Cottonwood Balm, also referred to as Balm of Gilead, is an amazing antiseptic and can be used like you might use Neosporin for cuts, scrapes, burns, cracked or dry skin, sore muscles… The list goes on. Cottonwood Balm is made from the buds of Balsam Poplar trees, oil, beeswax, and Vitamin E oil (as an optional natural preservative). The buds contain salicin and populin, glycosides that are similar to aspirin. People also say that this balm provides relief from arthritis due to its pain-relieving and anti-inflammation properties. But the true miracle of cottonwood balm, for me, is its ability to cure even the most blistery of diaper rashes.
Cottonwood Balm super easy and quick to make. Preserving the buds until you have more time is an even quicker process.
Cottonwood buds - at least 1 cup
Olive or coconut oil - at least 1 cup
Grated Beeswax - 1/4 - 1/2 cup
First, get out and pick them soon. They are best for medicinal use before the buds have opened and before any leaves have sprouted. At higher elevations, like Diamond Ridge, Skyline, and Ohlson Mountain, the buds are still closed. As they open, they become sticky and sappy. Choose the largest, fullest buds. Of course, be sure to take only a couple from each tree.
Once picked, cover the buds in olive oil or melted coconut oil. If you are short on time, that’s all you need to do! I often leave the buds in the jar, covered in olive oil for up to a year – until I run out of my last batch of balm. The longer they sit, the more the oil will be infused with their healing properties. Try and stir them every few weeks when you think of it.
If you are ready to make your balm now, you can speed up the infusion process by using heat. You can warm the pot on your stove on a very low setting for about two hours, stirring occasionally, or leave the pot of buds and oil on a cooler part of your woodstove/monitor stove for up to two days. You can also put the covered pot in the oven with only the pilot light burning.
Once your oil is infused, however you choose to do it, strain the mixture through a wire strainer or cheesecloth. Press out the buds using a spoon. At this point, you can use the infused oil on its own, or you can thicken it to a balm.
If you choose to thicken it, finely grate beeswax while the oil is straining. You can purchase beeswax in bulk (a block will go a long way!), or you can use an old beeswax candle that you have sitting around the house! For every cup of oil, you will need about ¼-1/2 cup of grated beeswax.
Return the strained oil to the pan and heat on very low heat or in a double boiler. Slowly add the beeswax, a little bit at a time, and allow it to melt. You can test the consistency periodically by removing a small amount of the balm on a teaspoon and allowing it to cool. I like a thicker balm, so I tend to add more beeswax, but some people will only add a few tablespoons.
Once your balm is at the desired consistency, pour it into small jars. Baby food jars, old lotion pots, or small Ball jars work well. Vitamin E oil is a great natural preservative, and I like to add a few drops to each container before the balm cools. Enjoy and happy harvesting!!