I’m blessed to live within a massive Evergreen forest high in the mountains of New Mexico so that even during the longest and coldest winters I’m still able to spend time among the green vibrant life of these ancient trees while the rest of the canyon sleeps.
In previous Winters I’ve sometimes found myself feeling sad and lethargic from the dark days and lack of flowers. In the last couple of years however, I’ve been delving ever deeper into the mysteries of evergreens, resins, lichens and other herbal allies that are especially apparent when the rest of the land dies back into dormancy.
Evergreen trees used in herbalism tend to be “warming” energetically and are excellent at stimulating healing and relieving pain in part because of the way in which the volatile oils increase local circulation.
Almost all of my pain liniments and salves contain some amount of the magic of conifers. This warming power is especially effective for treating cold symptoms which may manifest as stiff, achy muscles often characterized by dull, chronic pain. Likewise, this warming action can help speed the healing of chronically dry or cracked skin on the hands, elbows, knees and feet.
Additionally, stronger scented conifers can be useful as a chest rub during colds with sinus congestion or chronic coughs. The scent of most evergreens is both energizing and relaxing, promoting a sunny sense of wellbeing through their citrusy aromatics, which can help alleviate the sadness that may accompany Winter for some.
Examples of excellent Evergreen trees for medicine:
- Fir (Abies spp.)
- Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga spp.)
- Pine (Pinus spp.), Spruce (Picea spp.)
- Hemlock (Tsuga spp.)
- Cypress (Cupressus spp.)
Note: Avoid potentially toxic or irritating evergreens such as Yew or Stinking Juniper (Juniperus sabina), the genera listed above are generally safe excepting individual sensitivities. Also avoid any trees that have been sprayed with pesticides.
Step by Step Evergreen Balm Recipe
This is a two step recipe, first we will infuse herbs into a carrier oil, and then we add beeswax to the strained oil to create a solid balm.
Step One: Evergreen Infused Oil
- Appr. 3 Cups recently dried Evergreen Needles (of just one species or a blend of your favorites)
- 3 TB of recently dried roughly ground Juniper berries (optional)
- 1-3 TB freshly grated Orange peel (optional)
- High quality carrier Oil (Extra Virgin Olive, Almond, Grapeseed, Jojoba etc.) – note that the milder smelling the carrier oil the more you will be able to smell the Evergreen scent. Olive oil is more strongly scented and will obscure the Evergreen fragrance to some degree but is also pleasant smelling in its own right.
- 1 Quart glass jar with airtight lid
- Roughly chop evergreen needles (a cleaver works well for this)
- Place needles in quart jar until jar is about 2/3 full without being packed down, a little less if also adding Orange peel and/or Juniper berries.
- Add Orange peel and berries, if including these
- Fill jar with oil
- Stir with butterknife, chopstick or similar to release any air bubbles
- Allow to infuse for 2-4 weeks, preferably in a warm place, such as in a woodstove warmer or even in a paper bag (to protect the plant matter from the sun) in a closed up car in the sun
- Decant by straining out the plant matter, and reserving the oil
- The oil should be fragrant and with many confers, also very sweet smelling.
Step 2: Evergreen Balm
- 3 Cups Infused Oil (approximately, as it will depend on which Evergreen you used as to how much oil is absorbed and how much can be expressed back out)
- 4 Ounces Unrefined grated Beeswax (less if you have less than 3 cups of oil)
- 1 Quart glass jar with airtight lid
- Double boiler
- Glass or other containers with airtight lids to hold your salve
- Heat water for double boiler to a slow boil.
- Pour oil into top pan/bowl of double boiler
- Allow to warm
- Add beeswax
- Stir until all beeswax is melted
- Remove oil from heat, being sure to dry the bottom of the container
- Pour into salve containers
- Allow to cool before capping and storing in a cool, dark place
One of the great things about this Evergreen Balm is that almost all conifers contain constituents that slow the growth of bacteria and help prevent oxidation, both of which increase the lifespan of your salve without having to add any preservatives.
Overview of Uses
- A great warming massage ointment for sore, achy muscles. You can also just skip the salve making step and use the infused oil as a massage oil
- Speed healing on dry chapped or cracked skin
- A mild chest rub for chronic coughs or chest congestion
- An aromatherapy balm that is uplifting and cheering, I’ve actually had several people tell me they where my Evergreen Balm as a solid perfume
Once you’re comfortable with this process, you can also add Evergreen resins when you infuse your oil. Be sure to collect mindfully and only take runoff, not the resin actually covering the wound that its being exuded from. These resins will enhance the existing actions of the Evergreen needles and make the oil even more aromatic. Pines often produce large amounts of resins, sniff the ones near you and see what you like best.