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Cottonwood trees produce aromatic and therapeutic buds just before blooming. The Cottonwood tree has a long history of traditional use in various cultures. The buds have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries. Every spring as a walk along new and familiar paths gathering buds their wisdom serves as a sweet reminder . . .

There is wisdom in the process, not just in the destination. There is medicine in the budding, not just in the blooming. There is abundance in the now, not just in the when.


Poplar buds have a distinctive balsamic, resinous, and slightly sweet aroma. This aroma comes from the essential oils contained in the buds, which are released when the buds are crushed or heated. The scent of poplar buds is often described as reminiscent of the forest, and it is considered to be soothing and calming.

The resin is produced by the tree as a defense mechanism against injury and disease. When the tree is damaged, the resin flows out of the wound and hardens into a sticky, fragrant substance that helps to protect the tree from further damage. Poplar buds can have different colors depending on the species and the time of year they are harvested. Some poplar buds can be reddish in color due to the presence of anthocyanins, which are a type of pigment that gives many fruits, vegetables, and flowers their red, purple, and blue hues. Anthocyanins are produced by the plant as a response to stress, such as cold weather, drought, or insect damage. When the poplar tree is stressed, it may produce more anthocyanins in its buds, which can result in a reddish coloration.

In addition to anthocyanins, poplar buds contain other pigments, such as carotenoids and chlorophyll, which can contribute to their color. The color of poplar buds can also change over time as the buds mature and develop into leaves or flowers. Overall, the red color of some poplar buds is a natural and normal variation, and it does not affect their medicinal properties.


poplar bud



Poplar buds have been used in herbal medicine for for their therapeutic properties. The buds come from the Populus tree, which is found in various parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. They contain natural compounds that have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and antimicrobial properties. Here are some examples of how cottonwood poplar bud is used in herbal medicine.


ANALGESIC | pain-relief 

Cottonwood buds contain natural pain-relieving compounds, such as salicin, which is similar to aspirin. Indigenous peoples used cottonwood bark and buds to treat pain caused by conditions such as arthritis, headaches, and muscle soreness. Salicin is a natural compound found in many plants, including poplar trees. In the body, salicin is converted to salicylic acid, which is a precursor to aspirin. Salicylic acid is a potent anti-inflammatory agent that can help relieve pain, reduce fever, and alleviate inflammation. When salicin is ingested, it is metabolized by the liver and converted into salicylic acid, which then enters the bloodstream and travels throughout the body. Salicylic acid works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like compounds that contribute to pain, inflammation, and fever.

Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, salicin has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions, including pain, fever, and inflammation. In addition to poplar buds, salicin is also found in other plants, such as willow bark and meadowsweet, and it has been synthesized and used as the basis for aspirin, which is a widely used over-the-counter pain reliever.


Cottonwood poplar bud has natural expectorant properties that make it useful for treating respiratory ailments such as coughs, colds, and bronchitis. It can help to loosen phlegm and mucus in the respiratory tract, making it easier to breathe. Native Americans used cottonwood buds to make teas and poultices to treat respiratory problems. Cottonwood poplar bud can be taken internally as a tea, tincture, or syrup.


Cottonwood poplar bud has natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful for treating skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. It can be applied topically as a salve or oil to soothe and heal the skin.


Cottonwood poplar bud has natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help to soothe the digestive tract. It can be used to treat digestive problems such as diarrhea and constipation. Cottonwood poplar bud can be taken internally as a tea, tincture, or capsule.


Cottonwood poplar bud has natural sedative properties, making it useful for promoting relaxation and sleep. Native Americans used cottonwood bark and buds in spiritual and healing ceremonies to induce a relaxed state. Spiritual and healing ceremonies: Cottonwood bark and buds were used in various spiritual and healing ceremonies by many Native American tribes. They were often burned as incense or used in smudging rituals to purify the air and create a sacred space. The tree was also believed to have powerful healing properties and was often used in healing ceremonies to promote physical and spiritual well-being.


poplar bud harvest



Poplar buds contain a variety of phytochemicals that contribute to their medicinal properties. 

SALICIN - Poplar buds contain salicin, a natural compound that is metabolized in the body to form salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a well-known anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving agent that is also found in aspirin.

FLAVONOIDS - Poplar buds contain several flavonoids, including catechins, quercetin, and kaempferol. Flavonoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may help to improve circulation and promote wound healing.

ESSENTIAL OILS - Poplar buds contain small amounts of essential oils, which give them their characteristic aroma. These oils may have antimicrobial effects and may also help to promote relaxation.

TERPENOIDS - Poplar buds contain several terpenoids, including beta-caryophyllene and alpha-pinene. Terpenoids have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and may also have antimicrobial effects.

PHENOLIC ACIDS - Poplar buds contain phenolic acids, including caffeic acid and ferulic acid. Phenolic acids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may help to promote wound healing.




The Populus genus, which includes the Cottonwood tree, is believed to have originated in Asia, specifically in the regions that now comprise China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan. From there, various species of Populus trees spread throughout the world, primarily through natural seed dispersal and human cultivation.

In North America, the indigenous cottonwood species is Populus deltoides, which is also commonly known as the Eastern cottonwood. This species is native to the eastern and central United States, but it has also been introduced to other parts of the world, including western North America, Europe, and Asia. Other species of cottonwood trees, such as the black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), are native to western North America.

Overall, cottonwood trees are now found in many parts of the world, and they are known for their hardiness, fast growth, and adaptability to various climates and soil conditions.

Cottonwood trees are often found in wetland areas, such as riverbanks and floodplains. They are also commonly found along roadsides and in urban parks. They can grow up to 35 meters tall and have a broad crown. They are known for their large, heart-shaped leaves and distinctive grayish-brown bark. They carry cultural significance for many Indigenous communities on Vancouver Island. Cottonwood has been used in traditional medicine, as well as for making tools, baskets, and other crafts. The trees provide habitat and food for a variety of wildlife species, including birds, insects, and small mammals. Their leaves and buds are also important food sources for deer and other herbivores.



If you are interested in harvesting cottonwood poplar buds, there are some things you should keep in mind to do so in a sustainable and respectful way.

TIMING: Cottonwood buds are typically harvested in the early spring, before the leaves emerge. This is usually between late March and early April, depending on the climate and location.

LOCATION: Look for cottonwood trees growing in wetland areas, such as riverbanks or floodplains. Avoid harvesting buds from trees growing near roadsides or other areas that may have been exposed to pollutants.

SUSTAINABILITY: When harvesting cottonwood buds, it is best to harvest from fallen trees after a wind storm. If harvesting from a live tree, only take what you need and leave plenty of buds on the tree for the tree's health and for wildlife habitat. It is also important to avoid damaging the tree, so use clean and sharp tools and avoid removing large branches or causing wounds to the tree.

PROCESSING: Once you have harvested the buds, remove any twigs or leaves and rinse them in cool water. Then, they can be used fresh or dried for later use.

PRECAUTIONS: It is important to note that some people may be allergic to cottonwood buds, so it is recommended to test a small amount of the plant before using it. See below for contraindications. 

Overall, if you plan to harvest, it is important to do so in a sustainable and intentional manner.



Cottonwood poplar buds can be a valuable resource in a wilderness survival situation. 

FOOD: The buds are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a resinous, sweet flavor that can be used to flavor soups, stews, and other dishes. They can also be roasted and eaten like popcorn.

MEDICINE: The medicinal properties and can be used to make a poultice or salve for wounds, burns, and other skin irritations. The buds can also be brewed into a tea, which is believed to have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.

FIRE-STARTER: The resin in cottonwood poplar buds is highly flammable and can be used as a natural fire starter. You can break off a small piece of the resin and use it to start a fire using a spark or flame.

CORDAGE: The inner bark of cottonwood poplar trees can be harvested and used to make cordage. This can be useful for constructing shelter, making tools, and other wilderness survival tasks.

INSECT REPELLENT: The resin in the buds has insect-repelling properties and can be used to deter mosquitoes and other biting insects. You can rub a small amount of resin on your skin or clothing to help repel insects.

Overall, poplar buds can be a valuable resource for wilderness survival, providing food, medicine, fire starter, cordage, and insect repellent. However, it is important to always be respectful and sustainable when harvesting plants in the wilderness, taking only what you need and avoiding damaging the ecosystem.



While cottonwood poplar buds have potential medicinal benefits, there are some contraindications and precautions that you should be aware of before using them. 

Allergies: Some people may be allergic to cottonwood poplar buds. If you have a known allergy to the plant or other members of the Populus genus, you should avoid using cottonwood poplar buds.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding: There is not enough information available to determine the safety of using cottonwood poplar buds during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. As a precaution, it is recommended to avoid using the plant during these times.

Drug interactions: The buds may interact with certain medications, including blood thinners, immunosuppressants, and diabetes medications. If you are taking any prescription medications, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before using cottonwood poplar buds.

Children: The safety of using cottonwood poplar buds in children has not been established. As a precaution, it is recommended to avoid using the plant in children without consulting with a healthcare professional.

High doses: While there is no recommended dosage for cottonwood poplar buds, high doses may cause adverse effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is important to use the plant in moderation and follow recommended guidelines.

Find Poplar Bud medicine in our seasonal spring edition Poplar & Maple Sap soap and Poplar oil infusion. 

When using Poplar buds for chronic health condition(s), it is important to consult with a health practitioner as the above information does not constitute as a 1:1 consultation. Reach out anytime.

poplar bud oil


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© written by Sophia Triassi, RHT dip.phyto , RHN

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