Well If your anything like me these days in early spring I begin notice all the change going on outdoors from gentle pulses of life stirring under foot, the gradually longer days, and Gaia waking. This collective intelligent earth organism’s energy flowing upward now as we move past the spring equinox.
My sleepy bear hibernating deep dreaming self that has up till now been focusing on personal interiority, rest, reading, and writing for most of the winter is now rousing. The outdoors is calling me to spend more time in the garden, wood, and in the world.
Along my morning land meanderings I’ve begun taking notice that the bulbous flowers are sending up their leaves, the first flowers of spring the snowdrops are blooming, the pussy willows are furry, the first of my aromatic peppermint is up, the male Hazel tree is hanging heavy in long florescent yellow catkins so thick in pollen and our feral honeybees are buried most intimately on and in those catkins -It is a sexual dance.
Another favorite of this time for the bees and myself are the cottonwood (populus balsamfera), or (populus trichocarpa) -gathering the trees resinous buds.
This is exquisite mojo magic to me that pure scent of wildness- the scent of heaven and if I were a bear I would find a downed branch and just roll in all that divinely scented medicinal stickiness-happy bear aromatherapy.
Theses trees remind me of a couple of years during childhood living near the Canadian border of eastern WA state in our rustic cabin on upper cottonwood creek rd. Yes that creek was lined by hulking cottonwood trees and the springtime scent was marvelous, these trees were of great value to many other residents of the area including the beaver who had damed up quite a large series of magical ponds along that creek. I remember mystical night rides alone on my horse during the full moon on that trail that flanked the creek meandering slowly by those ponds with mist rising from them as I continued ever higher in altitude up the mountain. My imagination was always in full gear and I would come up with interesting stories to entertain myself like that this place was some kind of time portal and I could go back or forward in time, or that I would meet a mysterious otherworldly person along the trail.
The Cottonwood aromatic stuff is what the bees collect to create bee medicine and propolis -that magic antiseptic glue used by bee engineers and architects. By Herbalists it is sometimes referred to as Balm of Gilead although not the same shrub as the biblical reference identified as Commiphora gileadensis, which is the plant that bleeds the balsam of Mecca. Some botanical scholars have concluded that the actual source was an unrelated plant, a Terebinth tree in the genus Pistacia.
Our cottonwood bud medicine is the resin and we gather it best by finding a downed tree or branch that has fallen over the winter in one of the many windstorms.
I like to keep track of my annual harvest places -go seek near rivers, ponds, and creeks to find cottonwood as they love water almost as much as willow trees do. I gather the resinous buds in a clean jar and pick all of them if it is a downed tree or branch, and only about a third from a live tree where I can reach the buds.
I have even harvested on DNR and Forest Service land via my horse where I had my beautiful living ladder companion to boost myself just a little higher into the tree. Back at home I set these out for a day or 2 to get most of the dampness off the buds- (I live in rainy foggy country).
These buds then go into a clean jar with copious golden glugs of organic olive oil poured over them-and covered completely.
Do label the jar with the date of harvest, place harvested, and anything else important to note. This jar gets covered in a cheesecloth and a rubber band so any moisture still in the buds can evaporate off. Into a dark cupboard and a stir with a chopstick every once in a while (I am never dogmatic about this).
The buds can really stay in there a very long time and the concoction will begin resemble strange oil covered insect carcasses that smell really good. The most potent bud oil I have made has stayed in the jar for several years or more. I also tincture some of the buds for other uses I like to tincture some for a pain relieving gargle for sore throat.
This gorgeous oil makes a great healing oil for massage of sore muscles, can be made into a healing salve, a great stand alone herbal salve or combined with other herbal oils such as St Johnswort or arnica flower.
It is antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti inflammatory, and is a pain reliving analgesic as it contains salicylic acid like many of its tree relatives.
Enjoy the early spring, get out, be in the wildness, make some good medicine for body and spirit, and connect to the deep awakening rhythms of spring-we are all a part of it!