Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) has been used medicinally as a traditional folk remedy and as an ingredient in cold medicines, creams and ointments. It is a very popular choice for use as a Christmas tree in eastern Canada and United States.
Balsam Fir can be identified by the twigs, which are light-coloured and are covered with shiny green needles which are arranged in flattened sprays. The needles can be 1-1/2 inch long are rounded at the base but spread out and become flatter.
The trunk is smooth rather than scaly, and is greyish in colour. Some may be reddish in colour. Along the trunk, raised blisters occur that contain resin from the tree.
To make the tea, add a small handful of twigs (an ounce for those who prefer to measure) to a pint of boiling water. Once added, reduce heat and allow to steep for ten minutes. The tea has a pleasant flavour and aroma. I use this tea as a method of treating colds and coughs. In folk medicine it is recommended to drink this tea two to three times a day for this purpose.
Warning: This should not be used by anyone who is allergic to balsam fir or any other similar tree. Use may also cause dermatitis. Use of natural remedies should be used with caution and should never replace those recommended by a health care professional.
Birch Twig Tea
Best if done with Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis). The tea can be made with other birches but they would lack the pleasant aroma and flavour of wintergreen that the yellow birch provides.
Yellow birch can be identified by the bark, the leaves and the catkins (spike of small soft flowers that hang from the tree branches). The bark of the yellow birch is yellowish in colour and can have a hint of grey. The leaves are broadly oval, with serrated edges, and come to a sharp point at their ends. The catkins which fruit in May and June are egg-shaped and are 2-3cm long.
The final method of identification (and quite effective) is to break the twigs. Yellow birch should smell and taste like wintergreen. It was once common to use yellow birch and Teaberry (wintergreen) as a natural flavour for chewing gum and candy.
My method of brewing yellow birch tea is to break a small handful of twigs and add them to a cup of boiling water. Then remove from heat and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes. This causes less damage to the tree than harvesting the inner bark would.
Birch has been used in folk medicine as a remedy for cramps and diarrhea.
It is important that anyone reading and using this information should rely on their own identification of plants and use extreme caution when harvesting and using for their own purpose.