This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Fir: an evergreen coniferous tree; with nu-merous, narrow, stiff leaves, standing solitary, or unconnected at the bases with one another.
1. Abies Pharm. Paris. Abies conis fur/urn spectantibus five mas C. B. Pinus picea Linn. The yew-leaved or silver fir; with a white bark, roundish-pointed leaves somewhat cloven at the tips, and short cones standing upwards: the leaves are marked on the lower side with three green lines and two white depressions,
2. Picea: Abies picea Pharm. Parif. Picea major prima five abies rubra C. B. Pinus abies Linn. The common, or red fir, or pitch tree; with a reddifh bark; long slender quadrangular sharp-pointed leaves, and long cones hanging downwards.
These trees are natives of the northern climates: the first grows chiefly on dry, mountainous places; the second in lower and moister grounds. In this kingdom, they are rarely found wild, particularly the first fort: Norway, Switzerland, and some parts of Germany, produce both kinds in abundance.
All the parts of these trees contain a refi-nous juice impregnated with essential oil; in smell not disagreeable, in taste bitterish and moderately pungent: from incisions made in the trunks, one of the finest of the turpentines is obtained. The red fir appears to be the moft refinous; the silver fir is the most grateful: of both forts, the cones are more agreeable than the leaves, the young leaves than the old, and these than the wood. The leaves, though evergreen on the tree, lose of their colour on being dried, and change in keeping to a yellow or brown.
Rectified spirit of wine, digested on the fir, dissolves completely its active parts, along with which it takes up also some portion of the in-fipid gummy or mucilaginous substance: from the fresh or new dried leaves it gains a yellow-ish green, from the cones and the wood a brownish or yellowish red tincture. The filtered solutions, mixed largely with water, grow milky and throw off greatest part of their resin with its oil, which may thus be obtained in a state nearly approaching to that of turpentine, the gummy subttance being retained by the aqueous fluid. On committing the solutions to distillation, the spirit brings over with it a little of the lighter oil of the fir, so as to be sensibly impregnated with its smell; leaving behind an extract, different from the resin separated by water and from the native turpentines, in having an admixture of gummy matter, from which they are free.
Water, though it dissolves little or nothing of the pure turpentines, yet, by the mediation of the gummy matter in the fir itself, extracts part of its resin. In distillation with water, a considerable quantity of effential oil arifes: the oil drawn from the wood is nearly similar to the oil of turpentine: that obtained from the fresh cones is superior, in subtility and fragrance, to all the oils of the terebinthinate kind usually met with (a). The decoction remaining after the distillation, inspiffated to the consistence of an extract, retains the bitterishness, and some share of the pungency of the fir.
The tops and cones of the fir tree, by virtue of their balsamic juice, tend moderately to warm and strengthen the habit, and promote perfpiration and urine, and the natural secretions in general. Among us, they are used chiefly by the common people, as an ingredient in diet-drinks; in some parts of Europe, they are prefcribed by physicians in decoctions and spiritu-ous tinctures; for nearly the same intentions as the exotic woods. Frederic Hoffman the elder relates, that in a scurvy which raged among the Swedish army, during their wars with the Muscovites, a decoction of the leaves and tops of the fir, made in water or ale, was found an effectual remedy and preservative (b). The Augustan college joins, to the balsam of the fir, the pungent virtues of cochlearia; by bruising the cones whilst young, tender, and of a red colour, digesting them for two days in four times their quantity of spirit of scurvy-grass, and then pressing out and filtering the tincture, which is, doubtless, as the authors observe, a medicine of great efficacy. A spirit distilled from the young leaves is said to be used in some places as a fuccedaneum to Hungary water.
(a) Zimmermann, Praelect. Chym. Neum.
(b) Clavis Scbraederian. p. 394.
Oleum tem-plinum ve-rum Germa-norum.
Essentia abie-tis Ph. Augustan.
3. Abies Canadensis Pharm. Paris. Abies minor pectinatis foliis, virginiana, conis parvis subrotundis Plukenet. Pinus Balsamea Linn. Virginia or Canada fir; with roundish-pointed leaves, sometimes cloven, standing like the teeth of a comb in two rows on each side the branches, and variegated underneath with a double line of whitish dots.
4. Balsamea; Abietis taxi foliis species odore balsami gileadenfis Raii suppl. Balm-of-gilead fir; so called from the fragrant smell of the leaves when rubbed. The leaves are roundish-pointed, and slightly cloven, nearly like those of the silver fir: the cones are long and pointed, and stand erect.
These foreign firs, now naturalized to our own climate, promise to be superior, for medicinal uses, to the two preceding; their resinous matter being of a finer and more grateful kind. From the Canada fir is extracted, in America, by wounding it during the summer heats, an elegant balsam, transparent and almost colour-less, which is sometimes brought into Europe under the name of Balsamum Canadense. The balm-of-gilead fir has a more agreeable fragrance, approaching to that of the celebrated balsam from which it receives its name: a valuable resin exudes from the cones, in consider-able quantity; and resins nearly of the same kind may be extracted by spirit of wine, both from the cones and from the leaves.