In the chilly depths of winter, one of the best escapes is the warm, calming embrace of some quality teas. My favorite tea is made from the leaves of the Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea). This trees is one of the most common Christmas tree species around, and this tree is found in the wild in the boreal forests that run across Northern and Central Ontario. Although not nearly as abundant in the Carolinian region, Balsam Fir is still found occasionally.
The needles of this tree, as with all Fir trees, contain a strong resin which remains in a liquid state in temperatures down to a bone-chilling -40 degrees celcius! This resin is not only used as a natural antifreeze for the tree, but as a sticky, instant band-aid. FACTOID: Balsam Fir trees have characteristic resin blisters on their bark, which when easily punctured (even by your finger nail) release a powerfully fragrant and sticky ooze. This resin drips over wounds in the trunk and seals them from pests, diseases and the elements. This resin can also be consumed raw, or collected and boiled into a thick broth. It is FULL of vitamin C, which is in short supply during the cold months from a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables.
However, it is not just the resin in the blisters that contain all of these perks. The resin found in the needles does as well! The needles are believed to contain 4 times as much vitamin C when compared to oranges, measured in equal weight. That is incredible! A wonderful tea can be made by simmering the needles in boiling water for 10 minutes. My recipe is 1 teaspoon of needles per cup of water. Balsam Fir trees are easy to identify, are very common in the north, and produce an incredibly robust, hearty and flavourful beverage! ANOTHER FACTOID: The needles and resin of Balsam Fir have been used traditionally for hundreds of years by the Native Americans for medicinal qualities as well. Balsam Fir tea has been said to improve and help defend against sore throats, chest and nose congestion, head aches and help to induce sleep. TRY IT YOURSELF!!!
Tips: If you are collecting from wild trees, make sure to exercise moderation! All of the needles in the photos above were collected from old Christmas trees that were going to be discarded anyways! It is also best to dry the needles for at least a week before using them. Chopping up the needles (easier once they are dried) also exposes more surface area and will leach more flavour from the needles once you steep them!