The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent
Balsam First Aid for Campers

Balsam First Aid for Campers

December 12, 2020

Table of Contents

  • Afraid of the water?
  • Needle nose
  • Don’t tap the sap
  • Balsam benefits

Balsam firs, also known as the blister tree, are recognized by their flat, shiny green needles with two white stripes underneath and their distinctive "blistered" bark, which is actually tiny pockets of sticky resin of balsam fir!

Afraid of the water?

You might be fortunate enough to have balsam firs growing where you live, and if you do, you have access to the tools to create a "motorboat" powered by resin ready to zoom across any pond!

Take a thin, sharp twig which is about 5 cm long and about as thick as the lead of a pencil. Burst the twig with a balsam fir blister and cover the end of the twig with a lovely resin globule. Bring the twig to a nearby pond or another quiet source of water carefully, and position the twig in the water.

See in amazement as the twig takes off like a motorboat as it zips along the surface of the water, making twists and turns. There is a hydrophobic (water-fearing) oil in the resin, and it repels water molecules as it makes contact with the water, pushing the twig forward!

Needle nose

Take some tiny pieces of sponge and a bottle of water along with you the next time you go for a stroll. Under everybody's nose, dab a moistened sponge: only a little moisture on the upper lip will suffice. The wetness under your nose allows you to detect more odors.

By gently rubbing the needles of various conifers (cone-bearing trees such as balsam fir, spruce, white pine, and eastern white cedar) to release each distinctive odor, try a little' scratch and smell.' Through scent alone, can you recognize these conifers?

Or try to make a drink with a fragrance. Take small paper cups, one for each person, with you. In your cup, put a few needles from a variety of conifers and add a bit of soil.

Give the mixture a good stir and enjoy the pungent, rich, and earthy smell of the forest, using a twig as a swizzle stick. Perhaps it's "needle" or "balsamazing" to give your concoction a name. What other smells will you discover in the forest?

Don’t tap the sap

Make sure you're not mistaking it for sap while digging around for resin, a watery substance contained within the trunk of a tree. Resin, contained inside the bark in pockets, is thicker than sap and helps protect the tree from insects and pathogens.

Balsam benefits

As a topical antiseptic for wounds and diseases, balsam fir resin has long been used. It also produces a gum that can relieve hunger that is long-lasting (but very bitter!). Balsam fir resin has been used for glue, and on those foggy, soggy days it makes an excellent fire starter!

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