I’m a tree hugger and I’ve always understood that plants were alive-well living-like you and me. To me, they are all living, breathing, reproducing entities that provide us nourishment, sustenance, clothing, shelter, shade and beauty. It’s funny to think back now at how young I was when I started talking to plants-out loud-and touching them when I could. And feeling the cry of despair from a fallen tree or cut forest. Just knowing that the trees, Plants, flowers, weeds are aware of me has made me a better steward in and for nature and has drawn me to doing what I do now as an herbalist and a gardener. I would like to think that all plants are my allies, but the truth is a few have touched me deeper and I have a relationship with certain plants I hold dear. One of the first plants that remember falling in love with was two 100-year-old Cottonwood trees that lived side by side in the front yard of the first home I moved into after college. This was in Colorado and these two trees were massive-3 hugs around each one as I measured it.
Being on my own for the first time was a little scary, but I found solace in sitting on my front porch, nestled under the outstretched arms of 2 Grandmother trees. The sound of the wind through cottonwood leaves is a soothing vibration that I came to love and breath deep to-It would slow my thoughts and my pulse. The temperature under her protective awning would be degrees different then out in the open on a hot Colorado summer day and I could always find a cool place to sit and meditate if need be. Under one tree the trunk formed an opening that collected water and frogs in the Spring that only added to her beauty. I could hug them and feel grounded and safe. I loved it there, but after a time I had to move on and within a few years I heard the new owners were going to cut both trees down to build a bigger house.
I had never cried over what others might consider an inanimate object-but I did-I actually got angry and thought of chaining myself to the trees to save them. I was going to find the new owners-the tree killers-I called them and get them to change their minds….I didn’t know what to do, so one evening before they were cut down, I slipped into the yard and I cried and I hug both trees and I thanked them for all they had provided, I sent them as much love as I could and acknowledged them for all the good they had given to me and acknowledge all that they had witnessed and I asked them for forgiveness. My own sadness was greater than any wisdom I could receive that day from these two old entities, and I walked away with tears in my eyes, having said my goodbyes. I didn’t look up into the branches of trees for a few years my grief was so great. I look back now and sigh.
I eventually found my path again, into herb school and to a great teacher that brought me to another stand of Grandmother Cottonwoods. It was here that I found the spirit of my Cottonwoods. Free, Alive, Growing, Abundant and we spoke and I received their gifts again; of comfort, solace, protection and the lessons of letting go, of rebirth, of connectedness. I felt the trees, the plants, and earth and I felt joy. It was this day that I also learned of the great medicine Grandmother cottonwoods offer up, and her ability to offer us healing so abundantly. I’d like to share that with you today.
The majestic Populus spp, commonly known as cottonwood, is a fast-growing tree in the Salicaceae family, of which some species grow up to 100 ft tall. It’s rather prolific, and the buds contain a sticky, highly aromatic resin which contains “salicin” – the same compound that gives aspirin its pain relieving and fever reducing benefits. The resin is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, febrifuge, stimulating and expectorant. This translates to an incredible healer for countless skin ailments, wound healing, joint pain reduction (as with arthritis and rheumatism) and chest clearing (as in with a mucousy cough) when applied to the skin as a balm. Taken internally, in tincture form, one can reduce fever and pain, and loosen phlegm and a whole lot of other good things.
The resin of cottonwood buds is also known as the Balm of Gilead. If you are familiar with Biblical lore, Gilead was a mountainous region east of the Jordan River that was well known for its spices and healing ointments. “The Balm of Gilead” was one such ointment believed (metaphorically) to have healing and soothing powers.
On April 7th this year-my Birthday-I was able to go out with my friend Frankie and she introduced me to a very old Grandmother Cottonwood.
The tree was extremely craggily, and her branches were worn down with age and almost touching the ground. Cottonwoods are known for dropping branches so it’s sometimes easy to find broken branches on the ground with buds to harvest. There wasn’t enough to harvest this day, but Grandmother Tree offered us up what she could, and I got enough to fill a quart container half full. Plenty enough for an oil that I would later make into a wonderful healing salve.
Cottonwood Bud Salve has amazing anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-rheumatic properties making it perfect for those who lead active lifestyles. It relieves the pain associated with sore muscles, bruising, general aches and pains, and arthritis. You can also apply this balm to bites, stings, rashes, burns, cuts, scrapes, dry scaly skin, abrasions, chapped skin, diaper rash, as well as eczema, psoriasis, and minor wounds. Just about anything! I will be mixing my oil with a St John’s Wort Oil I already made so this mixture will be good for nerve pain also. The final product, a salve will be available in the shop by the end of May.
I hope everyone can create a sacred relationship with Nature, in whatever form she comes to you.
Share with me your favorite nature memory or place that brings you joy.
Cautions: Balm of Gilead contains salicin, which converts to salicylic acid in your body. If you are allergic to aspirin, check with your doctor before using Balm of Gilead oil. If you are unsure, test it on your skin in an inconspicuous spot to make sure that you are not allergic. If you notice any heat or redness developing, don’t apply it to your skin.