Herb: Red Fir

Latin name: Abies amabilis

Family: Pinaceae (Pine Family)

Medicinal use of Red Fir:

This plant was used quite widely by native North American Indians. An infusion of the bark was used as a tonic and to treat stomach ailments, TB, haemorrhoids and various minor complaints. The pitch, or resin, was also used to treat colds, sore throats etc. The bark of this tree contains blisters that are filled with a resin called "Canadian Balsam". Although the report does not mention the uses of this resin, it can almost certainly be used in the same ways as the resin of A. balsamea, as detailed below:- The resin obtained from this tree (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. It is also used to treat sore nipples and is said to be one of the best curatives for a sore throat. The resin is also antiscorbutic, diuretic, stimulant and tonic. It is used internally in propriety mixtures to treat coughs and diarrhoea, though taken in excess it is purgative. A warm liquid of the gummy sap was drunk as a treatment for gonorrhoea. A tea made from the leaves is antiscorbutic. It is used in the treatment of coughs, colds and fevers. The leaves and young shoots are best harvested in the spring and dried for later use.

Description of the plant:


30 m
(98 feet)

Habitat of the herb:

High mountain slopes and benches, going down to sea-level in the north of its range. The best specimens grow in deep moist soils and cool wet air conditions such as fog belts.

Edible parts of Red Fir:

Young shoot tips are used as a substitute for tea. The pitch obtained from the bark can be hardened (probably by immersing it in cold water) and used as a chewing gum. Inner bark. No further information is given, but inner bark can be dried, ground into a powder and then used with grain flours etc to make bread and other preparations.

Other uses of the herb:

The boughs are fragrant and can be hung in the home as an air freshener. Wood - hard, light, not strong, close grained, not very durable. It is used for framing small buildings but is not strong enough for larger buildings. It is also used for crates, pulp etc. This tree yields the resin "Canadian Balsam". The report does not mention the uses of this balsam, but the following are the ways that it is used when obtained from A. balsamea:- The balsamic resin "Balm of Gilead" or "Canada Balsam" according to other reports is obtained during July and August from blisters in the bark or by cutting pockets in the wood. Another report says that it is a turpentine. 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. The average yield is about 8 - 10 oz per tree. The resin is also a fixative in soaps and perfumery.

Propagation of Red Fir:

Seed - sow early February in a greenhouse or outdoors in March. Germination is often poor, usually taking about 6 - 8 weeks. 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. The seed remains viable for up to 5 years if it is well stored. 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. 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 whilst another report says that they are best grown on in a sunny position.

Cultivation of the herb:

High mountain slopes and benches, going down to sea-level in the north of its range. The best specimens grow in deep moist soils and cool wet air conditions such as fog belts.

Known hazards of Abies amabilis:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.