Latin: Populus spp. (including trichocarpa, tremuloides, others)
Parts Used: Buds, leaves, bark
Taste/Energetics: Warming, bitter, sweet, aromatic
Properties: Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, diuretic, vulnerary
Actions: Walk down to a riverside near my house in Portland and you are likely to find a number of gentle tall grey barked trees with shimmering green leaves. In February you can hike to a stand of cottonwoods and find downed branches with loads of small resinous red and green poplar buds. These can be infused in oil to make one of the most aromatic and potent analgesic and wound healing topical oils. The aroma of the buds themselves are intoxicating and I have seen them help those who are suffering with heartache, grief and sadness in their spirits. Externally, the oil is supreme in helping those with arthritis, aches, neuralgia, and sprains as well as bruises and abrasions.
Internally, the buds or bark can be made into tincture or added to vinegar. The taste is quite bitter and acts to improve digestion and assimilation. Internally, tinctured cottonwood buds and bark can induce diuresis and help with urinary tyrant infections.
Like a number of herbs in the Salix (Willow) family of plants, cottonwood contains salicylic acid, a known analgesic. However, the dosage that one takes on average is fairly small and much of its analgesic effect is likely attributed to its numerous compounds.
This is one of the main herbs I suggest for self-massage to help ground and relax someone who feels stressed and overwhelmed, or feeling the after effects of trauma and its associated sympathetic nervous system overactivity. Cottonwood soothes, warms, relaxes and helps the pain to shift, move and to pass by, kind of like the rivers cottonwoods like to hang out by.
Dosage: Add fresh cottonwood buds (picked from downed branches, not the trees themselves) to a double boiler and add enough oil to cover by an inch. Gently heat the oil and allow the buds to infuse the oil over a period of 48-72 hours. Strain with cheese cloth. Use topically liberally as needed. As tincture 10-30 drops to 2 x/day.
Contraindications: Avoid internally during pregnancy.
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