balsamea +
    Has water requirementsmoderate +
    Inhabits ecosystem nicheCanopy +
    Is deciduous or evergreenEvergreen +
    Is herbaceous or woodyWoody +
    Is taxonomy typeSpecies +
    Tolerates nutritionally poor soilNo +
    Uses mature size measurement unitMeters +