Black Spruce Oil: History, Benefits, and More

Black Spruce Oil: History, Benefits, and More

Black Spruce Oil: History, Benefits, and More

Black spruce oil provides us with a powerful link to ancient Native American medicine. 

Introduction

Whether in the ground or out of it, black spruce is a plant with impressive versatility. 

What other plant can you find that can grow both in swamps and on mountainous slopes, is used as both medicine and as a Christmas decoration, AND has been used to make early 20th century aircraft? Not many, we’ll bet. 

It’s amazing how much coverage one North American tree can get—did we mention that there are vast forests of this stuff all over Canada and Alaska?

After all the dozens of essential oils that come primarily from the Mediterranean and South Asia, it’s nice to have an oil that harks back to the ancient medicinal traditions of North America. Black spruce oil is then, not just a useful plant distillation, but also a link to Native American history. 

In this modern world, few of us ever manage to get out and enjoy the great outdoors as much as we would like, but the refreshing, woody scent of black spruce can help make up for that just a bit. 

Are you ready to learn about the properties, history, and growth patterns of the great black spruce tree?

Best Uses for Black Spruce Oil

Sleep improvement

Anti-arthritic

History of Black Spruce Oil

Black spruce trees grow in many regions across modern-day Canada and the northernmost parts of the United States. They are versatile trees that often grow on mountainsides but can also grow in swampy areas.

Long before European settlers arrived in these regions, Native American tribes, like the Potawatomi and Algonquin, used the resin, bark, cones, and roots for medicine. And the lightweight bark was also useful for making small tools, and reportedly, the tree has some culinary use among them as well. 

Apart from adopting some of the medicinal uses of black spruce, European settlers used the trees to make canoes, snowshoes, musical instruments, and even Christmas trees.

Black Spruce Essential Oil Uses

While black spruce hasn’t been forgotten by the world of herbal medicine—research still hasn’t gone very far. There are very, very few, if any, published studies on black spruce oil’s emotional or physical benefits. 

What is available is a little research on some of the major constituents of black spruce oil: especially alpha-pinene and bornyl acetate. 

Mental & Emotional Benefits

Can black spruce improve mental health?

Maybe. History accounts suggest that Native Americans used black spruce to help them meditate—a practice with clear mental health intentions and benefits. 

But the only applicable research so far is an animal study in which alpha-pinene managed to attenuate schizophrenia-like behavior in mice (Ueno 2019).

Physical Benefits

Can black spruce oil improve sleep?

Possibly. Bornyl acetate has been shown in one small study to increase relaxation in humans (Matsubara 2011) and alpha-pinene has been shown to improve sleep in mice (Yang 2016).

That’s enough to provide a little hope for the benefit, but lavender essential oil is still the most well-researched oil for improving sleep. 

Can black spruce improve respiratory ailments?

Possibly. Almost all respiratory ailments involve some kind of pulmonary inflammation. Bornyl acetate has been positively tested for its ability to reduce lung inflammation in both in vitro models and in animal subjects (Chen 2014). 

In this case, eucalyptus oil is the most well-researched, but if you prefer the scent of black spruce—it might be worth a shot. 

Can black spruce oil promote wound healing?

Possibly. Bornyl acetate has antiinflammatory and analgesic properties according to one 2004 animal study (Wu 2004).

Can black spruce help improve arthritic symptoms?

Possibly. Apart from the aforementioned anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties (Wu 2004). Bornyl acetate (Yang 2014), alpha-pinene (Kumar 2015), and camphene (Grover 2016) have all shown hints of anti-arthritic potential in vitro.

Is black spruce oil safe for dogs? 

It’s always best to talk with your veterinarian before starting to use any essential oils for any  of your pets. Multiple prominent websites, like NewDirectionsAromatics.com and AllNaturalPetCare.com, list black spruce oil as having potential toxic effects for dogs. On the other hand, at least one veterinarian, Dr. Jean Yamamoto, has recommended black spruce for diffusing or spraying around a dog’s bedspace. 

Manufacturing Black Spruce Oil

Black Spruce trees are quite flexible in some respects, and rather rigid in others when it comes to their growth-environment requirements. For example, black spruce trees can handle quite a range of humidity and soil conditions, ranging from humid swampy earth to dry sub-humid clays and sandy soils. They can also handle quite a bit of snow and cold as well as a wide range of precipitation, but the tree may become overly stressed in warm summers or in below zone 6 temperatures. 

That’s not to say that some conditions are more ideal for the black spruce tree. Black spruce trees grow especially well on ground that is covered with a mulch of decayed woody material and  a regional groundwater system. Because of this, many of the best black spruce trees are found on gentle slopes, where the moisture is plentiful due to a shallow water table or bedrock seepage. 

In some North American areas, forest fires tend to break out in the upland ridges, which would seem unfortunate at first, but black spruce trees are particularly adepts at seeding early and taking advantage of the burned-out space to reestablish themselves. The heat of the fire can often open up nearby black spruce cones, accelerating  the release of black spruce seeds even after the fire has burned itself out. In many of these cases, black spruce trees come to dominate once fire-ridden areas.

Essential oil production often happens when distillers take up the branch clippings left on the forest floor from timber cutters, who want the trunk wood to make paper and chopsticks but have no use for the branches. These branches are typically gathered and then fed through a wood chipper and then the resultant wood chips and leaves are steam distilled for the black spruce oil. 

Cautions

Any essential oil can be dangerous if used incorrectly. 

The three rules that apply to just about every essential oil are: 

  1. ALWAYS dilute according to your distributor’s instructions
  2. ALWAYS apply a patch test before using any new essential oil.
  3. And make sure to ONLY apply your essential oil according to the doses and routes (aromatherapy, topical application, or ingestion) approved by your distributor.

As always you should check with your healthcare provider before mixing black spruce oil with pregnancy, nursing, or any chronic or serious health condition. 

Keep black spruce oil away from sensitive areas such as your eyes and inner ears. 

Conclusion

Black Spruce oil is a scent that everyone should try and not just at Christmas time. 

Though our planes are now more likely to be made of aluminum and our everyday tools are often made of plastic, we hope that black spruce will continue to be used as medicine in North America as it has for thousands of years.



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