Saturday, February 03, 2007

Winter medicines

We're deep in the middle of winter here in the beginning of February, but even so, there are some medicines to be gathered and prepared. Of course one must brave the Chinook winds and deep drifts, but down by the creeks here you can find Cottonwood trees with large and very resinous buds. I wasn't quite sure what I was seeing were Cottonwoods, because the buds were so much BIGGER than I ever saw in Arizona. Of course, it is probably a different species than in Arizona, (though I haven't quite pinned down the exact species here yet.) Cottonwoods, a member of the very widespread Populus genus in the Willow family, are a wonderful medicine, best harvested during the cold months just before spring. The cold temperatures keep the resinous buds fresh, and make it easier to collect without getting your hands all sticky with the fragrant resin. I was lucky to find on my walk along the creek, handfuls of small twig tips all over the ground, covered with buds just perfect for harvesting. The Chinook winds had done some of the work for me by breaking off some small branches.
I took my handfuls of twigs home and carefully stripped the aromatic and sticky buds from the stems and placed them in 70% alcohol for a tincture. Because of the resinous nature of the plant, you usually use a higher alcohol percentage to dissolve the resins in fully.

Populus spp are all used in a similar fashion across the world. Buds, bark and leaves are all medicinal.
Considered a cooling bitter tonic it can be of aid in some digestive troubles. Populus also contains salycilate compounds, similar to aspirin, and can be used for inflammation and pain in arthritis, or for mild headaches. One of my favorite preparations is the infused oil used topically for burns or minor wounds. The resin is highly antiseptic, and mildly painkilling and is useful for the pain of minor burns that also have a tendency to get infected.
William Cook classifies it as a stimulant to mucous membranes and circulation. He mentions its use as a stimulating expectorant for stagnant, old coughs or pulmonary debility. He also includes the use of the salve for congested wounds and bruises. It can be used, according to Lyle, in troubles of the kidney or bladder that need strong stimulation, and in combination with relaxing diuretics such as Elder (Sambucus).

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