Adirondack Journal — Balsam Traditions- Balsam Cures


The Balsam Fir tree has been an important natural resource for the Adirondack region for many years. Below are excerpts from a poster series entitled "Balsam Traditions" that illustrate the seasonal uses and importance of balsam.

Wilderness Cures

Pine, balsam, spruce and hemlock trees abound, and the air is heavily laden with the resinous odors which they exhale...(exerting) a most beneficial influence on diseased mucous membranes.
Dr. Alfred L. Loomis, Address to the Medical Society of the State of New York, 1879.

Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau opens his sanatorium for tuberculosis patients at Saranac Lake in 1884.

I think the greatest benefit is to be derived from being in the woods in early spring, when the pine, hemlock, and balsam first begin to bud out. I am told that at that time the atmosphere is especially sweet and healing. The fresh, pure, medicinal air of the Adirondacks is the best medicine in the world.
Letter by L.C.F. of Scranton, PA, April 24,1885, in Joseph Stickler, The Adirondacks as a Health Resort, 1886.

In 1869, "Adirondack" Murray describes the case of a young man given up as a hopeless consumptive by city doctors, who had been carried into the Adirondacks, so his family thought, to die. Sleeping on his bed of balsam and pine, the invalid gradually inhaled their pungent and healing odors. Day by day he grew stronger. Five months later he came out to civilization again, sixty-five pounds heavier, carrying his own boat over the portages, restored to the quick.
William H.H. Murray, Adventures in the Wilderness, 1869.

Indian Medicine

Balsam pitch was considered one of the most valuable aboriginal remedies: it was given in infusions for colds, coughs, asthma, and consumption. The pitch was also used as a salve for cuts and sores. The needles were used in sweat baths, placed on live coals so the fumes could be inhaled for colds.
Walter H. Lewis, Medical Botany; Plants Affecting Man's Health, 1977.

Home Remedies

A bit of balsam pitch mixed with a teaspoon of sugar was Uncle Delbert's cold remedy. I also remember a balsam pillow being placed under a sickly neighbor's head at night, to help her breath easier while she slept.
Rev. Daisy Allen, interviewed by DeGarmo, 1987.

Margaret Merwin remembers her father telling about the time in a lumber camp when some of the men started throwing the pancakes hot off the griddle, and one landed on a man's arm. They peeled the pancake off, and rushed "right out in the woods and got balsam pitch. Just the clear balsam pitch and put it all over that and he never had any trouble with it at all."
Interviewed by DeGarmo, 1989.