How to distill essential oils from Pine and Spruce sap-Part 1

White Pine Sap-2014
White Pine Sap-2014

It is very easy to distill the essential oils from our local North American Pine, Spruce and Fir tree saps ourselves, but, to fully capture the exquisite qualities this type of small-scale distillation can offer us, a different approach and perspective is called for. Everything leading up to the distillation is as important to the quality of our oils as the physical process of distillation. The approach is simple.

We have to shift our perspective from being product oriented to relationship oriented. From getting to giving, and change our role of consumers to that of stewards. We each exist in a relationship with nature, the planet, and much more than is visible to the eye. We are part of a vast dynamic living matrix linking and coordinating all life in its many forms, from beyond the planets and stars to the very atoms within all things. Severed from it but for a moment we would cease to exist. Literally. I know, it’s a big statement to open with, but for now, keep an open mind, and I will I will try to keep this to one post of readable length, and address these concepts in upcoming posts.

We have put a lot of stress on the planet’s systems the past few hundred years. We have excelled at taking and making, and most  definitely gained a lot.  We have progressed and evolved as a civilization. As we see the negative impact on the health of the planet and our bodies, we struggle to understand what we are doing wrong.  Skyrocketing cancers and other diseases. What are we missing? How can we do this differently so nature thrives along with us? Lucky for us Nature sees us as part of her, not the enemy, or we would have been disposed of and reabsorbed into the planet a long time ago.  Dominant species or not, our behaviour has been abhorrent towards each other and the planet. Dominant Shmominant. We have intellectualized our role here, separating ourselves from nature as beings superior to all others. Crowned ourselves kings of the planet without assuming the responsibilities of rulership.

Simple homemade multipurpose  pot still with air-cooled condenser.
Simple homemade multipurpose pot still with air-cooled condenser. Th metal sleeve on left, is added to the top of the still for steam distillation of suspended material. Also makes a mean Grappa if it is legal where you live….

Here are some simple methods of extracting essential oils from conifers

Though more sophisticated methods areinvented daily, let’s hope, ethics and sustainability are an important part of them.

  • Needles, smaller branches and twigs can be mindfully trimmed, sent through a “mulcher”, then hydro/steam distilled. This is done easily in a home-made pot still. (See the post on distilling Frankincense). The chopped material will float on the water in the pot, avoiding the danger of material burning on the bottom. This allows us to distill the essential oils of evergreens that do not exude their saps such as White Cedar and the Junipers. They can also be set atop the boiling still pot and steam distilled.
  • The trees can be tapped, and the essential oils distilled from their sap in a process similar to the preparation of Maple syrup. (Tapping spiles can be purchased, (Stainless steel), or made from Elder branches as these shown below). If I had a choice between a cold metal tube, or a body temperature tube made of the same material as my body,  inserted into me, I know which I would choose.

    Handmade Elder Spiles for tapping the saps of Maple, Spruce and other trees
    Handmade Elder Spiles for tapping the saps of Maple, Spruce and other trees. (Maple Syrup, Spruce Beer etc.)
  •  In the turpentine industry, Pine bark is cut, stripped or slashed, using methods similar to the extraction methods of  Frankincense and Myrrh trees. The ensuing exudate of oleoresin, (essential oils and resins), collected and  processed in copper stills. The vapours from the heated oleoresins are condensed for turpentine and essential oils, while the leftover resin is drained and filtered to make the rosin we use on the bows of violins and other stringed instruments, and other applications where increased friction and contact is needed. With a little love and ingenuity, you can make your own beautiful crystal clear amber Rosin  from Pine, Spruce or Fir saps. You can get creative and cast this rosin in any shape you can envision. It makes a lovely incense even after separation from its essential oils.
  • Rosin
    Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
  • Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
  • By far the simplest and gentlest method for distilling essential oils from local conifers, especially if one lives in the city, is from the sap already present from the trimming of lower branches. This requires no further damage to the trees, while giving us the opportunity to produce our own exquisite essential oils and rosins for perfume, medicine and many other products.

Even in the middle of the city, you will find a connection to the trees that grow in your sphere.  I would say you already have a relationship with them whether you recognize it or not. To notice a tree, acknowledges the existence of a relationship between you. Life is full of subtle truths. The quality of that relationship is mostly in your hands. The quality of the products you make with the trees in your sphere is completely in your hands. A little piece of the planet’s well-being is yours to watch over and nurture. These are the seeds of stewardship. 

American Turpentine workers circa 1912
American Turpentine workers circa 1912. (I know, this photo makes me cringe, for a couple of reasons)

Today some large-scale operations distill essential oils from pulp, sawdust and foliage left over from milling and processing trees for lumber and paper industries. The quality of the essential oils produced by these large industries can not compare to those you can distill in small quantities on your own. The chemical and  fragrance industry is vast, and many of these factory produced essential oils, especially those distilled from coniferous trees are used as starting materials for other  chemicals and essential oils utilized in our everyday products.

distillation column-I don't know what they are distilling, but it gives us an idea of the scale of these industrial operations.
distillation column-I don’t know what they are distilling, but it gives us an idea of the huge scale of these industrial operations.

On the bright side, Small scale “Artisan” Distillers of essential oils, made from hand collected plant materials, by craftspeople that have personal and intimate relationships with their local flora, people who practice ethical and sustainable methods due to their philosophies and convictions, are becoming recognized in commerce. They are increasingly in demand  by  “bespoke” and small-scale perfumers, naturopaths and alternative healers around the world. This, I believe, is how change on a global scale is slowly unfolding.

We need these small-scale producers and artisans in as many fields as possible, and we need to support them whenever, wherever and however possible. They represent a new paradigm and model of how we can live in harmony and balance with the planet instead of our current destructive model of impersonal mass production which is taking a growing toll on our health and wellbeing , and that of the planet.

Small scale farmers, conscientious and ethical animal husbandry operations, local dairy and artisan cheese producers, private-label vineyards and cottage industries, ethical wildcrafting homesteads and collectives, and small-scale distillers, all allow this type of rich, intimate, respectful relationship with nature to flourish. Supporting them enriches our communities, nurtures an ethical and sustainable relationship with the planet and provides us with high quality products that help reintegrate us on an individual and societal level with nature. They are the vanguard of change and evolution.

In the production of essential oils, I believe this is the only practical way to keep the integrity of the fresh plant, the nuances and depth, their healing potential, and the metaphorical “heartbeat” of the plant intact through the process. Something not achievable on an “Industrial scale”. Though each batch may differ slightly in complexities of fragrance, I believe these small distillations using planet friendly and non destructive practices, built on intimate personal  relationships with nature, from the tapped or exposed saps of the trees, yield perfume and therapeutic ingredients of the highest quality

Distilling essential oils from tree sap. An opportunity for Stewardship.

As mentioned above there are 3 materials we can extract essential oils from in a non destructive and responsible way.

  • Needles and twigs,
  • Sap from tapping the trunks
  • Sap collected from the exterior of the trees.

I am going to focus on the external sap we can collect. If there is interest, leave a comment below, I will write about the other methods in future posts.

One obvious difference is that we are working with a very specific product the tree has produced in response to an injury.  One can safely assume this is not the regular sap that flows within the tree due to the unique role of these self-produced “Bandages”. These oleoresins are exuded by the tree as a barrier against opportunistic organisms and microorganisms, and to heal an injury to itself. Their composition differs from the essential oils distilled from the tapped tree and from the needles.  They are higher in resins, and in my opinion, the essential oils they yield, are richer and more complex in fragrance.

For this reason, it is thought, that these saps and their essential oils have a greater healing potential, and are especially suited to managing skin ailments, aging skin, wrinkles and scarring. Healing our own “bark”. The affinity is obvious.  The Pinenes in these saps are considered anti inflammatory and broad spectrum antibiotics. They open bronchial passages, stimulate surface blood flow, stimulate brain function and  memory. These are only a few of the therapeutic properties and beneficial traits they offer us.

Each and every species of Pine, Spruce and Fir has its own unique chemical compounds, characteristics and fragrance 

Learn to differentiate between the different species and types of trees. Always collect and distill Pine, Spruce and Fir sap separately. If you like, you can start by collecting unidentified Pine, Spruce and Fir saps, and distill a more generic essential oil from each tree type, until you can discern between them. For most medicinal purposes this works well. If you invest some time in study, you will learn to tell the difference between the various species in each of these families. Your relationships with the trees will grow and deepen, leading you to consistent and higher quality essential oils. This is a craft and an art that calls for mastery.

A simple way to tell the difference between the three families, is that pine needles are “almost always” multiple, and are joined at the base in a sheath. Spruce and Fir needles are attached to the branch individually, a Spruce needle will roll easily between thumb and forefinger, while a Fir needle is flat and will not roll.  Spruce needles are often more rigid and have sharp skin penetrating tips, Fir needles are softer. Spruce cones grow downward while Fir, as far as I know has upward growing cones that do not last the whole season. Someone once said “Loving someone is knowing them”. It is so with Nature, you will find that love and knowledge will grow hand in hand.

We raise our children detached from Nature. Shamans, elders, Priests and priestesses, medicine men and women, those who have traditionally kept the spirit and connection with nature alive in our communities, have lost their roles in modern society. It is up to us to address this void. There is no one else. Our natural “resources” are much more than just chemical compounds we can take and process into useful products, there is a unique life force within each plant, animal and mineral woven through the universe.  Can we keep  this energetic vitality alive from harvest to finished product?

Sustainable and Ethical Harvesting or Wildcrafting

The laws of Nature, Physics and Karma work flawlessly, whether we can see them or not. For every action there is a reaction, no energy invested ever disappears, and we reap what we sow. There is an intelligence of Nature that exists everywhere around us. Just because we have not yet invented the instruments to measure it, does not mean it does not exist or does not react to every action we impose upon it. More than this, we are innately and intimately involved in this dance, as individuals and societies. The intelligence of trees, and those intelligences that take care of our trees and woods and every other individual species in plant, animal and mineral world exist to my satisfaction. We too are part of this living tapestry, regardless of all attempts to intellectualize our superiority, and see ourselves as separate from the rest of life on the planet.

   Do no harm, should be in the forefront of our minds whatever we occupy ourselves with. Especially with Nature. And if you can help out natures citizens while you are out in the woods, it is important you do so. There is no better use or service for our so-called “superior intellects”.


 The beginning of all endeavours starts with our intent. What is your vision?

The laws of nature and physics dictate you will receive as you give.

As in many aboriginal traditions we communicate our intent, listen carefully, and give before we take.

Nature isn’t picky about what you give. Lucky for us She is not hung up on material things.

Learn to listen to Nature and to yourself. Just as in any important relationship.

There are no coincidences. Nurture your relationships.

Secrets are never shouted. They are whispered.

Be quiet and still, and Nature can teach you everything you need to know.

Let it be a devotion.

  Deepen your relationships with the  plants you engage, develop your own personal ethics, and methods of sustainable and mutually beneficial harvesting in the wild. Engage with the spirit of your harvest, respond to their needs there is much more to be reaped than meets the eye.

On to the harvest

  • Our Northern American evergreens have been suffering from an infestation of Borers that have decimated huge tracts of our forests. I always carry a long wire with me when I harvest sap. Whenever I see a hole under a patch of sap, I insert the wire to the depth of the hole, and destroy the grub therein. Not a planet saving move on its own, but if we all held the well being of the trees and all nature’s citizens in mind while we were taking what we wanted from them, it would, I believe, make a difference. Not only in the world, but in the products we create from nature.
  • In the winter the tree is dormant, the cold weather inhibits the growth of organisms and micro organisms that could attack an exposed area of the tree. This is when it is ideal to harvest our sap.
  • Try not to scrape the sap down to the bare wood. There is plenty for you and the tree.
  • If you get ahead of me, and try to distill these saps before the next post, please be very careful! They are extremely volatile! Keep vapours away from open flames and perform a hydro or steam distillation. Don’t heat the saps directly!

For part 2 and instructions for making your own pot still and distilling essential oils with it, please see my post, “How to build and use an essential oil still.-

I could not in good conscience, write a post about distilling from the wild, without first laying down some clear directions for ethical and sustainable wildcrafting. I apologize for the length and any excess meandering. It is obvious where my passion lies. I would feel terrible if I found  that someone was hacking at trees after reading this post. Especially with that disturbing photo of turpentine collection….

If you do not have these trees in your area, or if you would like to buy ethically and sustainably harvested saps from someone who is passionately involved with the ethics and sustainability of wildcrafting, I have some beautiful fresh White Pine and Spruce saps for sale in my Etsy store. Click on the photo below or any of the Etsy badges in the sidebar to find out more.


Fresh Spruce and Pine saps Ethical and sustainably collected
Fresh Spruce and Pine saps Ethically  and sustainably collected
Disclaimer- This post does in no way imply one should harvest from city or private property, or if in the Hamilton/Burlington area, stray from the marked trails on RBG property.Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. wow I live on three acres of old growth trees.. all this stuff …. steers me towards gratitude… thank you

  2. Hey there, big fan here!
    I have a couple questions for you. I live in Tennessee and we have fir, cedar, pine and sugar maples. We extract maple sap and make syrups. I have collected very very small amounts of pine resin compared to the 4lb bags of pinon resin i buy from out west. I was wondering what your suggestion would be for 1) extracting saps and resins from my cedars and pines that have no visible sap/resin. I have read about the V shaped exterior carving and am not into it/ tried it once to no luck. I tried tapping the Cedar the same way i did the sugar maple and nothing. I have tried boiling pine needles and branches with the lid upside down and a collecting bowl on a brick etc.
    2) any ideas for perserving all of my sugar maple sap before the big boil? I have a few glass collecting containers and it gets a thick mucousy membrane feel after a week or two of sitting there and smells rotten.

    1. Hi Tori.
      Regarding your maple sap spoiling, I don’t have any experience with it but my first thought is sterilizing your collection system and the containers you store it in. Number two would be storing it outside where it is still cold and will retard bacterial growth in the sap until you boil it.
      Regarding the conifers, the oleoresins we collect from pine species are secondary metabolites. There is a system of resin ducts under the surface of the bark that responds to injury by producing different types of resin products to protect and heal intrusions. Cedar trees do not have this network and won’t yield any sap after injury. Depending on the type of Pine and the area it is growing in, you may or may not get production of sap from a surface injury.
      The most common source of Cedar, pine and Fir essential oils are needles and twigs. You need to set up a proper distillation train to collect the essential oils. A pot, a condenser to cool the steam to liquid and a vessel to collect the distillate in. Once you have set this up you will easily be able to collect essential oils from your Cedar, Pine and Fir trees.

  3. Dan I love your site and the way you share your experiences to help others, thanks for all your efforts. I’m in Nicaragua and building my own ceramic pot still, with the hope of finding some interesting resins in the local area and a special interest in Neem and Mango. Have you distilled any parts of these two trees? I wanted to ask about your comment above where you said “smaller twigs and branches can be hydro/steam distilled” after being mulched. What do you normally do? Add the bits of wood to the water to hydro distill, or separate the plant material from the water with a culander or sieve and just use steam? Cheers, Joe

    1. Hi Joe. Strange, I was just thinking about building a ceramic still after seeing photos in the Artisan Essential oil distillers FB group. I got the impression it was someone in South America that posted them…. I haven’t distilled mango or Neem, though I recently saw a post where someone was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Essential oil they distilled from mango fruit pulp after juicing. I can likely dig it up if you haven’t seen it. I know some distillers will mulch twigs and small branches before distilling them. Some will soak the material for a day in the pot to increase the eo yield. I am leaning more and more towards hydro distillation of most plant materials. Especially if you are not working with high temperature and high pressure steam. Personally, I would add the mulched material directly to the water. If you are not a member of the artisan essential oil distillers group on Facebook I highly recommend you join.


  4. This article is so interesting for me right now. I’ve had trouble finding someone with the know how and passion to produce oils from conifers. I live in Newfoundland, Canada and have a forest of balsam fir that is deemed agricultural. I will clear a plot for some cropland and a greenhouse but the more use I can find for the gifts that are readily available the less I have to worry about clearing more forest. I am curios to know the schematics of how I can best extract the products at a commercial scale. What type of still and does the wood/twigs need to be finely chopped in order to best extract the oil. I did a small scale experiment yesterday at the university and we steamed a sample but never found any essential oils. Is there a particular temperature the steam needed to be? I believe the product we got from it is hydrosol. It smells so good! What are the best markets for this product do you think?

    1. Hi Chad.
      I apologize for the delay responding!
      My best advice to you is to join the Facebook group by the name of “Artisan Essential Oil Distillers”. You will find professional artisan distillers who already work commercially with conifers as well as novices and beginners. It is a great place to connect with the people you need and to share your own knowledge and experience. Here is a link for your convenience.

  5. hai Dan,
    i want to find out is it possible to extract combustion fuel from resin of pines trees,if possible what method can i use.

    1. Hi George. I apologize for the delay responding to your comment. I am in Madagascar at the moment. Internet is a challenge.
      The resin of pine is combustible. The question would be how much resin/heat can you get from a pine tree and whether it is economically viable. There are ways to tap the trees in a sustainable manner. If you would like more information formation about this let me know. It may be more cost effective to make pellets of the wood for fuel. It is worth looking into.

      1. Hi Dan
        Thank for your response,i appreciate the information that you given me, i could like to find the fastest methods of tapping resin from pines and how there are carried out.And during tapping are there any chemicals that you can add to increase the rate at which the resin is secreted by pines trees.And at what age of the tree can you start tapping resin.

  6. Hi Dan
    is possible to extract some fuels that can be used for combustion in an engine from the resin from pinus kesiya pine tree.if possible how can we distillate or what are some of the other substance that you can add to the distillates from resin to make it more flammable for fuel use.

    1. I’m sorry George. I don’t have the expertise you need and don’t know of any chemicals that will boost the flammability of the essential oils in Pine. The amount of energy invested in harvesting and processing the sap may likely be much greater than the energy you get out of a fuel made with it.

  7. hi Dan i have 75 thousand year old kuari gum in new zealand and would love to try and distill is in a solid state due to age but will still dissolve in meths to make varnish it is solid do you think it would work in a still to make essence.apparently the catholic church still buys it for there incense but i think they burn it.

    1. Hi Aaron. What a treasure! You can try hydro distilling the resin first. It may or may not yield any essential oil. You most effective extraction may be with a dry distillation. This is traditionally the method used by the Naval stores and producers of Pine rosin. I believe copper stills are used and the temperature is raised to over 300 degrees centigrade before the liquid is poured, filtered and used commercially. Meanwhile they collect the essential oils from the distillation and use them as solvents, Turpentine. I have read about the NZ Kuari gum, but have never experienced it. I think there is a market here in the West among our artisans for it.
      Let me know if you have any further questions I might be of help with. Also let me know if you are able or interested in sending a few kilos to Canada…..

  8. Hi, thanks for all your posts, I’m so grateful for your blog!

    I have a jar of a bunch of different kinds of saps/resins. They’re not separated by tree type. Is it safe to distill them all together?

  9. Hi, thanks for all your posts, I’m really grateful for your blog!

    I have a jar of different kinds of saps/resins that I’ve collected from trees on recent hikes. They are not separated by tree species. Is it safe to distill them all together?

  10. Hi, I would like to teach children a simplistic way to make their own medicine from cedar needles and branches. Will alcohol soaking make a therapeutic oil? Is there any other methods that are rather simplistic so I can give them a variety of ideas. Does these methods apply to all plant therapeutic-grade-essential-oil extractions? The oils needs to be medicinal. You are also welcome to refer me to someone. I would like to give as truthful info to these stunning children as possible. Thank you for your help, I love your gentleness.

    1. Thank you Elsa.
      I have no good reason for taking so long to respond to your comment other than waiting till I had the words… I hope the information is still of use to you.
      Children can easily make an infused oil of conifer needles or sap. Oil will dissolve both the essential oils and the resins and they can, with simple means, create a healing and fragrant oil or salve. Alcohol does act as a solvent as well, but poses more dangers and complexities in execution for any purpose other than a tincture. An oil infusion seems ideal for children.
      Olive oil can be used as a base, though with plant material that has a delicate scent, there are oils that have less of a competing aroma and can let the scent of the plant material shine on its own. Processed Jojoba and fractionated Coconut oil are two mild and long lasting vegetable oils that come to mind.
      The children should grind the plant material with a little bit of oil in mortar and pestle, which children seem to have an affinity with. A jar can be filled 4/5 with a mix of 1 part well crushed herbs to 3 parts oil and set in the sun or a warm place for a few days before pressing through a cloth/pillowcase, or filtering through a sieve, and then sedimenting and separating any moisture from the bottom of the jar.
      This medicated oil can be thickened in a water bath with Beeswax and turned into a salve.
      Please let me know if I can be of further help and I promise to respond much more quickly. Alternatively, you can direct any questions to my email at

      1. Hi Dan,
        Dave Chandler here again, still experimenting with balsam resins for violin varnish. I just got back from a “vacation” to northern Minnesota, where I found myself surrounded by balsam fir. I was able to collect a lot of fresh sap, but my question is this (maybe more than one question). What happens to the tree after I’ve “popped” all its blisters and collected the sap? Is there any danger to the tree from infection etc where I’ve pierced the bark/blister? Also, is this the only way to collect balsam sap, blister by blister? I found on a good afternoon, I could collect 2 ounces, enough to varnish several violins.

        Next point, if balsam source colophony and pine colophony are the same, then it seems cheaper/easier to get the cheap stuff. I’ve been told that balsam has the highest purity/translucence/clarity of all and is used to secure microscope slides, grind telescope lenses, etc. So are they talking about the sap itself, or the resin/colophony?

  11. I would like to use my maple tree sap in my body scrub… any suggestions on how to make it last in my Scrub’s I make from home.

    1. Hi Brandy. I havent made scrubs myself, but, off the top of my head i would say.-Maple sap is entirely water soluble. To intensify the fragrance you could gently evaporate as much water as you can before it becomes too sticky.
      If you are using an exfoliant or scrub that is not water based and will not dissolve on contact with the sap, you should be fine. Mix in your Maple sap and let it all dry thoroughly before packaging in air-tight containers. If you are using salt or any other base that dissolves in water you might have to spray it on the salt, dry, spray on some more, dry, etc. Till you have a strength of fragrance that suits you.
      You could also experiment with essential oil of Fenugreek which has a fragrance remarkably reminiscent of Maple sap/syrup and is used in the food and beverage industry to create Maple flavoring.
      I hope that was of some help.

  12. Find your comments fascinating. I have vehicles stored in my barns and wanted to use Balsam Fir to make concentrate for soaking corn cobs in and placing in trunks and the cab of vehicles. Can you help? Probably need 2 liters per year. Should I distill my own or purchase it
    Thanks all

    1. Great idea Peter!!
      I suggest either distilling your own if you have a good supply of branches or sap, or simpler, purchase a couple of liters from any one of many reputable essential oil suppliers. The price per liter is quite reasonable.

    1. Hi Alia. Rosin usually refers to the resin portion of Pine, Spruce or Fir sap after the essential oils have been removed through distillation.
      These more volatile liquids act as solvents in the sap, keeping it soft and sticky. Once they are removed, the resin portion of these oleoresins becomes hard, brittle and translucent to varying degrees. Rosin is used to add friction to violin bows and the ropes of rodeo riders, in glues and some varnishes, and is an important component in the plastic and rubber industry among others.

  13. Hi Dan. I want to distil the rosin from balsam/fraser fir sap I’ve collected, for use in making violin varnish. Any thoughts on how this would be best accomplished?

    1. Hi David.
      Thanks for visiting and sounds like an exciting project!
      Rosin, in essence, is the whole oleoresin of the Spruce, Pine or Fir tree minus its essential oils. These essential oils act as a solvent that makes the substance liquid and mobile. Once the essential or volatile oils are removed, we are left with a brittle mass, or rosin.
      So, if you have no need of the essential oils, you can simply “cook” your sap to evaporate them. Making a varnish, you would likely need a fairly clean product minus, bark, twigs dirt etc. There are a couple of ways of filtering your product.
      –You could put your raw collected sap in a large pot with a ratio of at least 1;5 of water, bring it to a boil, use a sieve to scoop out debris and separate it. a fine sieve will leave you with a cleaner product but may take longer. Starting with a coarse sieve with large holes, then working with a finer mesh might be efficient.
      As you boil your sap in the water the essential oils will evaporate. you can test the consistency of your rosin by taking some out with a spoon, dropping it on a room temperature surface to see if it is hard and lost its stickiness. Keep boiling the sap and testing it till the cool rosin has the consistency you need. When ready you can pour it into a separate bowl or pot. the rosin is usually slightly heavier than the water and should settle to the bottom where you can collect it when cooled.
      Another method for filtering it is to pass it through a cloth, sheet or pillowcase with the boiling water, after you have removed the large debris and before removing the finer particles. Using this method you can do your final cooking in the second part. Keep in mind there will be a lot of work cleaning your tools and vessels from the sap/rosin, so old or disposable pots are a good idea.
      Once you have your rosin, you will need a solvent to dissolve it for applying as a varnish. Linseed oil and turpentine come to mind. There are also materials that can be added to speed up drying, make your varnish more durable or flexible etc. I think there are recipes online. But let me know I have a couple of old recipe books kicking around somewhere and I could dig them up if needed.

      1. Dan:

        Since my initial contact, I’ve diluted my sap/twig/bark mix with alcohol, and was able to filter the “stuff” and cooked the alcohol off. But, after that I mixed it with some cheap hardware store linseed oil, cooked them down — Not too happy with the result. My plan is tomorrow to collect some fresh resin, and try your method. I should boil it in water till it loses stickiness? If I understand you right, all these unwanted aromatic oils should boil off at a temperature under that of boiling water. I had earlier presumed it had to be cooked much higher than that, but I don’t know, just presumed.

        My biggest problem is that violin makers are very secretive about their varnishes, and will send you off in the wrong direction on purpose. I’ve been trying to figure out what one fellow uses as a thinner for “volatile balsam varnish” — turpentine doesn’t do it, can’t figure what it is. One famous maker, on his death bed admitted to using Winsor-Newton Artists varnish off the shelf. How about that!


        Sent from Windows Mail

      2. David, the alcohol as a solvent before filtering is a great idea for your application.
        In the commercial processing of rosin and turpentine they do cook it directly and above 100 centigrade.
        I’m pretty sure most of the volatile will evaporate for you at the boiling point of water.
        Also I would be worried about putting the alcohol oleo resin mix directly on the heat since it is so flammable.
        I would try the water method first and if you are left with a rosin you think needs to be harder you could always cook it at that point without the water.
        If you try a small amount of linseed oil make sure it is the double boiled variety. It has dryers in it and a different effect when used or combined with other materials.
        Alcohol can also work as your final solvent and might be worth trying.
        Also there are resins like Sandarac and Dammar that don’t have much of an essential oil content and are traditionally used for varnishes.. Just in case…
        Good luck and keep me posted if I can be of further help.

      3. Dan, thanks for your advise on distilling balsam sap for the rosin. I cooked it outdoors, and I’m working with a very small amount, about 1-2oz. I was able to use the clarified rosin (which was hard like rock candy) by reheating and mixing with alcohol (outside over hotplate), and then applying it directly to the wood as a sealer. Beautiful translucent coating, really brings out the beauty of the wood.

    1. Hi Melissa.
      You will find “Part 2” of that post here- You will find instructions on building and using a pot still at home.

  14. Dan-

    Are you aware of any funding opportunities for sustainable earth crafting? My husband and I have recently leaped to make a turn on our life path to become closer to nature in all her wealth and beauty. In this leap, money, my profession, and the majority of our worldly ‘things’ were given away, literally. It was a sharp door closure that my husband and I know was the intention of the divine we call God. We currently live in the brutal northwest arctic and can’t help but see the beauty that surrounds us every day. We were once told God vacations here, but we know He actually lives here in Alaska!
    To the point, we started a business to sell some of the items I craft in our dry cabin with water we haul from glacier runoff. Life is awesome, but these winter months make income very difficult. We moved here in late August just prior to the freeze as well. We are taking our time now talking to locals about the nature and I can’t help but craft up our essential, every day toiletries & medicines with materials we brought. I am looking forward the the thaw and the long days and ability to transition these skills to sustainable and personally collected materials. Until then, I am seeking financial support until the day my husband and I can completely break away from the financial systems that bind and support the community with the same opportunity to enjoy a sustainable and harmoniously harvested bounty of pure nature. Any lead or suggestion for funding opportunities I will greatly appreciate.

    Sandra Connelly

    1. Hi Sandra.
      What a wonderful inspired adventure!!!
      I admire your vision and I’m sure that with it, many doors will open for you both.
      Regarding funding opportunities, I assume local governments would be your main resource. From local to national, there are likely programs that either offer grants or subsidies to craftspeople, artists and possibly homesteaders. Looks like you have decent Internet, so I suggest you focus your research on what might be available in your area. The Canadian and Ontario governments have programs that support the arts and also small startups and small businesses. I assume yours does as well.
      That being said, I am happy to help you look at what natural resources may be indigenous to your area and of value to others. If you could research the flora and perhaps the fauna of your neighborhood, you may find you can start creating an income for yourself online. This could mean wildcrafting and preserving local plant material for sale. It could also mean utilizing your local wild medicinals in useful products you could sell online. Everything takes time, but I believe there are opportunities waiting just for you if you look for them.
      I would be happy to talk further and perhaps have a look at what you find growing around you to see how best to generate a financial return for yourself.
      Please contact me at, and we will continue this conversation.
      Best regards

  15. Bonjour Dan, I was out gathering balsam fir (Abies balsamea) tears in the forest in which I live today. I was hoping to use them in a cone incense blend along with powdered wood, guar gum, labrador tea and mugwort. I had the tears inside my cabin for 15 minutes and they started to get soft so I put them outside in the cold again (I live without electrical or propane refrigeration but with a root cellar). From what I read on your post I thought that since the sap was hard on the tree it would stay that way as opposed to sap you collect when you tap Abies or pop a blister and get gomme de sapin aka Canadian balsam. Do I need to evaborate water out of this variety of sap or is this variety liquid at room temperature no matter what? How would you suggest I proceed to make the cone style incense? Merciiiiiii

    1. Hi and thank you for visiting my blog.
      The viscosity of your Balsam Fir sap is affected by 2 variables. Temperature, it will soften as it warms and liquefy if heated, and the amount of essential oils it contains. The essential oils act as solvents. If you put it in a warm place or heat it gently, some of the essential oils will evaporate and it will stay solid and eventually even brittle at room temperature. There is no moisture in your Fir sap, just fragrant essential oils and equally fragrant resin. Even if all the essential oils are gone, it will still offer you a lovely incense material.
      If you plan to use it as a powder in your incense blend, I suggest you do all your blending and grinding outdoors in the cold. If your material is still not brittle enough for this, but sticks to your mortar or pestle, then bring it inside for a day or two close to, or above your Woodstove, and let some of the essential oils evaporate. (You will notice it slowly becomes more firm at indoor temperatures. When enough of the essential oils have evaporated, you should be able to grind it along with your other materials in a cold mortar outside.
      You can do this evaporation quickly if you want, and if you have enough sap, by putting it in a double boiler. It will turn liquid with the heat of the boiling water bath, the essential oils will evaporate quickly, and when it cools to room temperature it will be brittle as glass. (After 2-3 hours on the waterbath perhaps?) Liquifying it like this is also an opportunity to filter it through a pillowcase or cotton cloth if you wanted to do so.
      I hope this was of some help to you. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

  16. Found your blog only minutes after distilling essential oil from a German spruce. Totally agree that we have to respect our fellow creatures, so I only took sap that had “naturally” appeared and only of the abundance of it.
    One handful of resin gave 1 ml essential oil. PROUD! 🙂
    Unfortunately the resin is not easily to be removed from the still. I distilled with vapor and the resin is covering the plate as well as parts of the kettle, where it has dropped into it through the holes of the plate.
    Do you know another method of cleaning it other than putting it on a BBQ grill?
    Greetings from Germany

    1. Hi Michael. I just read your comment and thought I would mention that with a pure oleo-resin such as Spruce sap which has no water-soluble gum, you can perform a hydro distillation right in your pot. You may be able to extract a higher return of essential oil. If you have a look at my post
      You can substitute Pine, Spruce or Fir sap for the Frankincense Frereana.
      With a copper still you could even try a “dry distillation”. A future ambition of mine.
      Let me know if I can be of further help in any way.
      Best regards from Canada

      1. Hi Dan, since this will be my second time to distill essential oils I have not enough courage to do a dry distillation. 🙂
        But I will definitely try out putting the sap directly into the water. Thanks for the advice!

      2. My pleasure Michael.
        Nor do I yet have a copper still or the guts to attempt a dry distillation. Soon I hope.
        Good luck with your next distillation! I would be happy to hear how it goes.

      3. Wow, Dan, your advice worked fantastically! I put the sap, which I pestled before, directly onto the water surface and this time I had more than 40 ml! First I couldn’t believe, how big a layer of oil was on the surface of the hydrolate. So thanks again, Dan!

  17. Found your site minutes after distilling spruce sap for the first time. I totally agree to your thoughts of respecting our fellow creatures. So I indeed only took from the surplus of the sap. One handfull of German spruce gave about 1 ml essential oil. Unfortunately the resin is not easily to removed. I guess I have to put my still on BBQ grill. It’s made of copper, so it should stand the procedure.
    How do you clean the still from resin?

    1. Hi Michael.
      Thanks for visiting. ..
      The spent resin needs to be poured out while it is hot, and it is best done as soon as distillation is done. The essential oils act as solvents, so when they are gone the rosin cools much harder than when it went in to the still.. This is the easiest method. Lucky you with a copper still!
      Yes you can definitely heat it up on the barbecue. If you do it gently, you can pour it, filter it and create a high quality Rosin for yourself. Any residue can be cleaned up with paint thinner, turpentine, varsol or olive oil then washed with warm soapy water and rinsed..
      Good luck!!!

    2. Hi Michael. Thanks for visiting..
      With some fine tuning you should be able to get a higher yield of essential oil from your sap.
      The ideal way to clean your still is to pour out the residue as soon as you finish distilling and while it is hot. As you know, the essential oils act as a solvent to the resin and once they depart it turns into a hard mass at room temperature.
      You can definitely heat your still on the barbecue. If you do it gently without burning any on to the metal you should be able to pour it out, or scoop it out. If you distill a larger quantity and filter the residue you should have a very nice rosin for other applications.
      If you need to clean it further, varsol, paint thinner, turpentine or olive oil should do the trick. Finish with hot water and dish soap before rinsing.
      Good luck !!!

    1. Your words are resonating deeply with in me. I have known and felt and heard from the natural world but get confused about my place and role within it. I am connected. I just need to put all the rest aside and listen to the plants, they know. Thanks for being this amazing resource for me now, setting the tone that will keep sounding.

      1. Thank you for your kind words Kelli.
        I like to think we are not only a part of nature, but her stewards as well. It’s a role and place I find gives me great satisfaction and meaningful relationships with the plant world.

  18. Dan you do such a wonderful job of integrating the wisdom of the earth and how to relate to her in with your excellent directions on how to work with the essences you are dealing with. It’s a very efficient way to educate people about so many things all at once, about how interconnected it all is. I always learn a lot when I read your posts. Thank you. 🙂

    1. I live and protect 3 acres of old growth fir .. maybe I should settle and sit with my buddies and say thanks

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