For the Love of Cottonwood…

I woke up early this morning, unsettled in Spirit. I decided to head out early (6am) in search of herbal medicine, poplar buds. I knew my window for gathering was very narrow. Daytime temps and soil temperatures are beginning to warm. I needed to catch the poplar buds before they burst into catkins and leaves. I was lucky…. I found some trees near the Pit River and a large Grandmother tree near the office at the local wildlife refuge. Bonanza! The Grandmother tree had dropped lots of small limbs with tightly clasped buds. I filled my pockets and then grabbed a container from the car. I ended up with a solid 2 cups of buds for my use.I have arthritis. Lots of it, but especially in my low back.

I could spend lots of money on over-the-counter rubs, but I prefer to make my own using both Balsam Poplar and Black Cottonwood buds. Poplar buds have been used for centuries by folk here in the United States and is easy to collect in early Spring, before the cottonwood develops its catkins. I can usually find an ample amount on the ground attached to limbs that have blown down in recent storms. This “balm” is known for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-rheumatic healing Medicine. The oil or salve helps to relieve the aches and pains of sore muscles, bruises, and arthritis. It’s also a mild sedative, and can be rubbed on your temples at night before retiring.I follow the guidance of Michael Moore, a well known herbalist who has written many books on the wild foraging for medicinal herbs. The summary of medicinal qualities listed below comes from his book “Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West” (1993, Red Crane Books, Santa Fe NM, 359 pg.) under the chapter of “Balsam Poplar. He also covers this subject briefly in the book “ Medicinal Plants of the Mountains West” (1979, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe NM, 200 pgs.) under the chapter of “Poplar”.The buds contain a soft balsamic resin and a yellow volatile oil. It contains many medicinal properties including silicon, Gallic and malice acids, populism, mannitol, chrysin, tectochrysin, and trichocarpin to name a few. He recommends crushing the buds, adding 4 parts water by volume to 1 part of crushed plant (by weight). Simmer for about 1 hour. Add 1 part volume of vegetable oil, and let cool. The resins and oil are lighter than the water, and will float. Decant the oil off and discard the crushed buds.I prefer a less intensive approach myself… here is my simplified recipe:
1 part cottonwood buds
2 parts extra virgin olive oilFill a glass jar half full with cottonwood buds.
Pour olive oil over the buds and to within 1 inch of the top of the jar.
Cover with a napkin or coffee filter and a rubber band.
Allow to sit and steep for 6 weeks or up to a year or more. The richer the better!Make sure your buds are always covered with oil. This prevents them from molding. Stir or shake the jar every few days for the first few weeks.To use as an oil, strain through a cheesecloth and put the oil into a wide mouth jar. If you want to make a salve, add 2 tablespoons of beeswax to 1 cup of infused oil. You can add 2 capsules of Vitamins E to make it more emollient. Melt the beeswax into the oil on low heat. Watch carefully. You simply want to melt the beeswax. Stir well and pour into a small glass jar or tin… Do not cover with a lid until it is completely cool…… Happy foraging! Please note: People with aspirin sensitivities or tree allergies may not want to use this salve

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