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Therapeutic Effects of Essential Oils in the Pinaceae Family

Therapeutic Effects of Essential Oils in the Pinaceae Family

The Pinaceae family consists of cedars, firs, hemlocks, larches, pines and spruces. They grow between 2 and 100 meters (7 and 300 feet) tall. Their bark can be smooth to scaly or furrowed.

They have both male and female cones with some species producing edible seeds. All the conifers in this class keep their leaves or needles throughout winter with the exception of the larches.

When I was researching this topic I found some firs were called spruce. For example Silver fir (Abies alba) has the common names white spruce and white fir. As I’m unfamiliar with the differences between firs, spruces and pines I looked them up and found this simple explanation by Steve Aitken.

Look for the number of needles that come out of the same spot on a twig. If a twig bears needles in groups of two, three, or five, you can safely call it a pine. If the twig carries its needles singly, it’s a good bet you’ve got a fir or a spruce. Pull off a needle, and roll it between your fingers. If it feels flat and doesn’t roll easily, it’s a fir. If the needle has four sides and, thus, rolls easily between your fingers, it’s a spruce.”

Knowing the botanical name and your supplier is important as most essential oils from this family are distilled from the twigs and needles and may then be labelled fir needle essential oil.

In general the essential oils from the Pinaceae family are excellent for respiratory issues and are calming and warming.

Most oils in this group will cause skin sensitization if oxidized therefore Tisserand and Young suggest storing them in a dark, airtight container in the refrigerator to avoid oxidation. They also recommend adding an antioxidant.

Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)

Cedarwood - Pinaceae family

Cedarwood has been used since ancient times as a symbol of courage, strength, abundance, long life and fertility. The wood was used to build temples, ships and palaces and is still used today to make storage chests as it repels termites and moths.

Note: Although having similar properties Atlas cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) should not be confused with Virginian cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) which is a member of the Cupressaceae family.

Therapeutic Effects
Cedarwood is used in respiratory conditions such as a dry, persistent cough, congestion and bronchitis. She is also useful for skin rashes, dermatitis, psoriasis, acne and oily skin. Used in sitz baths and compresses she may be of benefit in cases of kidney and bladder infections.

Emotional and Subtle
Cedarwood brings a sense of warmth and comfort easing the symptoms of anxiety, nervousness, nervous tension and stress.

Gabriel Mojay writes that cedarwood gives us the will to hold firm, even against persistent external forces and helps us to take a negative or threatening situation and transform it into an experience from which we can derive strength and wisdom.

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Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)Balsam fir - Pinaceae familyThe tree forms blisters of oleoresin just under the first layer of the bark on the trunk and branches to seal wounds and protect itself from insect or pathogenic invasion. The essential oil is produced by steam distillation from this oleoresin.

An essential oil is also produced by steam distillation from the needles known as fir needle oil.
During the American Civil War, a balm prepared from balsam fir was used to treat combat injuries.

Therapeutic Effects
Balsam fir is useful in respiratory conditions such as chronic cough, colds and flu, sinusitis, asthma, bronchitis and sore throat. Burns, cuts, wounds, hemorrhoids, arthritis, muscle aches and pains can also benefit from the use of this oil.

Emotional and Subtle
The oil is grounding, calming, uplifting and warming which helps to relieve the symptoms of stress related conditions, anxiety, depression and mental fatigue.

The essential oil distilled from the leaves and twigs can cause skin sensitization if oxidized. It may also be adulterated with turpentine oil.

Julia Lawless writes that the oil produced from the oleoresin is generally non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitizing but I think it would be wise not to use an oil that has been stored for more than a year.

Douglas Fir  (Pseudotsuga menziesii)Douglas Fir Pinaceae familyThe oil is steam distilled from the oleoresin collected from felled wood. There is also an oil distilled from the needles. The Douglas fir is not a true fir as evidenced by its botanical name. Over the years it has had many genus and species name changes until finally being classified as a Pseudotsuga.

Therapeutic Effects
Although not commonly used in aromatherapy Douglas fir is useful for colds, flu, asthma, catarrh, bronchitis, wounds, arthritis, muscular aches and pains.

Emotional and Subtle
The oil is helpful for anxiety and nervous tension as she grounds and refreshes the mind.

Skin sensitization may occur if the oil has oxidized.

Silver Fir (Abies alba)silver-fir-tree Pinaceae familyI have seen Abies alba referred to as white spruce, white fir, silver fir, silver spruce and fir needle in various books hence the need to know the specific botanical species.

Therapeutic Effects
Muscular aches and pains, arthritis, sinusitis, poor circulation, coughs with a lot of mucous and bronchitis.

Emotional and Subtle
She is both grounding uplifting and helps release energy blocks. She is useful in cases of mental fatigue, nervous tension, anxiety and stress.

Joy Bowles advises not to use on the skin if the oil has been stored for more than a year as the oil can oxidize and cause skin irritation.

Tisserand and Young write that the oil may be adulterated with pinenes, bornyl acetate, isobornyl acetate and similar materials.

Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)Scots pine Pinaceae family

Scots pine is used in most household cleaners and disinfectants perhaps because of her fresh aroma reminding one of the outdoors but also because of pine’s antibacterial and antiseptic qualities.

Therapeutic Effects
Scots pine is useful for respiratory tract infections coughs, colds, flu, laryngitis and asthma, sinus and bronchial congestion. Rheumatic pain, sciatica, arthritis, cuts, excessive perspiration, muscular aches and pains fatigue and exhaustion can also benefit from this oil.

Emotional and Subtle
Scots pine clears mental fatigue, eases nervous exhaustion and stress related conditions. She helps one maintain their boundaries and instils positivity and self-confidence. Cleansing and invigorating she clears feelings of guilt and promotes feelings of energy and wellbeing.
Deborah Eidson writes that pine energy allows greater self-expression by aligning the throat, third eye, sacral, and root chakras.

The oil may be adulterated with turpentine. Skin sensitization may occur if the oil has oxidized.
Joy Bowles suggests not using pine on the skin as it can contain significant amounts of delta-3-carene which has been shown to initiate skin allergies in some people. She also writes that people with allergic asthma should possibly avoid the use of pine in inhalations as well.

Spruce Black (Picea mariana)Black spruce Pinaceae familyThis variety of spruce is called “black spruce” because a dark-colored lichen which commonly grows on its bark lends the trunk a black color when viewed from a distance.

Because of the bitterly cold winters, black spruce produces an inner warmth so intense that the excess resin flows out through its cones and bark.

I prefer to use spruce rather than sage for cleansing old or stale energy as I like the aroma and don’t get a headache as sometimes happens with sage.

Therapeutic Effects
Spruce is useful for respiratory complaints such as colds, flu, bronchitis and asthma. She can also be used for muscular aches and pains, arthritis, acne, eczema, fungal infections and exhaustion.

Emotional and Subtle
Because black spruce is grounding and uplifting she may help in cases of anxiety, nervous tension and mental fatigue.

Keim Loughran and Bull write that spruce grounds intuition so it can be clear and practical, promotes communication of inner feelings and brings objectivity to the intuitive mind.

Skin sensitization may occur if the oil has oxidized.

White Spruce (Picea glauca)White_Spruce,_Brampton,_Ontario_(5322599282)The common name white spruce refers to the waxy white layer on the surface of the tree’s needles. It differs from black spruce in having longer needles and larger and more elongated cones. White spruce and black spruce are very similar biochemically and exert very similar therapeutic actions.

Therapeutic Effects
White spruce is another excellent respiratory oil for colds, flu, bronchitis, sinusitis and sore throats. She can also be of benefit for muscular aches and pains, arthritis, sciatica, tension headaches, fatigue, exhaustion, eczema and psoriasis.

Emotional and Subtle
White spruce is calming and uplifting helping to ease anxiety, nervous tension and clear emotional blocks.

Skin sensitization may occur if the oil has oxidized.

Tamarack (Larix laricina)tamarack-trees-in-autumn Pinaceae family

The Tamarack tree, unlike other conifers is not evergreen. The feathery green needles turn a brilliant yellow in autumn before dropping.

Therapeutic Effects
The oil is helpful for headaches, nasal congestion, coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia, colds and flu.

Emotional and Subtle
The oil is energizing and uplifting helping to ease nervous fatigue and anxiety while promoting clarity of thoughts and feelings.

Skin sensitization may occur if the oil has oxidized.

Hemlock Spruce (Tsuga canadensis)Hemlock spruce Pinaceae familyWhen I first saw the name hemlock as an essential oil, I associated it with the poisonous herb with the same common name but the botanical names make it clear that they are different.

Tisserand and Young make this point in their book when they write that this oil should not be confused with the herb hemlock (Conium maculatum) which contains toxic alkaloids and is not a source of essential oil.

Therapeutic Effects
The oil is helpful for respiratory issues like coughs, colds, flu, asthma and bronchitis. In addition she can be useful for muscular aches and pains, poor circulation and rheumatism.

Emotional and Subtle
Use for anxiety and stress related conditions.

Skin sensitization may occur if the oil has oxidized.

Aitken Steve, https://www.finegardening.com/fir-vs-spruce-vs-pine-how-tell-them-apart
Battaglia Salvatore , The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, The Perfect Potion (Aust.) Pty Ltd (1995)
Berkowsky B, Berkowsky’s Synthesis Materia Medica/Spiritualis of Essential Oils (2006)
Bowles E. Joy, The A-Z of Essential Oils, New Burlington Books (2003)
Davis Patricia , Subtle Aromatherapy, The CW Daniel Company Ltd (1991)
Eidson Deborah, Vibrational Healing, Frog Books (2000)
Fischer –Rizzi Susanne, Complete Aromatherapy Handbook, Sterling Publishing Company. Inc. (1990)
Keim Loughran J, Bull R, Aromatherapy & Subtle energy techniques, Frog Books (2000)
Lawless J, Complete Essential Oils. Element Books (1995)
Mojay Gabriel , Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, Hodder and Stoughton (1996)
Tisserand R and Young R, Essential Oil Safety Second Edition, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier (2014)
Zeck Robbi , The Blossoming Heart, Aroma Tours (2003)

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of AromaCulture Magazine (www.aromaculture.com) and has been adapted for use here with permission from the publisher.

Tamarack (Larix laricina)

Tamarack header

Family: Pinaceae

Synonyms: Eastern larch, American larch, Alaskan larch, Tamarack larch. Tamarack is thought to derive from the Native American word for tree, hackmatack.

Aroma: Fresh, airy, woody, piney.

Colour: Transparent, slightly yellow.

tamarack-trees-in-autumnPlant: A small to medium-sized, deciduous conifer with wide-spreading, shallow roots and a sparse, open, narrow, conical crown that can grow up to 25 metres. It has a straight trunk covered with bark that is thin, smooth and gray when young; thicker, rough, scaly and reddish brown when mature. The inner bark layer is reddish purple.

The Tamarack tree is the only conifer which is not evergreen. The feathery soft, light green needles turn a brilliant yellow in autumn before dropping.

Main Growing Areas: Alaska, Canada, United States.

Major Constituents: The oil is composed primarily of esters (including bornyl acetate) and monoterpenes (including pinene and limonene).

Interesting snippets: Native Americans used the tree’s roots for cordage, the wood for arrow shafts and the bark for medicinal purposes. Early white settlers used the soft needles as a pillow and mattress stuffing and the roots of large trees for ship construction.

Because of its durability and resistance to decay tamarack is used for posts, poles, mine timbers, and railroad ties.

Part of Plant used / Extraction: Needles and twigs / Steam distillation

Therapeutic actions: Headache, nasal congestion, coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia, colds, flu.

Emotional and Spiritual: Nervous fatigue, anxiety, clarity of thought, energizing and uplifting.

Aromatics International on their website describe Tamarack’s emotional and spiritual properties thus: Larch needles, before gently falling away in the fall, turn a brilliant yellow. This reminds us how Larch easily invites forgiveness and self-acceptance with a fresh start in the spring as its needles come back, soft and green. Larch withstands very cold weather and is incredibly adaptable, reminding us of a strong image and identity, qualities that are reflected in the energetic aspects of this oil. Also reflected in the properties of this oil, larch likes full sun, providing positive energy and casting a small shadow, emotionally revitalizing the dampened spirit.

Safety: Non-irritating, non-sensitising, non-toxic

Sources: Berkowsky B, Berkowsky’s Synthesis Materia Medica/Spiritualis of Essential Oils (2006)