Finnish people have always had a special connection with forests. Forests have been considered to have many kinds of healing effects which modern-day studies have also confirmed. We have acquired our medicine traditionally from the forest: herbs, berries, mushrooms and trees itself have offered not only nutrition but also the remedies for many ailments. One of these healing gifts of the forest is spruce resin.
The purpose of resin is to protect damaged coniferous trees from pests, bacteria and fungi. It has been discovered that resin has the same effects on the skin as well. The healing effects that spruce resin has on wounds and infections has been known in traditional folk medicine for centuries. The power of spruce resin has been rediscovered in the last twenty years or so thanks to clinical studies which have confirmed its healing properties. This classic remedy of the ancient folks is quickly becoming one of the most interesting natural products of our time that offers many medicinal possibilities.
From a traditional cure to a scientifically approved treatment
Spruce trees thrive in cold and moist environments so our Northern nature provides an excellent habitat for them. Even the scent of the spruce invigorates, strengthens and opens up senses due to its essential oils. Different parts of the spruce also have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects. For example the antioxidant and vitamin-rich spruce sprouts have traditionally been used to treat sore throat and cough. Spruce resin has been used to treat wounds, rashes, burns and abscesses for centuries. Spruce sprout was mentioned already in 1578 in Benedictus Olai’s book of medicine as a remedy for chin wounds, though resin has been known to be used for the treatment of wounds and burns already in ancient Egypt.
During the last couple of decades, the status of spruce resin balm has evolved from a traditional remedy used in folk medicine to a scientifically proven way to treat wounds and infections. This is largely thanks to the research done by the Finnish orthopedist, D.Med.Sc. Arno Sipponen and his research group. Sipponen became interested in the possibilities of spruce resin balm when he worked as a doctor in a healthcare center in Lapland at the beginning of the 00’s where spruce resin balm had been used as an alternative treatment for a long time. After Sipponen himself witnessed the power of spruce resin balm when treating infections and bedsores he began to conduct research in the antimicrobial properties of spruce resin.
After clinical studies, spruce resin balm was accepted as a medical product in Finland in 2008. Spruce resin balm is the first natural product which has been granted the CE marking by the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira) in Finland. CE marking is a proof of conformity with EU MDR and IVDR regulations.
The antimicrobial properties and medical usage of spruce resin
Spruce resin prevents inflammation and the growth of bacteria on the skin and it also stimulates the growth of new skin on the wound. The healing and protecting properties of spruce resin are based on resin acids and lignans. Resin acids are antimicrobial compounds and lignans are polyphenols which function as powerful antioxidants.
The antimicrobial effects of spruce resin have been confirmed with microbiological studies. These antimicrobial properties seem to be based on the fact that resin damages the cell walls and cell membranes of microbes which impairs the synthesis of energy in the microbe cells.
Spruce resin balm is used in hospitals for the treatment of bedsores and chronically inflamed surgical wounds. Spruce resin balm has been discovered to be particularly effective against the hospital bacteria MRSA and VRE which are resistant to the most common antibiotics. Spruce resin balm treatment has even prevented the amputation of a foot: an elderly patient in Finland had a difficult bedsore in their heel and amputation was assumed to be the only way to treat the problem. However, a treatment with spruce resin balm was tried on the patient after which the wound started to heal, providing impressive evidence on the powerful effects of spruce resin.
The preparation and use of spruce resin balm at home
Many of the spruce resin balms available on the market are made with traditional recipes. The preparation process of spruce resin balm has many stages. Resin has traditionally been collected from spruces using a fishbone cut. A fishbone pattern is cut on the tree at the beginning of the summer which triggers the resin production in the tree that continues for the whole summer. Resin is trickled along the fishbone pattern into a dish. According to research, the growth of the tree is not disturbed by the collection of resin. However, resin is still usually collected from already damaged trees or trees which will be cut within the next year.
Spruce resin is naturally sticky and quite stiff. When spruce resin balm is made, the resin is mixed with some kind of grease or oil to make the resin more runny and easier to spread. Butter or pork fat were traditionally used for this but these are nowadays replaced for example with canola oil, olive oil or shea butter.
One of the most well-known manufacturers of spruce resin balms is the Finnish brand Havuka. The Havuka spruce resin products are among the most potent available and they contain up to 30 % of Finnish spruce resin. The Havuka products are handmade from carefully picked and high-quality ingredients. Another curiosity about the Havuka products is that they are based on the original old recipes by Elias Lönnrot, the national poet of Finland and the compiler of the Finnish national epic, Kalevala. Lönnrot was also a skilled botanist and while collecting the stories for Kalevala, he also collected ancient folk healing methods on his expeditions, such as the recipe for spruce resin balm.
Spruce resin balm can be used for the treatment of small wounds, dry skin, rash, insect bites and blisters as well as for relieving flu symptoms. However, spruce resin balm is not suitable for people who are sensitive or allergic to resin acid. Spruce resin balm also brings relief to our four-legged friends: it can be used for treating small wounds and insect or tick bites on pets.