Benefits of Cottonwood, aka Poplar

Common Ways Herbalists Use Cottonwood Today

Today’s post was inspired by a post I saw on FaceBook (Herbs with Rosalee). Back home in Ontario, my neighbour had a giant Cottonwood tree. I often found it annoying as the ‘fluff’ usually ended up clogging my swimming pool filter, reeking havoc for weeks. Anyway, I now know that this annoying tree is revered by many, for the reasons below!

Cottonwood Benefits for Aches and Pains

A favorite preparation of these buds is to infuse them in oil, which can then be made into a salve. This not only smells heavenly, but can also be used to relieve sore muscles, strained muscles, rheumatic pain, and bruises. Plants work in a variety of ways and it’s assumed that cottonwood both modulates inflammation and directly relieves pain. 

Actually, cottonwood oil or salve has many uses and it is often my favorite for a variety of complaints, including minor scrapes or cuts, miscellaneous rashes, and bug bites. 

Cottonwood Benefits as a Preservative

Cottonwood Benefits for Infections

Besides modulating inflammation, decreasing pain, and having preservative qualities, cottonwood is also known for being strongly antimicrobial.

First Nation’s usage of cottonwood trees in BC

First Nations people on the coast and, more commonly, in the Interior made dugout canoes from black cottonwood. Also, the Okanagan people made cottonwood into sideboards for riding and cradles to flatten their children’s heads.

Cottonwood burns well and was used to make friction fire sets. Ashes were used to make a cleanser for hair and buckskin clothing. The Thompson people produced soap from the inner bark. The Hudson’s Bay Company reportedly continued using their method, combining the inner bark with tallow.

Balsam Poplar buds
[It is named cottonwood for the white hairs on mature seed which float through the air like wisps of cotton or snow.]


First Nations people used the resin from buds to treat sore throats, coughs, lung pain and rheumatism. An ointment, called balm of Gilead, was made from the winter buds of balsam poplar to relieve congestion.

The buds contain a waxy resin with anti-infectant properties still used in many modern natural health ointments. Bees collect it and use it to seal off intruders, such as mice, which might decay and infect the hive.

The short, fine fibres are used in tissues and other paper products.

For more information, visit these sources:

The Botany of Cottonwood

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