Do those jars not look amazing? I could stare at them forever, I just find them endlessly fascinating. That is fresh cottonwood buds in (l-r) alcohol, oil, and oil after it’s been steeping for a week.

I first read about cottonwood salve several years ago now and I have wanted to try my hand at making some for just as long. But while it’s a simple process, you need to source your own raw material. Fresh buds require locating the trees, visiting during winter or early spring, and then reaching them (most easily achieved by collecting branches after a good wind, cottonwood is brittle). A simple task once you get all the conditions lined up, but no mean trick to put it all together for the newbie.

About ten days ago I went out with a generous new friend and she showed me the ropes. We spent a couple hours pleasantly wandering a couple nearby parks and I managed to collect a nice bag full of tips which I trimmed up to fill the jar on the right. And I was really excited.

And then Dean and I stopped back at the park a week later and found that a couple of cottonwood trees had been knocked over. The very definition of a windfall. Trees covered in swelling buds, a whole crown full of them, all easily within reach. In half an hour the two of us collected enough to fill two more jars.

So now we wait, anywhere from six weeks to a year, for the buds to slowly give up their goodness to the oil. And then I’ll add in a little beeswax to get the consistency I like and I will have an excellent all-purpose salve, good for pain and soreness, minor cuts and burns, and the like.

It really is folk medicine at its best, which I think is why I’m so drawn to it. It’s simple to make but not exactly scalable to any level of production. It’s useful to have on hand. And did I mention how fabulous all that resin smells?

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