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The gold of the larch

Larch resin is extracted using a traditional drilling technique.
Photo: WALA

In autumn, when the forest becomes ever more colourful and the other trees start shedding their leaves, the larch begins to follow suit. It too drops its needles in winter, making it a special case among the conifers. Apart from its wood, the larch provides a precious resin, also known as larch turpentine. It is primarily harvested in the Alps, where larch resin extraction has a long tradition. In addition to its applications in medicine and aromatherapy, it is also used in boat- and shipbuilding, which is why Venice became an important trading centre for this unique raw material.

A special preparation process

The best places to collect larch resin are in stocks of trees between 800 and 1,200 m above sea level, and from trees that are between 80 and 120 years old. The larch tree trunk is known as a ‘Pechen’ by the Tyrolean specialists, who start the harvesting process by drilling a hole into it. This causes a viscous fluid to flow directly out of the tree in a process reminiscent of the extraction of maple syrup. The Tyrolean drilling process begins in spring, when a hole is drilled diagonally downwards into the centre of the tree trunk towards the main root. The channel thus created is then blocked up well with a plug made of larch wood until the resin is extracted in late summer. Impressively, an experienced ‘Pechzieher’ can manage up to 200 trees a day.

The drill hole at the foot of the tree trunk.
Photo: WALA
This is where the ‘liquid gold’ comes out. A plug stops up the hole until it is time for extraction.
Photo: WALA
As soon as the plug is removed the extraction can begin.
Photo: WALA
To do this, a long ‘resin spoon’ is inserted and the resin ‘siphoned off’ bit by bit.
Photo: WALA
Lastly, the resin is warmed, filtered several times and decanted.
Photo: WALA

Liquid gold

Resin collects in the drilled channel for extraction. It is scooped out with several twists of a trough-shaped, rounded ‘Harzlöffel’ (‘resin spoon’), and transferred into a collection bucket. The acids in larch resin do not crystallise much, so the drilled channel does not clog up and can be used during the entirety of the resin extraction period. The season runs from May to September. Depending on the region, one tree might give between 200 and 370 g of resin. The yield is greatest in the first few years after the hole is drilled, and then gradually reduces until it slowly peters out after 10 to 15 years. Sometimes environmental factors also have an impact. The rule is: the healthier the tree, the stronger its flow of resin.

From tree trunk to WALA medicines

After the larch resin is harvested from the trunk it is gently processed. It is warmed a little, filtered several times and decanted. The end product is a yellowish, very viscous balsam with a delicate, slightly aromatic fragrance. Native larch resin contains 15 to 20% essential oils and a variety of resin acids (50 to 65%). The quality larch resin in WALA medicines comes exclusively from South Tyrol.