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They have been whispering to me for a few weeks. I kept telling them I was coming but never made the time. Finally, the call was too strong and I had to go. Who am I to say no when such gifts are offered!

Like many herbs timing is everything when harvesting and cottonwood buds are no exception. The buds are best harvested at the end of winter or beginning of spring depending on where you live. You want them to be thick with resin but still tightly closed and firm. Give them a little squeeze. If a sticky aromatic resin comes out, (also known as “Balm of Gilead”) you are good to go!

Since the buds represent the leaves of the tree, you want to leave enough buds on the plant for another season and be sure not to take the terminal bud. Really, if you can find branches, limbs and trees that have fallen to the ground those are the best ones to use. That way, those other buds can turn into spring leaves and catkins.

There is really no getting around sticky fingers but that is part of the experience! As I write this I can still smell their fragrance when I put my fingers close to my nose. The smell is heavenly and reminds me that spring is on its way!

I usually harvest right into the jar I am going to make the oil in so there is less sticky mess. Another trick is to bring some oil along to use after harvesting. I just pour a little on my fingers and rub them together and then wipe with a paper towel or rag.

My favorite way to use the buds is infused in oil, which can then be made into a salve. There are of course, as many ways to make infused oils as there are herbalists but I personally like simple.

  1. I usually just fill half a mason jar with the buds.
  2. Pour olive oil to the top.
  3. Place a paper towel over the top of the jar and secure it with the mason jar screw band or a rubber band.
  4. Label your jar and wait. Remember to stir the oil every so often and make sure all the buds are safely under the oil. (You don’t want a moldy ruined oil!)
  5. After 4-6 weeks or so strain your oil and bottle or turn the oil into a salve.

Note: When you make herbal oil with any fresh plant material the water held in the plant will come out into the oil. Because of that, it is a good idea to put the jar on a plate or in a bowl in case of overflow. You also need to babysit the jar a bit more than if you are using dried herbs so that you don’t end up with an off-batch. If babysitting herbs isn’t your thing consider drying the buds a little to reduce the water content before making your oil.

Cottonwood and other members of the Salicacea family are rich in salicin and have a long history of use as an anti-inflammatory. It is also antimicrobial so it kills things that can infect you and is analgesic so it relieves pain.

Herbalist Rosalee de la Foret says “Plants work in a variety of ways and it’s assumed that cottonwood both modulates inflammation and directly relieves pain.”

Use Cottonwood bud oil or salve to relieve sore or strained muscles, rheumatic pain, joint pain, arthritis, tendonitis, rashes, bug bites, general wound healing, cuts, burns, bruises, eczema, diaper rash and chapped lips. I haven’t ever tried it but it seems like it would be beneficial as a chest rub to help with coughs and break up stagnation. It is high in antioxidants so it’s great to add to other oils to keep them from going rancid.

The resins can also be extracted in alcohol to make a tincture. Taken internally it is beneficial for pain and fever, many of the same things as aspirin. The tincture is also very effective for chest colds, sore throats, coughs, chronic bronchitis and laryngitis.

Something to note:
If you are allergic to aspirin you might need to avoid Cottonwood and other plants and trees with salicylic acid like Willow, Aspen or Meadowsweet. It’s always a good idea to start slow when using new botanicals. If you do get an adverse reaction then discontinue use.

Enjoy the spring and stop and smell the Cottonwood Trees!

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