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Abies balsamea – Balsam Fir

Most popular species are found in moist woods. From Canada south through New England and along the mountains to West Virginia and Virginia; west through Ohio to northeastern Iowa and Michigan. Found in mountainous regions of Europe, Asia, and the Himalayas. There are 9 species of firs in the United States of the genus Abies. (1)

The botanical name of abele is: 
Abies balsamea
(L.) Mill.

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Tracheobionta
Class: Pinopsida
Order:   Pinales
Family:  Pinaceae – Pine family
Genus: Abies Mill. – fir
Species: Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. – balsam fir
Bionomial name:
Abies balsamea
(L.) Mill.

Other names this herb may be known by are:

  • Balsam Fir
  • Canada Balsam
  • Christmas Tree
  • Fir
  • Fir Balsam
  • Fir Pine
  • Sapin
  • Silver Fir
  • Silver Pine(3)

Balsam fir is an evergreen of the pine family, a spire-shaped tree that grows to 60 feet in height. The flattish needles are up to 1-1 1/2 inches long, in flattened sprays that are stalkless. Needles are rounded at the base, each with 2 lines beneath. The cones are 1 to 4 inches long and erect with purple and green scales, mostly twice as long as broad. The bark is smooth with numerous resin pockets. Cones mature in one season but drop their scales when ripe. The stems of the cones remain on the tree and fir cones are never found on the ground. The male and female flowers occur on branchlets of the previous year's growth located on different parts of the same tree. The female cones are usually high; the male flowers hang on the lower part of the tree. Both are purplish in color when young. The leaves are sessile and attached singly.

Another variety: the Native Americans used a balsam fir (Abies lasiocarpa), Shoshone name "Wungobe," they made a tea from the needles and resinous blisters. They also called this variety Sweet Pine. They mixed grease with the resin to make fragrant hair-oil. (4)

Some of the main constituents (chemical composition) in abies balsamea are: 
Monoterpenes and Sesquiterpenes - Both considered essential oils effective against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.(5)(6)
Limonene – A known constituent that helps fight cancer. (7)

The Balsam Fir Needle contains high levels of both Palmitic and Oleic acids which are very healthy fatty acids for our exotic birds when consumed as natural foraging foodstuffs. However, the caveat here to be considered is that all pines are extremely high in histamines which trigger those birds who may engage in feather destruction activities or self-mutilation. It is not recommended that these birds come in contact with any pine needles, pine cones or pine essential oils or essences of any kind. (8)

On a scale from very low to extremely high:
The measurement for abies balsamea is extremely high.
I insert the level of salicylates here due to the fact I have found this naturally occurring food constituent/food chemical triggers barbering, cutting, picking, plucking, and self-mutilation in birds who engage in feather destruction.

All of the abies balsamea species are used mostly for the essential oils extracted from their needles. However their needles do provide a rich source of food for wildlife, especially in winter when food sources are scarce. As mentioned above abies balsamea provides a rich source of both palmitic acid (Omega 7) and oleic acid (Omega 9). The oils obtained from abies balsamea can potentially help fight both e. coli and staph infections. Studies have shown that the essential oil contains antitumor activity. (9)

If I were to use abies balsamea with my own exotic birds I would use whole needles allowing my birds to extract the rich essential oils during normal mastication with their beaks. I personally do not use essential oils with exotic birds except on rare occasions for very special reasons due to the concentrated amount of volatile oils they contain. I personally believe birds receive enough oil simply by “beaking” plant matter containing oils. The system of birds are such that they readily absorb and metabolize constituents from the foods they consume at a faster rate than other animals. In my opinion, feeding essential oils that contain concentrated volatile oils may potentially be harmful for exotic birds causing an overdose into their delicate metabolic system if a person does not dilute the essential oil properly.

Due to the high amount of monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes the abies balsamea species contain I would be very judicious in offering this “herb” to my exotic birds. While “pines” in general are known to be expectorants in relieving respiratory distress, used in high levels they can also antagonize the respiratory tract. Since birds do not share a similar designed respiratory system as humans, lacking a diaphragm and therefore a relative “dry” respiratory tract I would caution using “pine” as a means to relieve respiratory distress in birds.

Overall I would reserve this herb for nutritional purposes using it to boost both palmitic and oleic acids. Or if fighting a serious e.coli or staph infection. I may potentially consider using the essential oil if one of my birds was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

ORAC Values:
Phtytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database:
Abies balsamea:
USDA’s statement regarding the ORAC value:
Personally I believe this statement is “bunk” and I believe the antioxidant properties in foods do matter.
And of course here the USDA is contradicting themselves only years earlier:
For this reason I will supply the ORAC value of each food, herb and spice when available.
ORAC value of Abies balsamea: Unavailable.

Ref: (1);
(2); (3);
(4); (5); (6); (7); (8); (9)

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