"The Tree of Life"
Common Names: Cottonwood, Balsam Poplar, Black Cottonwood, Western Balsam Poplar, California Poplar, Tacamahac
Botanical Name: Populus trichocarpa (Western Balsam Poplar), P. gileadensis
Plant Family: Salicaceae, Willow Family
Parts Used: Closed Buds. **NOTE: Bark can be used as well (like Willow), but I have not personally worked with it and therefore, will not write about it :)
Actions: Stimulating expectorant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, anti-microbial, antiseptic, diuretic, vulnerary.
Habitat: Balm of Gilead is a riparian species. It will grow primarily on moist sites. It’s roots don’t take to “wet” soils as much as “damp”, cold soils. So if you’re near a creek, river, lake, etc. (FRESH WATER), keep your eyes and nose open for this lovely TALL deciduous tree.
Collection: The “gum” (A.K.A sap or resin) of from the buds is to be collected from January to early March (unless you go up to high altitudes and find some dropped branches with closed buds). Since the buds are supreme on older trees, it’s extremely hard to climb and harvest from the upper canopy. Wait till a wind storm hits (which is fairly common during the winter months) and go to a cottonwood grove (after the storm, though, because these trees are also known as “Widow Makers” since there shallow roots are growing in moist soil and holding a lot of weight from its expansive growth). Pick the buds from the tips of the branches.
*Make sure you have a plastic bag and designated jar for these buds, for the resin is quite sticky!*
The buds can be made into a TINCTURE, HONEY, ELIXR, &/OR OIL. Internally, the buds have a long history of being used as an antiseptic and expectorant. It soothes, disinfects, and astringes the mucous membranes that are agitated from sore throats or that on-going cough/cold that lingers in our lungs (especially in the PNW), such as laryngitis and bronchitis.
Respiration and Digestion. Infections. Aches and Pains.
The resinous sap from the buds, also known as "Balm of Gilead", has a strong turpentine odor and bitter taste. They contain SALICAN, a glycoside that decomposes into salicyclic acid (aspirin) in the body. Hence, an internal herbal remedy can help treat upper respiratory tract infections. And can also help with PAIN. Traditionally, the buds have been taken for colds, sinusitis, arthritis, rheumatism, muscular pain and dry skin.
Use a Cottonwood oil or salve on sprains, hyperextensions and arthritic joints. The salicylates also help reduce inflammation. It's my go-to salve that I keep throughout the house and especially in the First Aid kit.
Not only does it help with pain and inflammation, Balm of Gilead is wonderful on burns and keeps the surface antiseptic. It's also known to help stimulate skin regeneration. A couple summers ago, I ended up chopping off the tip of my finger (a dull ax is not safe) and I would lather cottonwood salve on the open wound. It kept my finger clean, while reducing inflammation and helpingthe skin cells grow back. In my experience it is better than any neosporin!
Externally these buds help with:
· Minor cuts & scrapes
· Rough skin and chapped lips
· Minor burns
· Bruises & sprains
· Sore Muscles
· Arthritic joints
· Pain & swelling
The gum, which is still present as the leaves unfurl from the buds in the spring, can be used to “waterproof” baskets, mocassins and boxes. Like tree resin, it works as a medium for making “pitch” glue and paint.
The “cotton” which triggers most people’s allergies, makes great stuffing for wildcrafted pillows. Roots have been made into baskets. And the soft wood has many uses including a good wood to cook with, make materials out of, and release growth hormones to help root other plants.
Balm of Gilead Oil:
-Put 1/3 part buds into a jar or crock pot
-Cover with 2/3 – 1 part oil (I almost always use olive oil)
-For crockpot; turn on LOW and leave for 5 days, strain and put into other remedies
-For jar; Let sit with a cheesecloth covering the top for about 2-4 weeks before using. Stir with a stick (or utensil designated to Cottonwood oil) and keep in warm place on top of a dish (the buds will expand with heat and sometimes overflow from the jar). Change the lid for something fitting to the jar, and store for 4 months until 1 year.
I put one bud into all of my oils to help preserve them and prevent rancidity