A Winter's Harvest
It has been very cold here in Dawson City with temperature down around -35 to -40 over the holidays. Needless to say, I was not thinking about harvesting let alone going outside! However, it warmed up today to a balmy -20 and I took the opportunity to go for a walk. On a trail behind my house I saw a large branch on the ground that had broken due to the snow load. I recognized this branch immediately. It was a large Cottonwood branch!
The interesting thing about Cottonwood trees (also called Wild Poplar in the north) is that their leaf buds, which set in the fall, stay on the tree during the winter and then in the spring they soften and become fragrant and heavy with amber sap. These buds are an excellent medicine. The branch that fell was special as all of the leaf buds could be harvested. Usually when you harvest from a living tree you want to space out how many leaf buds you take from one branch as the tree requires its leaves for photosynthesis. Culturally it is also a sustainable harvest practice to not take too much from one plant.
Frozen Cottonwood Leaf Buds at -20
This fallen branch was a gift in the coldest and darkest part of winter. I went out and harvested the frozen leaf buds and brought them in to thaw. I will infuse them in oil that I will use to make the Kw’enikwáy (Wild Poplar) salve. Kw’enikwáy is the Squamish Name for Cottonwood (Populous balsamifera). This salve is a wonderful medicine to have on hand. The leaf buds are highly antibacterial and antimicrobial making it a great topical ointment for minor cuts, burns and skin irritations. Squamish traditional use includes using the infused oil or salve as a chest rub if you have a bad cold or congestion. All in all this is an incredible plant medicine and it smells amazing!
It just goes to show that even in the coldest days of winter there are still botanical gifts to be found!
**Do not use Cottonwood Buds if you have an allergy to salicin, aspirin and use caution if you are pregnant