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Ben Sorensen's Druid's Garden: Silver Fir


Druid's Garden: Silver Fir

Ben Sorensen sends along his most recent column:

I went travelling recently as I love to do and was captivated once again by the wonders of nature. This month’s Druid’s Garden is a little different and was inspired by a combination of two events. 

I have been quite enjoying the supermarket lately. I now deliberately allocate a large amount of time to shop for my needs. ‘Why?’ I hear you ask. I use this extra time to read what is in the foods I am planning to eat. This allows me to learn more about what I am ingesting so I can make more informed choices. When you take the time to read the ingredients you will be surprised by where chemicals and herbs are used! I will talk more about this later on… 

Now, back to my travels. This time it was the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria that caught my eye—the narrow winding mountain roads, the crisp clean fresh air, and most of all, forest and trees. It is absolute magic! Within walking distance from my accommodation was a native plant garden and also an arboretum (a collection of trees or woody plants for study). Seeing all these majestic trees coupled with my supermarket experience led me to our slightly different offering this month: the Silver Fir Tree from the Pinaceae family (Pine). 

Its common name, silver fir, comes from the underside of the trees flat needles, as it is a silver colour. I know it is technically not a herb, it is a tree with many cultivars—mostly developed for their ornamental uses—but it does loosely fit. If we forget for a moment that it is technically a tree, we begin to see the similarities to herbs. Silver fir is extremely useful—it has many medicinal uses, a rich history and is also used in cooking. My reason for selecting this ‘herb’ was not directly related to my beautiful Dandenongs experience, but more a discovery from my last snuffely nose! 

This tree is the 20th letter of the Ogham (an ancient Celtic alphabet): Ailm. Silver fir was associated with the Greek Goddess Artemis and was the centre of what some would call the ‘Christian-isation’ of the traditional pagan festival of the winter solstice, into what we now celebrate as Christmas. Many beliefs and social customs borrow symbols from pagan ways so it is not hard to see why in modern day life it is a popular choice for Christmas trees. 

This tree helped it all become clear...my nose that is. Told you I would get to it! I was in the supermarket and my mum (who is always there for sympathy and remedies) suggested a brand of petroleum jelly based rub. As I read the back of the tub, I saw with amazement that this rub was mainly petroleum jelly, with some essential oils—mainly Menthol (Mint) and fir oil. However, we all know petroleum-based products are not good for us. So, armed with this new knowledge, I went to search of fir oil in a natural base. 

Now is a good time to remind you that essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin, so you will need a natural base oil or crème to add the fir oil to before you apply. If in doubt, your local health food shop should be able to help. Remember with essential oils—a little goes a long way, and a natural base is important! 

So the question is, what else is it good for? As a topical rub, it is great for rheumatism, muscle pain and in some cases, skin irritation. As an inhalation, silver fir is great for reducing asthma, coughing and bronchial infections. Generally, it is also good for poor circulation and can inhibit urinary infections. It is medicinally described as an analgesic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, anticatarrahal (chills out the mucous membranes) and a stimulant, all the while having this earthy foresty scent that both grounds and uplifts—is there anything the fir cannot do? 

Just about every part of the tree is used, from the resin, to the bark, to the needles, and all for different uses although the essential oil mainly comes from the needles. The most interesting use I found was from the resin, for caulking ships and distilling as Turpentine! So, it is a useful plant, our new friend the silver fir tree, you can even use it in cooking. Traditionally, the bark was dried and ground, then used to thicken soups and broth and sometimes it was even added to cereals. 

This is a tough one as it does not grow in Australia and is commonly found in the mountains of Europe and even Turkey. It is an evergreen coniferous tree that grows well in clay soils and is quite slow growing for the first six years then shoots up at around a metre per year. On average, it grows to 40/50 metres but the largest silver fir tree recorded was 68 metres tall with a trunk diameter of 3.8metres. Very impressive! 

With winter now upon us, and the coughs and colds soon to follow, we can turn to the comfort of a fir…even PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) will approve of the silver fir!

Visit Ben's website at http://www.bensorensen.com/DruidsGarden/