With autumn behind us, many plants have shed their leaves in preparation for winter and wild-harvesting opportunities can feel sparse. But there is one particular type of plant you can always count on – the evergreen trees – aptly named for their quality of holding onto their foliage throughout every season.
According to the concept of bio-regional aromatic medicine, if a particular plant is thriving in your local environment or during a particular season, then the medicine from that plant has the potential to help you thrive in that moment, more so than other plants that aren’t in season, or that grow a great distance from you. The native plants growing around you are often the most potent and easily integrated medicine for you.
For many, winter is the most challenging season of the year; the cold and dreary weather can slowly weigh on the emotions and psyche, while the glimmer of hope for spring is near but just out of reach. The Douglas Fir tree is one of the few plants that stands tall and strong throughout the entirety of the harsh winter months. The medicine of this tree offers us the strength and protection to withstand tough times, providing support to our respiratory and immune systems.
In this post, we’ll explore the history and folklore of this powerful tree and its many traditional and aromatic medicinal gifts. You’ll also learn the many ways to utilize this plant, including how to infuse Douglas Fir needles in tea or honey to extract its medicinal qualities.
History and Folklore
The Douglas Fir is an ancient tree with a rich history in magic and medicine. It is in fact not a true Fir tree, which is why you will often see the name hyphenated. The tree was named after David Douglas, an explorer and botanist, and the Latin name comes from “pseudo” meaning false and “tsuga” for hemlock .
The Douglas Fir tree is abundant across the forests of southwest British Columbia, southward to California. Old growth trees can reach up to 200 feet tall. Their long, flat needles grow about ½ inch to 1 inch long and spiral around their branches – different from Hemlock, whose needles grow bilaterally symmetric. Douglas Fir needles also appear to have two white stripes running along the length of their undersides .
One of the easiest ways to identify a Douglas Fir tree is by finding the cones – the three-lobed bracts look like little mouse feet and tails sticking out of the cone scales. According to an old Indigenous legend of the Pacific Northwest, the Douglas Fir tree helped protect small mice from forest fires, as they hid in their cones for safety. You can still see them hiding in the cones to this day.
The Douglas Fir has long been a symbol of wintertime, the holidays, and the winter solstice. It’s one of the most common evergreens used for Christmas trees and has been used to celebrate winter festivals for thousands of years. European Pagans traditionally decorated their homes with branches of Douglas Fir to bring in more color and aromatics, brightening the bland, dreariness of winter.
In fact, many cultures would bring in boughs and wreaths of evergreens like Douglas Fir during the winter to inspire strength and resiliency. They believed the plants would help protect them against negative energy, bad spirits, and illness. An additional benefit of this was that as the terpenes and medicinal constituents within the foliage warmed up, they would release into the home and act to strengthen immunity during times where sickness was prevalent.
Medicinal Benefits of Douglas fir
Douglas Fir is a multi-faceted tree. Its different parts have been used in traditional and aromatic medicine for ages: the needles, resin, and bark. You may find that some applications work better than others, depending on your specific need, situation, and unique body constitution. Explore your options and find what resonates and works best for you.
Indigenous communities have many uses for Douglas Fir resin, including glue for harpoon heads, fish hooks, and waterproofing for canoes; but perhaps most notably, it has been used to make herbal salves for wounds and skin irritations . The resin contains terpenes with antiseptic, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties that provide strong protection against infection and often speed the healing process.
The resin can also be applied directly, but it is also commonly extracted into a carrier oil and used topically to support sore or achy muscles . The herbal-infused oil can also be incorporated into a salve, balm, or ointment for abrasions, burns, and more.
Respiratory System Support
The aromatics of both the needles and resin of Douglas Fir are opening to the airways and soothing to the soul – maybe this is why a stroll through a conifer forest can feel so invigorating. When burned as incense, used in an essential oil diffuser, or incorporated into an herbal steam, Douglas Fir can help soothe symptoms of the common cold and flu, in addition to driving out respiratory infection. It can also be applied topically as a chest rub to ease chest and sinus congestion.
Immune System Support
Douglas Fir needles are rich in Vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps support the immune system and boost overall health. This nutrient helps your body heal faster from wounds and injury, supports cardiovascular health, and even fights against issues like anemia, diabetes, allergies, and more .
The needles can be eaten straight off the tree or brewed as an herbal tea. In the springtime, you may notice fresh new growth on the ends of branches. These bright, lime-green fresh tips have a refreshing citrusy flavor, while the older, darker needles have balsamic and woody notes. Regardless of whether you harvest fresh or aged needles, you’ll get a decent helping of Vitamin C.
The bark of Douglas Fir has long been used by Indigenous communities for digestive ailments like diarrhea and internal bleeding in the intestinal tract due to its astringent properties . The bark is often highly resinous and is traditionally brewed into an herbal tea.
Douglas Fir trees look similar to the Western or Pacific Yew tree, which is considered poisonous when consumed. When working on identification, keep in mind that the Yew trees have small, bright red fruit. Yew trees also have reddish bark that look likes paper and easily peels off. Yew needles do not have a white stripe on the underside, like Douglas Fir needles.
Always be entirely certain of your identification before attempting to wild harvest.
There are many ways to utilize Douglas Fir, including tea, tincture, oil infusion, salve, balm, ointment, chest rub, herbal bath, herbal steam, essential oil diffuser, and incense. Here are two of our favorite ways to work with this evergreen.
Douglas fir Tip Tea
A nourishing tea for immune and respiratory support.
* Properly identify and gather your Douglas Fir needles. Rinse dirt off with fresh water if necessary.
* Bring 5 cups of water to a boil, then turn the burner to the lowest setting.
* Add ½ cup of Douglas Fir needles to the water and cover with a lid.
* Allow to heat for 10-15 minutes.
* Turn off the stove, strain the needles, and enjoy your tea. Add honey, sweetener, or other herbs if you wish!
Douglas fir Honey Infusion
An aromatic cold-infusion for respiratory support and immunity. This herbal-infused honey can be used any way you would normally use honey: in tea, food, or eating a tasty spoonful. Try to source and use raw local honey, which is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and is naturally antimicrobial.
* Properly identify and gather your Douglas Fir needles. Rinse with fresh water if necessary, pat dry with a towel, and allow to completely dry before use.
* Place the needles into a mason jar until it is about ¾ full, leaving about 1 inch of space between the herbs and top of the jar.
* Pour the raw honey into the jar, covering the needles. Use a spoon or chopstick to stir and remove any air bubbles.
* Wait for the honey to settle, then top off with more honey until all of the needles are completely covered.
* Cover with a lid and flip the jar several times to mix.
* Leave the jar in a cool, dark place for one complete lunar cycle, stirring every couple of days.
* Strain through a fine mesh strainer, label it, and enjoy!
DOUGLAS FIR AND BEYOND
The Douglas Fir tree is an iconic symbol of protection. In folklore, this conifer has shielded mice from danger, and throughout history, it has provided humans with protection, from infections and skin issues, to respiratory ailments and other illnesses. The Douglas Fir is a constant reminder of our strength, resilience, and ability to withstand what nature may have in store for us.
Latin Name: Pseudotsuga menziesii
Other Common Names: Douglas Spruce, Oregon Pine, Douglas Tree
Plant Family: Pinaceae
Parts Used: bark, needle, resin
Herbal Energetics & Actions: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, antimicrobial, astringent, expectorant, sedative
Body Systems Affiliation: respiratory system, immune system, digestive system
Aroma: crisp, bright, earthy, evergreen
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Article Written By Melissa Szaro
1. Pojar, J., & MacKinnon, A. (1994). Plants of the Pacific Northwest coast (revised). Lone Pine Publishing.
2. Kloos, S. (2017). Pacific Northwest medicinal plants: Identify, harvest, and use 120 wild herbs for health and wellness. Timber Press.
3. Nordqvist, J. (2021). Vitamin C: Why is it so important? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/219352
© 2022 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.
*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.