Category: Medicines - plant based
Introduction and description
Abies alba is known as the European silver fir or silver fir.
It has extensive uses both commercially and medicinally.
A resinous pine-scented essential oil can be extracted and has soothing qualities, it is used in perfumes, bath products, and aerosol inhalants. Its branches (including the leaves, bark and wood) were once used for production of spruce beer.
Silver fir is also the species first used as a Christmas tree, but has been largely replaced by Nordmann fir (which has denser, more attractive foliage), Norway spruce (which is much cheaper to grow), and other species.
Its medicinal properties have been known for some time. An extract from the trunk, for example, has been shown to prevent atherosclerosis. But although much of the research has been centred on folk medicine and its verification, the reason Silver fir has medicinal value has not been identified until recently - and the main reason appears to be that Silver fir is a source of salicyclic acid.
Given that Salicyclic acid has found a very exciting role in helping with colorectal cancer, [follow the link], this tree may have an extremely important role medicinally.
Silver fir is native to the mountains of Europe, from the Pyrenees north to Normandy, east to the Alps and the Carpathians, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and south to southern Italy, Bulgaria and northern Greece. Silver fir is an important component species in the Dinaric calcareous Silver Fir forest in the western Balkan Peninsula.
Abies alba is a large evergreen coniferous tree growing to 40–50 metres (130–160 ft) (exceptionally 60 metres (200 ft)) tall and with a trunk diameter of up to 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in). The largest measured tree was 68 m tall and had a trunk diameter of 3.8 metres (12 ft). It occurs at altitudes of 300–1,700 metres (980–5,580 ft) (mainly over 500 metres (1,600 ft)), on mountains with a rainfall of over 1,000 millimetres (39 in).
The leaves are needle-like, flattened, 1.8–3 centimetres (0.71–1.18 in) long and 2 millimetres (0.079 in) wide by 0.5 millimetres (0.020 in) thick, glossy dark green above, and with two greenish-white bands of stomata below. The tip of the leaf is usually slightly notched at the tip. The cones are 9–17 centimetres (3.5–6.7 in) long and 3–4 centimetres (1.2–1.6 in) broad, with about 150-200 scales, each scale with an exserted bract and two winged seeds; they disintegrate when mature to release the seeds. The wood is white, leading to the species name "alba".
It tends to forms woods with other firs and beeches. It is closely related to Bulgarian fir (Abies borisiiregis) further to the southeast in the Balkan Peninsula, Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo) of Spain and Morocco and Sicilian fir (Abies nebrodensis) in Sicily, differing from these and other related Euro-Mediterranean firs in the sparser foliage, with the leaves spread either side of the shoot, leaving the shoot readily visible from above. Some botanists treat Bulgarian fir and Sicilian fir as varieties of silver fir, as A. alba var. acutifolia and A. alba var. nebrodensis respectively.
Medicinal uses and Chemistry
The bark and wood of silver fir are rich in antioxidative polyphenols.
Six phenolic acids have been identified - gallic, homovanillic, protocatehuic, p-hydroxybenzoic, vanillic and p-coumaric; three flavonoids- catechin, epicatechin and catechin tetramethyl eter; and four lignans - taxiresinol, 7-(2-methyl-3,4-dihydroxytetrahydropyran-5-yloxy)-taxiresinol, secoisolariciresinol and laricinresinol.
The observations describe the medicinal uses.
References and further reading
- Farjon, A. (2014). "Abies alba". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 28 August 2014.
- Vasincu A, Creţu E, Geangalău I, Amalinei RL, Miron A. Polyphenolic content and antioxidant activity of an extractive fraction from Abies alba bark.Rev Med Chir Soc Med Nat Iasi. 2013 Apr-Jun;117(2):545-50.
- Eva Tavčar Benković, Tina Grohar, Dušan Žigon, Urban Švajger, Damjan Janeš, Samo Kreft, Borut Štrukelj, Chemical composition of the silver fir (Abies alba) bark extract Abigenol® and its antioxidant activity, Industrial Crops and Products, Volume 52, January 2014, Pages 23-28 doi:10.1016/j.indcrop.2013.10.005
- Kunkar, Alp; Kunkar, Ennio. Le piante officinali della Calabria (in Italian). Laruffa Editore. ISBN 88-7221-140-9.
- Dr Duke's list of Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Abies alba MILLER (Pinaceae) -- Silver-Fir 020488
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing SALICYLIC ACID 020467
- Silver fir (Abies alba) trunk extract protects guinea pig arteries from impaired functional responses and morphology due to an atherogenic diet 020489