Balsam firs are considered by many Christmas tree afficionados to be the ideal tree, if you're going for the real variety. With their familiar, definitive scent and elegant shape that starts from the ground going around in a perfect conical shape all the way up, they present a majestic figure to decorate. Even here in Southern California, these trees are not so difficult to come by despite their origin in northern climates.
Once Christmas is over--or, for some, by New Year's Day--many people are tired of adding water to a container/stand, cleaning up needles, and toss the tree out along with their Christmas spirit. Others, who either hate to part with the fragrant fir, or who celebrate according to the Orthodox traditions (or Little Christmas if you’re French), hang on until January 6 or 7.
Not so fast, though...the balsam is rich in healthy, life-enhancing goodness long after the tinsel, lights and other decorations are packed up. The needles are fantastic not just in sachets to give their delightful scent to closets and drawers, but as infusions or teas. Whether on their own or in a blend of other herbal materials, balsam helps control coughs and phlegm. In many commercial cough remedies, you'll find balsam as one of the ingredients. As part of an infusion for this purpose, or in a tea for a chilly day, this evergreen will loosen up congestion and relax your breathing.
The resin, gained from blisters on the bark, is also of value, as it possesses analgesic, diuretic and antiseptic qualities. Native people in this country and in Canada recognized the medicinal properties of this tree's various parts far before the Europeans arrived. Essential oil of this fir is also beneficial for a variety of external purposes, such as soothing aches and pains as a liniment, in aromatherapy for chest congestion, and even on cuts, bruises, burns and hemorrhoids. The needles, being rich in Vitamins A and C plus calcium and iron, provide overall goodness, whether used internally or externally, for many uses.
If it's not too late, run out and retrieve your balsam tree from the curbside or alley before the garbage collection. It will not be as simple a matter at other times of the year to find this tree unless you go to a nursery and get one to plant. That, in fact, is a terrific idea for those with the available space. To have balsam ready at hand year-round would provide not just shade, a fragrant air purifier and windbreak once it’s full-grown, but also a healthy addition to your home remedy supply.