Blessings from the Wind: Cottonwood Oil and Salve

Cottonwood down!

Hey there fellow nature lover!

Welcome to Wild Wednesdays with Feather and Frond, the place to be to create deeper nature connections for you and your family.

Well, PNW peeps, those were some crazy winds a couple of weeks ago!  They may not have been as gnarly as predicted, but they sure did bring down a few trees.

Sticky Balm of Gilead!

Hopefully you and your loved ones stayed safe!

Once the storms passed through Bellingham and the winds died down, Pat and I ventured outside and caught sight of our neighbor’s Cottonwood tree that fell right across the Interurban trail.  It definitely posed an inconvenience for folks who use that path on the regular.  Fortunately, someone eventually came along and cut back the tree trunk, and left behind some powerful medicine. 

Yup, you read that right. . .our local Black Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa) has got some powerful medicine to share!  (In fact, ALL Poplars do!).  Right now the Cottonwood branches are covered with sticky aromatic buds that secrete a reddish-orange resin.  This resin contains salicin, a compound that has been proven to reduce inflammation and ease pain.  Think of it as “nature’s aspirin”.  It’s also traditionally know as “Balm of Gilead".

Come springtime, the buds give birth to seeds that cover your car, your yard, your dog and your children in white cotton-y fluff.  But right now they are great for picking for medicine to heal your achy mountain-biking muscles!  These wind storms have made it super easy to harvest the buds. Thanks, Wind!

So go ahead and throw on your hiking shoes (or go barefoot if that’s your style).  Grab your loved ones, and join us for an adventure in wild medicine harvesting… 

Ready?  Here we go!

First, make sure you have correctly identified a Cottonwood tree.  If you’re unfamiliar, look for large towering trees that like to hang out near water and grow in very moist soil.  Cottonwoods have thick, rough grey bark and heart-shaped finely toothed leaves that are golden in color right now.  It’s common to see an entire stand of Cottonwoods growing alongside rivers.

Okay, now that you’ve identified a few Cottonwoods (and if you aren’t 100% certain, make plans with a local naturalist who will point some out to you— hint hint: come hang out with us!), poke around the ground and look for wind-blown branches.  They are bumpy and gnarled, and still have some leaves hanging from them right now.  

Time to harvest buds from those branches!  Since it’s still a bit early in the season, not all of the buds are swelling with resin like they typically do in the colder months.  However, there is still a good amount of resin to be found amongst many of the buds right now.  I pinched some between my fingers just to make sure.  I discovered that the larger, leaf-producing buds exploded with resin (some are even covered in goo!), while the smaller, catkin-producing buds were less resinous.  Pinch around and you will experience for yourself which ones are choice for picking!  

Heads up!  This is a messy gig-  I highly recommend that you bring a chunk of coconut oil or a small jar of olive oil with you on this adventure.  Rub a bit of oil between your hands to remove the resin once you are all done picking buds.  Works like a charm!  (Isopropyl alcohol also does the trick!)

Ahhh . . . now breathe in that potent aroma.  Soo good!  (Thanks, Cottonwood!).

Once you’ve collected a bunch of buds, it’s time to make some medicine!

All you need for this recipe in addition to the Cottonwood buds is Olive Oil, beeswax and Vitamin E oil.  

And now. . . 


The Slow Folk Way to Make Cottonwood Oil and Salve*.  

Step 1:  Fill a clean glass jar about halfway with Cottonwood buds. 

Step 2:  Pour enough olive oil over the buds so that the jar is almost filled to the top, but not quite.  I like to leave a little bit of space below the rim of the jar to allow room for the buds to expand.

Step 3:  Cover the jar with a towel and put a rubber band around it to hold it in place.  Place the jar on a plate and leave it in a spot where it can sit undisturbed for 6 weeksYou know. . . away from the cat, out of reach of babies, nowhere near your kids’ legos, etc etc. . .

Step 4:  Give that oil a swirl with a wooden utensil every day for the first few weeks, in order to keep the buds covered in oil and prevent mold.  Over time they will sink to the bottom and stay there.

Step 5:  After about six weeks or so, your oil will be infused with awesome Cottonwood medicine.  Strain out the buds using a fine mesh strainer or muslin.  Give those buds a good squeeze to make sure that you get all the medicine out.  (You are welcome to leave the buds in oil indefinitely if you prefer.  The oil will only get more potent over time.  But if you want to make a Salve, it’s best to strain the buds out first.)

Step 6:  Now that you have your Cottonwood Oil, you can either use it as is (as a massage or therapeutical body oil, etc.) or turn it into a Salve.  

If you’re taking the Salve route, here’s how:


Step 1:  Weigh out 1 oz. of beeswax (this is approximately 2 Tablespoons).

Step 2:  Melt the beeswax over low heat until it is completely liquid.

Step 3:  Add one cup of Cottonwood Oil and stir over very low heat until well combined.

Step 4:  Add a few drops of Vitamin E oil.  Pour into tins or jars and let cool and solidify.

Apply Cottonwood Salve to achy sore muscles, bruises, scrapes, burns, skin irritations, etc! 


*Want to make Cottonwood Oil but DON'T want to wait 6 weeks for it to be ready??  

Don'tcha worry, we’ve got you covered!


The Quick Way to Make Cottonwood Oil:

  1.  Place Cottonwood buds in crock-pot or double boiler and cover with twice as much olive oil. 
  2. Warm over very low heat for 5-8 hours.           
  3. Strain buds from oil, use as is or make into Salve (see directions above!)

Well there you have it!  Hope you and your family get out there and harvest some of this great medicine!


The Finished Product - ready for market! (No, not Really- We just make these fOr gifts and personal use!  but adding a label gives them ThAt special touch!)

This can get messy!

Thanks, Cottonwood!

Cottonwood Buds in oil, soaking up the sunshine!

Squeeze out that goodness!

Melted Beeswax plus Cottonwood Oil

Pouring thE Medicine into Tins

CottonWood (Balm of Gilead) Salve-- Good Medicine!