We have relied on the aromatic sap of trees for comfort and healing since the dawn of time. Pine, Spruce, Fir, Frankincense, Myrrh, Elemi, and many, many more provide us with a wide range of therapeutic properties and applications.

Tree saps provide an impressive list of therapeutic qualities

The list of therapeutic uses for Pine and Spruce sap in folk medicine is truly extensive. One of the best-known is to help treat and alleviate respiratory distress. Pine, Spruce and other tree oleoresins ease our breathing, calm our minds and help break up phlegm so we can expectorate it. (Cough it up). This process is especially important when phlegm accumulates in our lungs and impedes our breathing.

More than essential oils

Though we have come to rely almost exclusively on the essential oils of these resins in most applications, there is much more to be gained by using the whole unprocessed Oleoresin. The resin part of these saps, (which is discarded after distilling the essential oils), provides a range of therapeutic benefits to the lungs, skin, muscles and joints. Most, if not all the tree resins, are excellent anti-inflammatories. Considering that inflammation is a major cause of many chronic diseases, their wide use is understandable.

Spruce, Pine, respiratory relieg, Chest Rub, Cough Balm, DIY, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Blue Spruce-Picea glauca, in an urban setting

A simple and effective chest rub

The simplest method for making a respiratory rub from most tree saps is to dissolve them in warm oil. I do so at a ratio of 1:3. One part sap and 3 parts carrier oil of your choice. The oil ensures they will immediately and permanently lose their stickiness. (In case you were worried about that.) If you plan to use the rub within a two year period you can use Olive, Almond or any other vegetable oil. However, if you plan to keep your rub around for more than 2 years it is best to use an oil that will not oxidise and go rancid such as Jojoba or Fractionated Coconut oil.

Great Northern Cough & Chest Rub. An all natural alternative
Great Northern Cough & Chest Rub. A natural Vics. On bedside tables and in medicine cabinets for over 20 years.

Instructions for making A respiratory Rub from fresh Pine or Spruce sap

  • Take 100 grams of fresh and aromatic sap. About 3.5 ounces. Do not use colophony or rosin. It is usually processed at a very high temperature and will not yield to the low heat of a water-bath.
  • Add 300 grams of carrier oil. (If you have 1 ounce of sap, then add 3 ounces of oil.) The ratio is 1:3 sap to oil by weight.
  • Place both in a mason jar and warm the water-bath till it boils. Keep the mason jar from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot. Clip it to the side of your pot with a clamp, clip, clothespin, or lay some marbles on the bottom of the pot. (Mason jar ring lids also work well).
  • Stir the sap and oil mixture till all the sap has dissolved in the oil.
  • Turn off the heat and let the oil sit till it cools enough to handle.
  • Pour the oil/sap mix through either a metal mesh coffee filter or the corner of a pillowcase. This separates needles, bark and lignan that the tree uses to heal its wounds. This medicated oil can be used as-is for respiratory relief, breaking up and expectorating phlegm. It is excellent applied to inflamed or sore joints/muscles and does wonders for mature skin.
  • If you like you can embellish your chest rub with essential oils that support respiratory health. Don’t go overboard with essential oils! Add only 2% to 5% maximum. If the rub is to be used on children, I suggest no more than 2% essential oils added. Remember, the fresh sap is already imbued with its own unique essential oil blend.
  • If you want to take your product further you can put it back in the water-bath and dissolve a bit of wax in it to turn it into a salve. It can then be poured into tins for future use.
  • If you are going to add essential oils to a salve, wait till it has cooled down to 50 degrees Centigrade.
  • Clean-up of sticky sap residue on tools, hands and counters can be done with a scrub pad and vegetable oil. Follow up with soap and warm water.

Other aromatic tree resins for respiratory issues

The Pine, Spruce, Fir, Elemi and Protium families of resins all support respiratory health when used in a similar manner. If there are no conifers that yield a sap or pitch in your part of the world, there are likely other local trees that provide an aromatic oleoresin. Elemi trees, (Canarium), are found growing in most of Africa and South East Asia, Protium and Araucaria trees in South and Central America. Australia and new Zealand have their own indigenous trees. There is no need to source expensive imported resins when nature provides us with local material specifically suited to our environment.

What about Frankincense?

Respiratory relief-Frankincense DIY Chest rubs, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Frankincense for lungs, skin, muscles and joints-DIY medicated oils and rubs

Frankincense is traditionally used for a range of respiratory issues and when processed into a medicated oil makes a calming and effective respiratory rub. However, since most types of Frankincense are composed of water-soluble gum and oil-soluble resin, the method for producing a medicated oil is different than the pure oleoresins.

How to make a respiratory rub with Frankincense resins

Respiratory relief-Frankincense, DIY Chest rubs, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Grinding Frankincense exposes the oil-soluble compounds for medicated oils, salves and cremes.

Most Frankincense resins must be powdered before they will yield their oil-soluble compounds. You will find an explanation and instructions for grinding Frankincense HERE– In a nutshell, one must powder the Frankincense to expose the oil-soluble resin before immersing in warm oils and once completed, the undissolved water-soluble gum portion needs to be sedimented or filtered out, much like the undissolved residue from the oil infusion of Pine/Spruce sap. This granular residue can be used as an exfoliant in soaps and body scrubs. For instructions on making a medicated oil from Frankincense, please see my post HERE-

Essential oils/-Warm & dry

Respiratory relief-Myrrh, DIY Chest rubs, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Fresh Myrrh and Myrrh Essential oil-Dispels stagnation/stasis. Moves and regulates fluids

If you want to add essential oils to your chest rub, those of a warm and dry nature might be a good choice for a 2020 respiratory virus that loves cold/damp and stagnant lung conditions. Herbs or essential oils such as Ginger, Hyssop, Allspice, Fennel, Angelica, Cinnamon, Peppermint, Rosemary, Cardamom, Cloves, Nutmeg could be helpful. Use essential oils in moderation! it is also noteworthy that Myrrh helps to move and regulate fluids reducing stasis/stagnation and could be complementary to any Frankincense chest rub.

Collecting your own sap/pitch

Spruce sap-Ontario-An attempt to repel the borer grub.

Though I am placing this paragraph at the end of the post, it could be considered the most important information here. One of the first elements that contributes to the quality of the medicine we make, indeed, to the quality of our lives, is the quality of our relationship with Nature and our materials. Trees are sentient and share this land with us. They may not speak the same language as us, but that does not mean they cannot communicate. Approach trees as equals with the intent of creating a relationship of mutual respect and reciprocity. As is wise in any new relationship, first give and set the tone for the relationship.

Give and take, but don’t take it all

Our Northern Pine and Spruce trees are often attacked by borers, especially in urban settings where branches are regularly trimmed and the heartwood exposed. Trees will try to flush out the varmints with copious amounts of sap, often with little success. A simple and thoughtful gift for a tree plagued by a borer under its “skin” is to take a short metal wire and get rid of the grub. We all appreciate kindness, thoughtfulness and consideration. Collect some fresh sap, but not all the sap. Make sure you leave a protective layer on the wound.

And remember, Always take clear notes! Your future self will thank you. Dan

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