Processing Balsam


I recycle my Christmas tree every year into balsam sachets and pillows.  We set up the tree in the large 3 season room above our carport.   There are sliders out to this room from both the kitchen and the living room.  Since I am allergic to balsam, it is nice to be able to enjoy the tree without having to inhale it.  This year’s tree was a Grand Fir and to aid it drying it out, I untrimmed the tree and left it standing up until June.  Normally we take it out to the garage once the decorations are taken off of it.  Though this area is unheated, it gets a lot of sunlight which definitely got the drying process off to a good start.  By June the tree was quite dry but the needles were still hanging on so it still needed to be processed.

Several years ago my husband built me a “balsam safe”, a large insulated wooded safe with a hinged door and a 200 watt light bulb in it which generates enough heat to dry balsam.  He used two different screens in the safe.  The boughs sit on a course wire mesh screen that the needles will easily fall through and below that, just above the bulb, is a finer mess screen.  Both these screens slide in and out.  Since I am allergic to balsam and also stripping balsam is VERY messy, the safe lives out in the garage.  Once I load up the safe, I then plug in the bulb, close the door and come back 24 hours later.  At his point, I check if the needles will easily strip, if not, I dry them another 24 hours.  I strip the needles inside the safe wearing work gloves.  Once all the needles are stripped, I slide out the bottom screen and dump the needles into a wall paper soaking tray which is aprox. the same width as the screen.  Then the balsam is transferred into a 2 ½ gal. reclosable plastic bag for storage in the chest freezer, which keeps it fresh until ready for use.   There are still a lot of twigs in the needles at this point but they will get picked out when filling up the sachets and pillows.  I took pictures of the balsam safe before and after processing.   Processing balsam is a VERY labor intensive process but the tree has always been the thing I love most about Christmas so I am glad I have found a way to bring this to other people who feel the same way and since balsam is a wonderful nontoxic alternative to moth balls, I am pleased that balsam sachets and pillows are both decorative AND useful.