Picea Mariana, or Black Spruce is a true Canadian. The tree is native to most of the country except the far west coast and southern prairie regions. Throughout the rest of Canada and the north east US, Black Spruce can be found growing in moist or boggy situations where it will attain heights of up to 15 meters. The needles are rigid, not prickly, dark green in colour and 4-sided in cross-section. The cones are small and oval with brittle scales. They hang down from the branches and may stay on the tree for many years before falling. The outer bark of the tree is reddish-brown and the inner bark when freshly exposed is olive green.
The essential oil of Picea mariana is distilled from the tree needles and sometimes whole branches. Canada is the only country where the e/o is distilled and many aromatherapists have yet to discover it’s wonderful properties and fragrance.
According to Franchomme & Penoel the active principles are 50-55% monoterpenes including camphene, alpha-pinene and delta-3-carene. Esters account for 30-40% and are primarily bornyl acetate. There are also traces of sesquiterpenols, sesquiterpenes and monoterpenols.
What makes this e/o different is it’s high ester content, a substance not present or in low concentrations in most needle oils. Pinus sylvestris (Scotch Pine) may contain up to 80% (or more?) monoterpenes and only 1.5 – 10% esters. Esters are generally strongly anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, sedative, antalgic and have some specific anti-fungal (candida) and anti-bacterial properties. They are also very ‘soft’ chemicals being the result of the reaction between an acid and an alcohol. Roman Chamomile may contain as much as 75-80% esters as an example.
Where this e/o really excels is in it’s unique immune-stimulant possibilities. Research indicates that Picea mariana may stimulate thymus activity, promote regeneration of the adrenal cortex and have cortisone-like properties. All highly useful attributes for our modern stressed out lives.
Because it is also a powerful ant-inflammatory, the cortisone-like effects make this e/o specific for arthritis nd rheumatoid conditions and is particularly good in combination with Pinus sylvestris and Tanacetum annuum, a combo I have used to ameliorate carpal tunnel syndrome pain. As for the adrenal gland support, research continues into it’s effects and trials are on-going that include daily applications on the adrenal area for a 3 week period with tests being run both before and after. The remarkable results will hopefully be sufficient to one day put Black Spruce into every Aromatherapists kit. It is certainly an indispensable part of mine.
Franchomme & Penoel also list Black Spruce for bronchitis, dry excema and acne, inflamed prostate, spasms of the solar plexus, asthenia, hyperthyroid, and some parasites!!! (p. 387, L’Aromatherapie Exactemente)
The e/o itself is quite liquid in consistency, almost colourless except in large quantities where it has a pale green hue. The aroma is definitely of the pine family, but different, less sweet, slightly greener, but with a wet almost sour overtone like very green wood (olive-green in fact!). The taste is very minty like all needles but again the wetness is there in a hard to describe way. Personally I adore the smell but for some it is an acquired aroma though few exhibit strong dislike.