Harvesting Balsam Fir Sap: A Sticky Business
For many centuries people all over the world have used resin or gum from different fir species for various purposes. To name a few, fir resin is used in cough syrup recipes and the making of optical lenses and cover glasses for microscopes. In Canada, balsam fir gum is used in producing many finished and semi-finished goods sold on the market for domestic, commercial and pharmaceutical consumption. Harvesting balsam fir resin could represent a bit of added income for New Brunswick woodlot owners who don't mind getting their hands sticky.
Harvesting of balsam fir gum is done with a picoué, which is a container with a jagged spout. This instrument can be home-made with a small 10 to 14 oz tin can. The picoué must not be made with aluminum or copper since the resin oxidizes when in contact with these metals giving it a black colour and making it unusable as an edible product.
The harvesting period runs from May to November with sap becoming more liquid as the temperature increases. Collection of resin must never be done in the rain since it becomes white when in contact with water, making it unusable.
To gather resin, the sharp teeth of the picoué are inserted into the bark, under the resin blister. Only the big blisters should be picked in order to avoid damaging the health of the trees. The regeneration of the resin blisters takes approximately five years. If these simple guidelines are followed, harvesting should not harm the trees as the blisters heal rapidly.
Once the sap is gathered, it then needs to be filtered to remove any impurities such as bark or leaves. Straining can be done with nylon socks or in a strainer. The gum can be stored in two or four litre transparent plastic containers such as pop or juice bottles. The containers must be cleaned and dried beforehand. The size of containers accepted varies depending on the companies. The containers must be kept in a cool and dark area so the resin can conserve its properties.
Buyers will pay approximately $20/pound for resin, and an experienced harvester in a stand with a high proportion of balsam fir trees can pick up to six to eight pounds of resin a day.
For more information on available markets for balsam fir resin please contact INFOR.