Monthly Archives: April 2015
Rio Grande Cottonwood
Populus deltoides var. wislizeni/
Related to Willows.
Aspens and Balsam Poplars can be used similarly.
Warnings and Indications:
***Be cautious when giving salicylate containing herbs, or aspirin for that matter, to children and teens. Even, in some cases adults may be susceptible to ill effects of salicylates, i.e. in aspirin or herbs as well as children and teens.
It may be rare,… but the possibility exists, that cottonwood preparations and herbal medicines from other trees in the Salicaceae family… could cause Reye’s syndrome. An often fatal disease.
Medicinal Uses according to Michael Moore:
All the Populus species
contain varying amounts of salicin…which aspirin comes from.
Also: Do not combine use of Salicylates with Anti-Coagulants.***
The Populus species are useful whenever an anti-inflammatory and/or pain remedy is needed.
Gather leaf buds in early spring, leaves in the summer, portions of inner bark in late fall or spring.
Learn best methods for harvesting bark from live trees unless fresh, fallen branches are available.
Aspen branches have thin outer bark and are easier to work with. Wind and storms provide a bountiful supply of branches.
Fallen, fresh branches make for good harvesting of leaves too if fresh and green.
I have learned that fallen branches near river banks are a way for cottonwoods to start nrw growth.
Also according to herbalist Michael Moore, medicinal uses include:
For a healing tea, the inner bark is most effective.
Although, leaf preparations (which are palatably less bitter) and milder, can yield healing results.
The leaf buds, ones which are balsamic and aromatic, when soaked in oil, make an excellent application for burns and skin irritations.
A folk remedy, the balm of Gilead, is this healing oil. Or a salve can be made with this herbal oil and beeswax melted together.
For a softer salve slowly melt 1 ounce (28 grams) beeswax per 8 ounces (236 ml) warmed, herbal oil, using a double boiler.
For a firmer salve use 1.5 ounces (42 grams) beeswax per 8 ounces (236 ml) of herbal oil.
Or use the strained herbal oil as is.
Burns may require a softer salve, for more comfortable application…and/or seek professional consult.
When tinctured, the leafbuds provide an excellent expectorant for thick unmoving bronchial mucous. Analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties can soothe the lung conditions as well.
(Incidentally, I found this wonderful cream recipe online. The basic recipe was developed by Rosemary Gladstar, who I would love to study from someday. At least, stock up on her wonderful books.)
Rosalee de la Foret, in her post about making cream says she uses Cottonwood leafbud tincture as a preservative. And, I wanted to share that here:)
The fresh or dried Cottonwood plant material makes excellent poultices and fomentations for swollen joints, muscle aches and pains, and sprains.
A New Mexico herbalist, I admire writes a beautiful and informative post about riparian habitat and what Cottonwoods need to bring new growth to the river areas. Check out this post by Herbalist, community educator and environmentalist, Dara Saville.
Dara Saville is also doing plant restoration work on the Rio Grande Bosque. You can support her efforts at albuquerqueherbalism.com.
Above is the Rio Grande, Cottonwoods and other trees.
A cool, shade place to enjoy
There are many varied beautiful or interesting and powerfull Native American stories that I have found in researching the beautiful Cottonwood tree.
For indeed, when you snap a fallen, dried branch, you will find a star inside. *
The Hidatsa, Native American people revered the Cottonwood trees.
According to the Hidatsa…
“the shade of the cottonwood… is supposed to possess an intelligence that may, if properly approached, help in certain undertakings… It was considered wrong to cut down one of these great trees. When large logs were needed, only the fallen ones were used. Some elders say many of the misfortunes of the people are the result of their disregard for the rights of the cottonwood… (Matthews, 1877, p.48)”
This next story is so beautiful and is a Cheyenne and Arapaho story about all the fallen branches and their stars within. And, how they return with the right blessings and circumstance to the night sky.
Story found in starlab.com
AND THE STARS
From the Plains Indians: Cheyenne and Arapaho
All things come from Mother-earth.
Stars are no exception. They form secretly in the earth and then drift along just under the
surface until they find the roots of the magical Cottonwood tree.
They enter the roots and slowly work their way up through the tree. Finally they come to
rest in the small twigs at the end of the branches. Here they wait patiently until they are
Then, when the “Spirit-of-the-Night-Sky” decides she needs more beautiful stars to light
up the heavens, she calls on the Wind-Spirit to help her. The Spirit-of-the-Wind sends
his blustery gusts in all directions. Soon the wind shakes the magical cottonwood trees so
hard that the twigs begin to break off. Then, as each twig breaks away, the stars are
released; and even more escape when the twigs break again as they hit the ground. Now
new stars race up into the night-sky where each one is carefully put into a special place.
Now, when the Spirit-of-the-Night-Sky has enough new stars, she tells the Wind-Spirit to
stop; and the wind settles down to a gentle night breeze. Of course, the Spirit-of-the-
Night-Sky wants to thank the Wind-Spirit for his help so she asks all the new stars to
twinkle brightly for him. This way the Wind-Spirit can see where all the new stars he
helped escape have been placed.
So, if you want to add a new star to the Night-sky, gather some Cottonwood Star twigs
and snap a few to make sure you have good ones. Then wait for a clear night.
When your special night comes, find a spot where you can see lots of stars. Hold your
twig up toward the night sky and snap it. After you snap, check the ends of your twig to
see if you have a star pattern showing. If you do, then you have put a new star in the sky.
The star pattern is the shadow that the new star leaves behind.
Look up at the night sky again, and if you look very carefully, in the same direction that
you released your new star, your will see it twinkling brightly. This is your ‘thank-you’
for the Spirit-of-the-Night Sky, for adding a beautiful new star to her heavenly kingdom.
It turns out Joni Mitchell, singer/songwriter, artist, is right….
The cottonwood trees often lose branches when the winds are heavy. You can harvest inner bark, leaves or leafbuds from these branches.
I found a large branch with still fresh, newly emerged leaves on their stems. The leaves felt moist and resinous. I took it as a large gift and offering. I even had my mason jar and brandy with me. I was thinking I would make a flower essence as flowers are blooming this late April.
I am so glad I heeded the message to bring my supplies. In reading Michael Moore’s book: Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West., I knew that Cottonwoods had great herbal medicinal value. So, with this learning I felt awe and respect when I found the Cottonwood branch on the ground near the Jemez river where i was enjoying my hike.
Jemez range and the Cottonwoods which like to grow near rivers and streams.
I felt so fortunate to harvest the still, fresh and potent leaves.
I gave thanks to the tree and branches and leaves and made my herbal medicine right there.
I covered leaves with 40% Brandy.
The tincture should be ready in a month. A few weeks later, I added aspen tree buds. My friend was experiencing extremely painful hamstring spasms which kept her awake at night.
I gave her some cottonwood leaf and aspen bud tincture for pain and the pain was completely relieved within five minutes.
This tincture works very well for acute conditions.
For chronic pain conditions, for example- arthritis, I have read that a formula of pain relieving herbs works well. For example, black cohosh, cottonwood buds and devil’s claw for arthritis, etc.
With my gratitude and offering, I felt so blessed to make such an effective, pain relieving, anti-inflammatory, herbal medicine…
Many Native American peoples have used and still use the Cottonwood trees for a variety of purposes. Cottonwood trees grow near streams and rivers. We owe gratitude to all the people before us who have developed herbal medicine benefits and uses.
Cottonwoods when they die, reveal centers that have often rotted. The insides can be more easily hollowed out and the good wood makes excellent drums. Many Pueblo people have expertise in this craft.
The dense but soft roots of cottonwoods are used to carve the Puebloan, sacred Kachinas.
The catkins, the drooping flower buds, were often eaten as a first spring food by various Pueblo people.
I’d like to forage some catkins.
One source I found states that poplar/aspen… perhaps cottonwood leaves taste like spinach. So many edible, wild plants are compared to spinach, in taste, it makes me smile. I haven’t tried the leaves as food. If you have tried them let me know!
I am so grateful for my Cottonwood journey. I learned so much and feel happy, inspired by this change. A change, by new learning and for what the Cottonwood offers. What it has always offered by showing us and all creatures, life giving water which it grows nearby.
Its many uses, including healing uses, as a food and its relationship as a sacred tree.
I am grateful and reminded of the timeless beauty of the Cottonwood and its ready branches of stars.
And, when I take a journey to learn about one plant or tree….other plants join in to make their hellos and introductions. And re-introductions. Almost as an invite, as ally, to learn more.
Now is the time.
So, with that, I saw my first Apache plume flower today. Having seen the seed plumes last year, I had missed these happy rose like flowers.
And the beautiful, vibrant globe mallows.
Thankyou for taking this star blazed trail with me. Happy wise foraging and wildcrafting to you.
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. by Michael Moore, Museum of New Mexico Press. Santa Fe, NM. 2003.
Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province.by Tierney & Dunmire, Museum of New Mexico Press. Santa Fe, NM. 1995.
and a field of Cottonwood seed fluff!
In the fall young cottonwoods rustle their leaves in the wind.
Also, the SWSBM site sbove is comprehensive and a great, free online resource.
Michael Moore’s books are true gems! I just purchased his book:
Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West.
Algerita, is the desert and canyon species of Mahonia a.k.a Oregon Grape.
New to the world
Flower buds emerging above in the Desert Mahonia species.
The bright green is the new leaf growth and flower buds.
Some good basic Info for Methods and Use for Oregon Grape… Mahonia, Algerita.
Moore suggests to: gather root and stem bark from midsummer to winter.
Split the tough dense roots, not main stem root, with hatchet when fresh.
Tincture fresh chopped roots or with adequate grinder, may break blades, grind dry chopped roots.
For dry roots tincture 1:5 ratio, of dry herb weight to ounces alcohol.
Use 50% alcohol.
Fresh tincture, use 1:2 ratio, 95% ethanol
The herb is water soluble, cold infusion for tea works best,
Use 2-4 ounce dose.
Tincture, fresh or dry use 5-10 drops as a bitter, 15-30 drops
as a liver or alterative medicine.
Algerita has 3 main functions: a bitter tonic for digestion, a stimulant for liver protein metabolism, antimicrobial for intestinal tract and for skin.
Berberine is a primary constituent.
Algerita and Oregon Grape ….
a.k.a Mahonia can all be used interchangeably. Please note species described below.
(Oregon Grape not to be confused with the Holly tree.)
All Oregon Grape is classified as Mahonias in this post.
Some botanists and herbalists classify these plants/shrubs as Berberis.
There is some debate, although Mahonia is also a current classification.
There are more species than this.
I am keeping this regionally to north central New Mexico, mountains, desert and canyon species that I have found.
Research your local variety!
Consider growing some or landscaping with it.
The more commonly described Oregon Grape:
and the Algerita species of Oregon Grape:
Mahonia in the Sandias
I also saw a lot of wild geranium growing.
More purple than my camera captured
And, even some horehound growing around an abandoned homestead.
And, a week later the Mahonias in the Sandias are going from flower to seed, eventually to fruit as berries.
When i’m not looking for Mahonias, I love to hike in the mountains! I just found some Mahonia in the Sandia mountains a few days later. I was really hoping to find some in a mountainscape and, lucky me, I did.
And, in Santa Fe, NM, I spotted some Oregon Grape, growing near a river, at the base of the Sangre de Cristos.
Some sights from the top of the Sandia mountains. I admire its silhouette in the Southwest skies around me.
I presently live in view of many mountains, in the desert foothills of the Ortiz range.
I can see the Sangre de Cristos, Jemez mountains, Ortiz
mountains and Sandias, in a 360°circumference.
This view encompasses the desert plateau where i live.
This plateau is majestic, harsh, spectacular. Quieting, hot, teeming with life against all odds.
Windy now in spring.
A small daisy grows surrounded by cactus.
Less than a quarter mile away from me in the desert foothills, down and through an arroyo, are many Algerita species of Mahonia.
Above, they are beginning to bud, this first week of April.
They are often full, tall shrubs/trees. Sometimes, some of the branches are bare or full with leaves on the dry hillsides and arroyos.
When the flowers bloom and mature into berries, I look forward to making Oregon Grape Jam…
or as I will affectionately call it~
Desert Mahonia Jelly ☺
Harvest from large stands and wildlife depend on the berries too!🐻
I’ve admired the Algerita/Desert Mahonia for many years, and look forward to making a small batch of jelly!
In Santa Fe a more typical Oregon Grape shrub grows. Either Mahonia aquifolium or M. repens… I am not sure. The Mahonia repens turns all red in the fall like its Spanish name: Yerba de Sangre.
So, in the fall when I go back to visit these regal shrubs, i will have more of a clue.
And, this week, I have seen this Oregon grape, growing wild, flowering along rivers, planted near galleries…
All bursting and emerging with gorgeous yellow flower buds and blooms.
I made my very first flower essence using the Mahonia flowers…
The snowmelt was rushing in the river. I made a short nature video while my essence was being prepared. I even had a honeybee sip on the gorgeous nectar of the blooms, while they floated in a glass bowl filled with spring water.
Now visiting some Mahonias I am fond of, In mid April, Mahonias in snow…
The Algerita species, also known as, Desert Holly Mahonia, have not started to bloom on the dry hillsides and arroyos.
They will bloom by mid spring. What a beautiful arroyo hike that will be!
Desert Mahonia leaves can vary in size.
According to Mountain Rose Herbs, here are some Precautionary Guidelines for use:
“Adults should limit use of Oregon grape root or any other herb containing berberine (barberry, coptis, or goldenseal) to seven consecutive days at a time, waiting at least a week before using the herb again. This gives the natural, helpful bacteria of the intestine a chance to recover. Taking vitamin B6 supplements can give infectious bacteria resistance to the antibacterial toxins in the herb.
Do not take Oregon grape root if you are taking antibiotics for diarrhea.
The herb is not a problem for nursing mothers unless the baby has jaundice, however it should not be used while pregnant.”
The Leaves also make useful salves for Psoriasis, and inflamed conditions of skin.
Check out this blog.
Respectful harvesting and great info:
Oregon Grape/Mahonia has many uses including against Staph infections.
See this comprehensive site for more info.
Guide to flower essence properties including Mahonia:
The above site illustrates Oregon Grape/Mahonia’s use in resolving Toxic heat and dampness, including its benefit on the liver.
Algerita root exposed in an arroyo!
this root is quite the healer, as are you!
Months later with the very tart, but tasty, green apple tasting… juicy mahonia berries!
Sources include posted websites and this source:
Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West.by Michael Moore, Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989.
Some very fine Mahonias
Oregon Grape grapes…
A mountain spring, glorious!