Herbs & Plants

Abies fraseri – (She Balsam)

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Botanical Name: Abies fraseri – (Pursh.)Poir.
Family: Pinaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Genus: Abies

Species: A. fraseri

Synonyms: Abies fraseri (Pursh) Lindley, Pinus fraseri Pursh.

Common names: Fraser fir, Fraser’s fir, she balsam, southern balsam, southern balsam fir.

Habitat:–  South-Eastern N. America – Virginia and West Virginia to North Carolina and Tennessee.   Mountains, often forming forests of considerable extent at elevations of 1200 – 1800 metres.Woodland Garden; Canopy;

High elevations, generally above 1,500 meters. Seedlings may occur widely scattered throughout this area, but best canopy dominant stands were found at uppermost elevations on the windward slopes. There the fir formed nearly pure stands although tree height was less than on more protected slopes. This tree has been devastated by the exotic balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae), and which habitats will continue to support Fraser fir in the future, if any, are not known.

This medium sized  Perennial evergreen conifer can grow to excess of 20 meters in height (Collingwood and Brush,1964), although usually to ~15 m. in the natural areas of the Park. Stupka (1964) recorded a specimen 15.3 meters tall and 2.4 meters in circumference (~77 cm diameter at breast height) from the summit of Mt. LeConte.

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Fraser fir bark is smooth gray on mature trees, although usually covered with bryophytes and lichens. Some older trees have scaling near the base of the trunk. The branches are all generally ascending in younger trees. The foliage is a blunt or notched, flat needle about 1 to 1.5 cm long. The leaves are very fragrant, shiny dark green above and silvery below.

Fruit is a medium sized, rounded cone to 6 cm long, held erect on uppermost branches. Cones have irregular tipped bracts exerted from the cone scales and obscuring a portion of the cone surface. The cone scales break off from the central axis in the fall.

It is the only fir endemic to the southern Appalachian Mountains. The largest tree on record measures almost 86 cm (34 in) in d.b.h., 26.5 m (87 ft) tall, and has a crown spread of 15.8 m (52 ft). Because of the high elevation at which Fraser fir grows, its primary value is for watershed protection and scenic attraction.

It is hardy to zone 4 and is frost tender. It is in leaf all year, in flower in May, and the seeds ripen from September to October. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind.

You may click to learn botanical detail of She Balsam  :

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. The plant prefers acid and neutral soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil. The plant is not wind tolerant.


Prefers a good moist but not water-logged soil. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Very shade tolerant, especially when young   but growth is slower in dense shade. Intolerant of atmospheric pollution. Prefers slightly acid conditions down to a pH of about5. Prefers growing on a north-facing slope. A shallow-rooted plant, making it vulnerable to high winds. A fast-growing but short-lived species. Trees are very cold hardy but are often excited into premature growth in mild winters and this new growth is susceptible to damage by late frosts. No other member of this genus has proved to be of as little value, or so short-lived as this species; there is scarcely a good tree in the country, though it is attractive when young. Usually short-lived in cultivation, though bearing its interesting cones whilst still young. Young trees can be handsome and vigorous, one grew 120cm in two years, but growth soon slows. Trees are known to have lived more than 60 years. Trees should be planted into their permanent positions when they are quite small, between 30 and 90cm in height. Larger trees will check badly and hardly put on any growth for several years. This also badly affects root development and wind resistance. Trees have a thin bark and are therefore susceptible to forest fires . This species is closely related to A. balsamea and is seen as no moer than a form of that species by some botanists. There are some named forms selected for their ornamental value. Trees can produce cones when only 2 metres tall. Plants are strongly outbreeding, self-fertilized seed usually grows poorly. They hybridize freely with other members of this genus. The cones break up on the tree and if seed is required it should be harvested before the cones break up in early autumn.

Seed – sow early February in a greenhouse or outdoors in March . Germination is often poor, usually taking about 6 – 8 weeks . Stratification is said to produce a more even germination so it is probably best to sow the seed in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the autumn  . The seed remains viable for up to 5 years if it is well stored. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on for at least their first winter in pots. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Alternatively, if you have sufficient seed, it is possible to sow in an outdoor seedbed. One report says that it is best to grow the seedlings on in the shade at a density of about 550 plants per square metre whilst another report says that they are best grown on in a sunny position[80]. Trees often self-layer in the wild, so this might be a means of increasing named varieties in cultivation.

There are many named forms for this species, but these have been developed for their ornamental value and not for their other uses. Unless you particularly require the special characteristics of any of these cultivars, we would generally recommend that you grow the natural species for its useful properties. We have, therefore, not listed the cultivars in this database.
Medicinal Action and Uses:-

Analgesic; Antiscorbutic; Antiseptic; Diuretic; Poultice; Stimulant; Tonic; VD.

The following uses are for the closely related A. balsamea. Since this species also has blisters of resin in the bark, the uses quite probably also apply here. The resin obtained from the balsam fir  has been used throughout the world and is a very effective antiseptic and healing agent. It is used as a healing and analgesic protective covering for burns, bruises, wounds and sores. It is also used to treat sore nipples and is said to be one of the best curatives for a sore throat. The buds, resin, and/or sap are used in folk remedies for treating cancers, corns, and warts. The resin is also antiscorbutic, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant and tonic. It is used internally in propriety mixtures to treat coughs and diarrhoea, though taken in excess it is purgative. A warm liquid of the gummy sap was drunk as a treatment for gonorrhoea. A tea made from the leaves is antiscorbutic. It is used in the treatment of coughs, colds and fevers. The leaves and young shoots are best harvested in the spring and dried for later use. This plant was widely used medicinally by various North American Indian tribes. The resin was used as an antiseptic healing agent applied externally to wounds, sores, bites etc., it was used as an inhalant to treat headaches and was also taken internally to treat colds, sore throats and various other complaints.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Other Uses
Adhesive; Microscope; Repellent; Resin; Stuffing; Wood.

Wood – light, soft, coarse grained, not strong. It is occasionally manufactured into lumber. The following uses are for the closely related A. balsamea. Since this species also has blisters of resin in the bark, the uses quite probably also apply here. The balsamic resin ‘Balm of Gilead’ or ‘Canada Balsam’ according to other reports is obtained during July and August from blisters in the bark or by cutting pockets in the wood. Another report says that it is a turpentine. It is used medicinally, also in the manufacture of glues, candles and as a cement for microscopes and slides – it has a high refractive index resembling that of glass. The average yield is about 8 – 10 oz per tree. The resin is also a fixative in soaps and perfumery. Leaves are a stuffing material for pillows etc – they impart a pleasant scent   and also repel moths.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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