Friday, December 19, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree!

                               Oh Christmas Tree!
                               By Marci Tsohonis ~ Monitor, WA.
                               Published in Essential Herbal Nov/Dec '12
                               and Through the Seasons

Every winter, right around Thanksgiving time, our heart’s focus moves from “everything else” to the Christmas season.   The hunt is on for the perfect Christmas tree.  Some families mark the tradition of tree hunting with a romantic outing in the woods, complete with a tailgate picnic and hot chocolate.  If that sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve noticed, too, that ``perfect’’ tree generally ends up being one of the first ones you passed, 2 hours and 17 muddy ruts ago!                                                                                                                      

Some families buy their tree from a commercial vendor; others grow a tree on their own property, or sell acres of them to others.  In my experience, the selection process is just not logical, no matter how you approach the choosing of that magical tree.  In the minds eye, the candidate is archetypal, compared with all the trees in all the living rooms and all the experiences of Christmas Past you’ve ever had.  My husband has been remarkably patient, even that time he had to cut off the top third of the tree, and then prune a perfectly angled 2+ feet off the entire circumference, from top to bottom, to accommodate our furniture in our then very small living room.  

In 1999, the year we officially became Empty Nesters, Tom and I decided we weren’t going to be the cause of the sacrifice of any more living trees.  We had developed some environmental awareness and were learning about sustainability.  Alas, shopping excursions to hunt for the perfect artificial tree were disappointing.  We saw trees that lit up with blinky fiber optic lights, trees with built in rain or ornaments that flashed, flocked trees with fake Christmas tree scents, and weird, (not even remotely natural looking) trees with limbs of flexible steel that hurt when you brushed against them.   However, we were committed.  (In hindsight, we should have been!) Eventually we settled on a “tree” priced at the upper limits of our spending range, reasoning it would be our forever Christmas tree.

A Christmas CD played in the background as Tom hauled all the ornament boxes up from the basement.  I lit a Balsam Fir scented Yankee candle, and made two mugs of Hot Cocoa.  It was lightly snowing outside, and a fire blazed brightly in the fireplace. The stage was set.  Oh, what commendable earthlings we were!   Traditional carols trilled through the house, interrupted by a few choice cusswords as Tom assembled the tree.  Finally, our tree was in the stand, in front of the bay window where we always placed our tree.  The fake branches looked a bit sparse.  We adjusted the branches, fluffing up the bendy needles as suggested in the assembly book.  We covered them in as many ornaments as the tree would hold, though it could not hold all the sentimentally inspired ornaments we had made or collected over the years.

Christmas came.  We both missed the wild scent of a real Balsam Fir every moment during those holidays. Christmas went.  We learned that assembling a fake tree isn’t nearly as difficult as getting it to fit back in the box after the holidays. 
Part of any growth process is being able to admit that you’ve made a mistake.  We changed our minds again.   We could not, would not, celebrate another Christmas without a real Christmas tree.  To compensate for future sacrifices, we have learned to propagate Evergreens and plant new trees whenever we can.  We now have several future Christmas trees growing on our own property.   Oh, bet you are wondering what ever happened to that pathetic, artificial tree.  To the best of our knowledge it is still up in the attic at our previous home, gathering dust.  We moved seven years ago. 

While morphing into a tree hugger, I was learning about herbs, soap making, infusions, lotions and potions. I researched medicinal uses and cottage crafts for retired Balsam Firs,  as they are easily the most readily available for Christmas trees in the Pacific Northwest.  I have really enjoyed making the following remedies and crafts.

Balsam Fir:

Inhale steaming vapors to relieve sinus or chest congestion.  Snip a cup or two of needles off a branch.  Add them to an equal part of water in an electrical inhaler, if you have one.  If not, simmer the needles in a covered saucepan for about 10-15 minutes.  Drape a towel over your head to contain the vapors and lean over the pan, breathing deeply for a few minutes until it quits steaming.

Cold and Flu Tea:  Add a fat teaspoon of Fir needles to a mug or personal teapot.  Cover and steep about 10 minutes.  Sweeten with honey.  Drink 3 mugs full over the course of the day to ease congestion.

Cold and Flu Bath:  Fill a muslin drawstring bag with Fir needles and Rosehips.  Float it in the tub while you are soaking, then use the bag as a washcloth once the contents have softened.

Balsam Fir Oil infusion:  Fill a small crock-pot ¾ full of fir needles.  Add Soybean or Olive Oil to cover.  Heat at about 100 degrees for most of a day.  Strain and place in a quart jar with a lid.  Store in a cool place.

Balsam Fir Salve:  To make a wonderful anti-viral, anti-bacterial salve, melt 1¼ oz. Bee’s Wax pastilles into 8 oz. of infused oil.  Cool to 140 degrees. If desired, add a little Balsam Fir essential oil just before pouring into storage containers.

Aromatic Coasters or Hot Pads:  If you are handy with a sewing machine, make coasters lined with thin wool or cotton quilt batting.  Before sewing the last seam closed, drop in 2-3 Tbsp. of Fir needles for the coaster and 1/2 cup for the hot pad.  Sew closed.  Shake the coaster to evenly distribute the needles.  Topstitch the coaster or hot pad with a “corner to corner X” to hold the Fir needles in place, and keep them from clumping.

Wishing you all a warm and cozy Christmas!

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