Recently I had a Facebook exchange with a fellow herbalist (Kiva Rose) in the Southwest of the United States. She was telling me about her use of a species of Fir there Abies concolor. I have played with Abies magnifica, mainly as a tasty tea, but don’t really have any clinical experience. Her account brought me to wonder, as often happens, if there are any species of Abies used in Chinese medicine, and I sorta said I would write this blog about what I found, so here it is.
Abies is an evergreen tree commonly called fir. There are somewhere between 39 and 50 species (depending on the source) worldwide, all in the northern hemisphere. North America has about 11 species (7 of which are in California) and China has about 22 species.
There are at least 4 species used in China, 2 of which are considered the same. It doesn’t appear from what I could find without more extensive research that these are commonly used medicines, at least not more than locally.Interestingly, the cone is the primary part of the plant that is used.
Under the name pu song shi (朴松实) there are two species, A. chensiensis and A. fargesii.They both grow in what is geographically Central China. The former has a more narrow elevation range (2300-3000m) with smaller, more elongated cones (7-11cm long, 3-4cm around); while the former grows from 1500-3700m with shorter cones (5-8cm long, 3-4cm around). They are collectively considered sweet, astringent, slightly acrid, and neutral. They have the function to calm the liver, regulate the menses and stop bleeding, and stop vaginal discharge. They are used for high blood pressure (modern), headache, dizziness, disquieted heart-spirit, irregular menses, flooding and leaking (inappropriate menstrual bleeding), and vaginal discharge. Dosage is 6-9g in decoction.
Leng shan guo (冷杉果) A. delavayi grows in the Western mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet in the elevation range of 2800-4400m with a cone that ranges from 6-10cm long and is 3-4cm around. It is considered warm, acrid and without toxicity. It rectifies qi and dissipates cold and treats “sand” qi pain, cold pain in the chest and abdomen and small intestine mounting qi (this is similar to, if not the same as hernia in Western medicine), and other similar types of ailments. It is used in 9-12g doses in decoction.
Abies nephrolepis (chou leng shan 臭冷杉) is different in that the bark and leaves are used, similar to the how we use our Abies in the West. These species grows in the provinces of Beijing, Hebei, and Shan Xi (apparently it also grows further north as I was able to find a journal from near the N. Korean boarder area with limited information on the plant) in the elevation range of 300-2100m. Since this species grows near where I live in China, I will make it a point to find it and report back in the future. There is scant traditional information available, although there is some modern research. Traditionally it is used to treat lower back and leg pain, as a decoction. Modern research on the plant has covered several types of pain, cough, antiinflammatory, etc.
Well, there’s a little about the Chinese Fir species used medicinally. I look forward to your comments. If anyone is using Abies for medicine anywhere in the world, I would like to hear about it.