Cottonwood: An Earth Day Offering of Stars
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.
Posted on April 24, 2015, in commentary, Forage, Forage and Wildcraft, healing herb, healing herbs, healing salves, Herbal apothecary, Herbal Preparations, Herbal Tinctures, New Mexico Wildcrafting, southwest, wild edibles and tagged aspen herbal healing, balm of Gilead, cottonwood herbal medicine, cottonwood tree herbal remedies, cottonwood tree herbal uses, cottonwood tree leaf buds, cottonwood tree native american legends, cottonwood trees, Family Salicaceae, new mexico herbalism, poplar trees, poplar uses, populus deltoides var. wislizeni, populus fremontii, re-establishing riparian plants and trees, salicin herbs, wildcrafting herbs new mexico. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.