• Can I Substitute Fir Essential Oil for Pine?


    fir tree with upright cones

    Well, it’s still “that time of year” where pine (and pine-like) scents rule. We often use pine as a generic term for any needle bearing, coniferous (cone-bearing) tree. But they’re not the same.  Pine, fir, and spruce trees are often used interchangeably as holiday trees (Yes, holiday. Christmas is not the only winter holiday to use evergreen trees as part of its decoration and celebration). So that raises the question… If they are interchangeable as trees at any number of midwinter holidays, can fir or spruce essential oil be substituted for pine? There are several fir essential oils, so I’m going to address fir today and tackle spruce next time.

    Last time, I wrote about Pine essential oil, scotch pine (Pinus sylvestrus) to be exact. If you missed it, you can read it here. Technically pines and firs are both members of the pine (Pinaceae) family. However, when talking about essential oils they are referred to as either pine or fir based on their genus: Pinus = pine and Abies = fir.

    A Little about Fir in General

    There are over 50 different species of fir tree, so simply saying “fir” is already over simplifying things. But I’m gonna talk about the few properties that all firs have in common and then talk about the individual essential oils separately (don’t worry, only a handful are used to make essential oils), so it’s all good.

    One of the most notable things that all firs have in common are their cones. The cones on fir trees stand upright no matter how heavy they are. On other conifers, they hang down to one degree or another… especially if they’re weighty. At maturity, fir cones disintegrate to disperse the seeds within rather than simply opening (when it’s warm and dry) the way pine cones do.

    The most interesting thing, however, is the way their needle-like leaves are attached to the branch. Fir needles are attached individually (pine needles are attached in clusters of 2, 3, or 5 depending on the species) via a suction-cup like base.

    Recap of Pine (Pinus sylvestrus)

    Properties

    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Analgesic (pain relieving)
    • Antifungal
    • Antibacterial
    • Antiviral
    • Antispasmodic
    • Antidepressant
    • Mild expectorant (reduces thickness of mucus so it can be coughed out)
    • Mild antitussive (prevents/relieves coughs)

    Traditionally used for

    • Airway congestion
    • Allergies
    • Arthritis
    • Asthma
    • Bronchitis
    • Chest rattling
    • Chest tightness
    • Colds
    • Congested mucus
    • Coughs

    Precautions

    May cause skin irritation.

    Skin sensitization if oxidized (i.e. old or improperly stored)

    Now… How do the firs compare??

    Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

    Properties

    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Antifungal
    • Antibacterial
    • Analgesic
    • Antiviral
    • Anti-spasmodic
    • Antidepressant
    • Emotionally grounding and calming

    Traditionally Used For

    • Arthritis
    • Asthma
    • Bacterial infections
    • Bronchitis
    • Coughs
    • Respiratory conditions
    • Fatigue
    • Sore throat

    Precautions

    Safe to diffuse around babies and children

    Skin sensitization if oxidized

    Blends Well With

    • Basil
    • Black pepper
    • Cedarwood
    • Cinnamon
    • Clove
    • Eucalyptus
    • Frankincense
    • Ginger
    • Lavender
    • Lemon
    • Myrtle
    • Niaouli
    • Orange
    • Peppermint
    • Pine
    • Rosemary
    • Rosewood
    • Tangerine
    • Tea tree
    • Thyme

    Corkbark Fir (Abies lasiocarpa)

    Properties

    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Antifungal
    • Antibacterial
    • Analgesic
    • Antiviral
    • Anti-spasmodic
    • Antitussive
    • Expectorant

    Traditionally Used For

    • Fatigue
    • Respiratory conditions
    • Spastic cough
    • Pain
    • Relaxation
    • Rest/sleep inducing

    Precautions

    None noted

    Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menzesii)

    Douglas fir is not an actual fir… notice that its genus is Pseudotsuga, not Abies. It’s one of those plants that gave botanists fits and was variously categorized as a pine, fir, spruce, and a hemlock. Eventually they created a new genus called Pseudotsuga (meaning false hemlock) but the common name Douglas fir stuck. Technically the name’s supposed to be hyphenated, because it’s not a true fir, but I rarely see that done. I included it to make my point, yet again, about not depending on common names when looking at essential oils. It’s the genus and species that matter. Say it with me: Genus. species. (Genus is always capitalized and species is never capitalized)

    But what about its properties? Are they close to real firs? See for yourself:

    Properties

    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Analgesic
    • Antifungal
    • Antibacterial
    • Antiviral
    • Anti-infective
    • Powerful respiratory oil
    • Expectorant
    • Antitussive
    • Mental stimulant
    • Support for personal transformation

    Traditionally Used For

    • Colds
    • Bronchitis
    • Influenza
    • Fatigue
    • Respiratory conditions
    • Muscular conditions
    • Pain
    • Reduce anxiety
    • Stress relief

    Precautions

    Skin sensitization if oxidized

    Blends Well With

    • Cedarwood
    • Eucalyptus
    • Frankincense
    • Juniper berry
    • Lemon
    • Orange
    • Sandalwood

    Grand Fir (Abies grandis)

    Traditionally Used For

    • Reduce fatigue
    • Reduce anxiety
    • Uplifting emotions/mood
    • Colds
    • Asthma
    • Bronchitis
    • Respiratory conditions

    Precautions

    May cause skin irritation

    Blends Well With

    • Benzoin
    • Cistus
    • Citrus oils
    • Clary sage
    • Ginger
    • Lavender
    • Marjoram
    • Pine
    • Rosemary

    Siberian Fir (Abies sibirica)

    Sometimes this oil is called Siberian pine, but it’s a true fir. You can tell because the genus is Abies. There I go pushing those pesky scientific names again!

    Properties

    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Antifungal
    • Antibacterial
    • Analgesic
    • Antiviral
    • Anti-spasmodic
    • Antitussive
    • Expectorant

    Traditionally Used For

    • Bronchitis
    • Fatigue
    • Respiratory conditions
    • Relaxation

    Precautions

    Safe to diffuse around children with congestion

    Low risk of skin irritation

    Skin sensitization if oxidized

    Blends Well With

    • Other conifer oils
    • Basil
    • Cedarwood
    • Citrus oils
    • Frankincense
    • Juniper
    • Lavender
    • Lavandin
    • Myrtle
    • Niaouli
    • Oakmoss
    • Patchouli
    • Rosemary

    Silver Fir (Abies alba)

    I’ve seen this particular oil also called white fir (alba means white, after all), but there is another fir with that common name as well. One will help quiet a cough; thin, break down, and expel mucus and the other won’t. See why you need to pay attention to the Latin names?

    Properties

    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Antifungal
    • Antibacterial
    • Analgesic
    • Antiviral
    • Anti-spasmodic
    • Antidepressant

    Traditionally Used For

    • Arthritis
    • Bronchitis
    • Colds
    • Coughs
    • Fatigue
    • Respiratory conditions
    • Muscular pain
    • Pain
    • Rheumatism
    • Anxiety
    • Stress

    Precautions

    Skin sensitization if oxidized

    White Fir (Abies concolor)

    Properties

    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Antifungal
    • Antibacterial
    • Analgesic
    • Antiviral
    • Anti-spasmodic
    • Antidepressant
    • Antitussive
    • Expectorant
    • Mucolytic

    Traditionally Used For

    • Bacterial infections
    • Fatigue
    • Joint  pain
    • Respiratory conditions
    • Muscular conditions
    • Pain
    • Reduce stress

    Precautions

    None noted

     

    So CAN You Substitute Fir for Pine?

    As you can see, there’s a lot of similarities between the properties and uses of Pine (Pinus sylvestrus) and the firs (Abies sp*). There’s even quite a bit of similarity with our non-fir fir, Douglas. But as you can also see, there are several differences as well.

    That means the answer is… It depends. It depends on what you want to use it for, if you want to use it during the day or at bedtime, whether you’re coughing or congested, the severity of your cough or congestion, if you want to use it around kids or adults, and whether you want to use it in a diffuser or topically. For that matter, how much you like the smell of one vs another will also make a difference if it comes down to deciding between 2 that have the same properties and uses.

    *sp. is scientific shorthand for species

    Tl;dr

    It depends. You’ll have to actually read about the oil you want to use to determine if it’ll be a good substitute for another.

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