Evergreen simply refers to any plant that is deciduous and doesn’t lose its leaves in the winter. For this reason the palm trees in Florida are “evergreen.” But in common language it has come to refer to trees in forests in the north that do not lose their leaves in the winter. Amid deciduous trees, evergreen trees retain their needles
and stay green when everything else is white or brown.
These trees offer protection to birds that don’t migrate, but stay during the winter. They offer protection from winter winds. And lend a restful place to the variety of forest trees. They also have distinctive fragrances, all different from each other, but distinctive from the sap in deciduous trees like maples and oaks. Think of the scent of a fresh Christmas tree as it unfolds in your living room, or the fresh cut evergreen branches in a wreath. Even a single sprig can add variety and fragrance to a flower arrangement.
In addition to their beauty, evergreen sap also can yield essential oils that are healthy. One of my favorite is balsam fir (Abies balsamea) essential oil. It has come to typify for me the first smell of early spring when the sap is running. The essential oils distilled from balsam fir can reduce inflammation, making it useful in the bath and to relieve congestion. We recently added it to our Evergreen deodorant.
In Adirondack gift shops, there used to be little sachets of balsam fir for sale. They could be tucked under a pillow, or put in a pocket, and lasted until the needles were very dry and no longer emitted their sweet fragrance.
This is also true of another evergreen tree, cedar wood atlas (Cedrus Atlantica). Not our native cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which is not appropriate for use, this Algerian tree renders a lovely rich essential oil. Atlas Cedar is good against bacteria, fungus and insects. We use it as an ingredient in our insect repellent. In addition to its usefulness against insects, it also has a lovely rich fragrance.
Silver Fir (Abies alba), more common farther west than West Virginia and Wisconsin, also has a lovely rich fragrance. Not only will silver fir essential oil help respiratory issues, it will lift spirits. A few drops in a diffuser will lighten the winter blues.
Now that leaves are slowly returning to our deciduous trees, remember to plant a few evergreen trees, too. And when you walk in the woods, look for the pines and fir trees that protect our birds and add color to the winter landscape.