Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera/ trichocarpa ssp.)- Tall and twinkling, potent spring smells and summer fluff, knobby twigs, fat buds, and oft wide girth; this tree towers firm near water ways and reclaims destroyed areas, cooling and healing the soil for the next generation of life. As I write this, the first of cottonwood’s fluff begins to poof in the rain, remembering a couple of months ago when only the nettles and chickweed had popped the surface, and the cottonwood buds were full of the wonderfully fragrant Balm of Gilead goo.
“Hesquiat/ Nuu-chah-nulth/ Ditidaht: The buds were picked in the spring and boiled in deer fat to make a fragrant salve”
“Nuxalt: The gum from the buds was used in preparations for baldness, sore throats, whooping cough, and tuberculosis.”
“The buds were used as a poultice for lung pains and rheumatism, and the old rotten leaves were boiled and used in a bath for body pains, rheumatism and stomach trouble.”
“Coast Salish: Cottonwood was thought by the Squaxin to be an antiseptic plant; they place the bruised leaves on cuts and made and infusion from the bark for sore throats.”
“Quinault: This group placed the gum that exudes from the burls of cottonwood directly on cuts and wounds”
“Bees collect the resin, which is an anti-infectant, for their hives and seal intruders (such as mice) in the resin to prevent decay and protect the hive.”
In late winter/ early spring, we go out after windstorms to seek the windfall of the cottonwood trees, plucking off the buds that are just right and full of goo. Over time we’ve noticed that deer or other creatures sometimes eat the fallen buds as well; we make sure to leave a decent amount on the branch for forage. We cold infuse the fresh buds for over a month and then gently heat up the oil to melt beeswax into the salve.