Herb: Balsam Poplar
Latin name: Populus balsamifera
Synonyms: Populus tacamahacca
Family: Salicaceae (Willow Family)
Medicinal use of Balsam Poplar:Balsam poplar has a long history of medicinal use. It was valued by several native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a variety of complaints, but especially to treat skin problems and lung ailments. In modern herbalism it is valued as an expectorant and antiseptic tonic. The leaf buds are antiscorbutic, antiseptic, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, tonic. The leaf buds are covered with a resinous sap that has a strong turpentine odour and a bitter taste.They are boiled in order to separate the resin and the resin is then dissolved in alcohol. The resin is a folk remedy, used as a salve and wash for sores, rheumatism, wounds etc. It is made into a tea and used as a wash for sprains, inflammation, muscle pains etc. Internally, the tea is used in the treatment of lung ailments and coughs. The buds can also be put in hot water and used as an inhalant to relieve congested nasal passages. The bark is cathartic and tonic. Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, the bark of most, if not all members of the genus contain salicin, a glycoside that probably decomposes into salicylic acid (aspirin) in the body. The bark is therefore anodyne, anti-inflammatory and febrifuge. It is used especially in treating rheumatism and fevers, and also to relieve the pain of menstrual cramps. A tea made from the inner bark is used as an eye wash and in the treatment of scurvy.
Description of the plant:
Habitat of the herb:Deep moist sandy soils of river bottomlands, stream banks, borders of lakes and swamps.
Edible parts of Balsam Poplar:Inner bark. It is best used in spring. Mucilaginous. There are no more details but inner bark is often dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickener in soups etc or added to cereals when making bread. Catkins - raw or cooked. A bitter flavour.
Other uses of the herb:An extract of the shoots can be used as a rooting hormone for all types of cuttings. It is extracted by soaking the chopped up shoots in cold water for a day. The resin obtained from the buds was used by various native North American Indian tribes to waterproof the seams on their canoes. The resin on the buds has been used as an insect repellent. The bark has been burnt to repel mosquitoes. A pioneer species, capable of invading cleared land and paving the way for other woodland trees. It is not very shade tolerant and so it is eventually out-competed by the woodland trees. Wood - soft, light, rather woolly in texture, without smell or taste, of low flammability, not durable, very resistant to abrasion. It weighs 23lb per cubic foot, and is used for pulp, boxes etc. The wood is also used as a fuel, it gives off a pleasant odour when burning.
Propagation of Balsam Poplar:Seed - must be sown as soon as it is ripe in spring. Poplar seed has an extremely short period of viability and needs to be sown within a few days of ripening. Surface sow or just lightly cover the seed in trays in a cold frame. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the old frame. If sufficient growth is made, it might be possible to plant them out in late summer into their permanent positions, otherwise keep them in the cold frame until the following late spring and then plant them out. Most poplar species hybridize freely with each other, so the seed may not come true unless it is collected from the wild in areas with no other poplar species growing. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, 20 - 40cm long, November/December in a sheltered outdoor bed or direct into their permanent positions. Very easy. Suckers in early spring.
Cultivation of the herb:Deep moist sandy soils of river bottomlands, stream banks, borders of lakes and swamps.
Known hazards of Populus balsamifera:None known
Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.