Family Salicaceae
Native Habitat: Most of the Northern Hemisphere
Populus fremontii or the Populus deltoides subsp. wislizeni, there appears to be some debate over the exact category of our New Mexican Cottonwood.
Cottonwoods grow to an average of 100ft, they boast a broad canopy and characteristically whimsical and massive trunks. On average they have a similar lifespan to humans. Most of the cottonwoods in our central New Mexican bosque are mature trees and there is little in the way of naturally occurring seedlings and young trees without the annual flooding that was once typical of the Rio Grande. They are a tree typical of riparian habitats and live happily with their taproot in the water table. Cottonwoods have glossy, green, heart shaped leaves that turn yellow come fall, identifying themselves as a golden brushstroke along the Rio Grande. Another identifying feature of the cottonwood is the smell of their resinous buds in late winter. The buds of the cottonwood trees fill with a delicious resin as they prepare to burst into the trees’ new leaves and catkins come spring.
While many parts of the tree have medicinal properties, we are going to focus on the buds. Some of the actions of the buds include being antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic. Salves are often the mode of choice to carry the medicine of the cottonwood buds as oil is a good menstruum for extracting resins and many of the bud’s properties lend themselves to topical use, such as relieving sore muscles and joints and aiding in the treatment and healing of minor cuts and skin irritations. All-in-all the smell of the cottonwood bud medicine may be nearly as healing to the spirit as its chemical constituents are to the body.