Poplar Buds - A Winter Harvest
The Balsam poplar tree is a member of the willow family. It can at times get to be as large as 100 feet tall, but normally only grows to be around 10 to 12 feet. The leaves are dark green on the top and whitish on the bottom. In the fall when the leaves change and fall, small reddish buds appear. These buds are big and resinous with a strong aroma. The balsam poplar is one of the few plants that is harvested in winter. To preserve the buds do not dry them. Drying ruins the resin in the bud. It is best if you collect them in the winter and freeze them until you want to use them. At times the sweet inner bark was collected and eaten in the spring or fed to horses during times of famine, but it was not considered to be a good source of food.
Balm of Gilead Medicine
The balsam poplar is an excellent pain reducer and killer. By shredding the bark you can obtain a liquid to make cough syrup. The resin in the buds makes a wonderful treatment for dry and inflamed skin. It is also used to treat cuts, scraps, bruises, rashes, all types of skin problems, congestion from colds, and pimples. It can be used internally if prepared correctly.
Poplar bud oil is a wonderful addition to massage oils, especially those used for deep tissuework. It is a superior first aid rapid response topical applied to scalds and burns. Poplar bud oil is antiseptic, speeds healing and lessons scarring. I use a 1:1 mixture of poplar bud oil and fresh St. John’s Wort floral bud oil as our household burn oil. The Hypericum oil is mildly analgesic and stimulates nerve regeneration at burn sites. Michael Moore (1993) recommends using animal fat (butter, lard) for poplar bud burn oil. I suspect a 1:1 mixture of sheep or goose fat can also be used. He recommends burn oil/salve for hemorrhoids: lessens pain, keeps surfaces clean and antiseptic, and stimulates nerve regeneration. Poplar bud salves have long been used externally on hemorrhoids.
Poplar bud salves and tinctures are applied externally for sprains, hyperextensions, and arthritic joints.
How to Make Balm of Gilead Oil
The resin in the balsam poplar buds can be separated with boiling water. Cool water will not extract the resin at all. It is also soluble in alcohol and oils. The best way to make an oil is to fill a jar with the buds and pour extra virgin olive oil over them. Cap the jar and set it down in a pot of water. It is best to raise the jar a bit off the bottom of the pot or to use a double boiler. The jar may break if you don’t. Fill the pot with water so that it is higher than the level of oil in the jar. Bring the water to just boiling and keep it at that stage. Let the oil infuse with the buds for an hour. Carefully while it is still hot strain the oil through cheesecloth and a strainer. Allow it to cool for a while then add one vitamin E capsule, 400 I.U. Use this oil to make healing salves and chest rubs for congestion.