Herb: Eastern Cottonwood

Latin name: Populus deltoides

Family: Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Medicinal use of Eastern Cottonwood:

The bark contains 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. An infusion of the bark has been used in the treatment of whooping cough and tuberculosis. A decoction of the bark has been used to rid the body of intestinal worms. The bark has been eaten as a treatment for colds. A tea made from the inner bark is used in the treatment of scurvy. The inner bark, combined with black haw bark (Crataegus douglasii) and wild plum bark (Prunus spp) has been used as a female tonic. A poultice of the leaves has been used as a treatment for rheumatism, bruises, sores and boils.

Description of the plant:


30 m
(98 feet)

to April

Habitat of the herb:

Rich moist soils, mainly along riverbanks, bottoms and rich woods.

Edible parts of Eastern Cottonwood:

Inner bark. A mucilaginous texture, it is usually harvested in the spring. 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. Seeds. No more details are given but they are very small and would be exceedingly fiddly to collect and use. Sap - used for food. Buds. No more details are given. The leaves are rich in protein and have a greater amino-acid content than wheat, corn, rice and barley. A concentrate made from them is as nourishing as meat, but can be produced faster and more cheaply. Some people believe that this will become a major food source for humans.

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. Various dyes can be obtained from the leaf buds in the spring - green, white, yellow, purple and red have been mentioned. Trees are planted for dune fixing in erosion control programmes. They are also good pioneer species, growing quickly to provide a good habitat for other woodland trees and eventually being out-competed by those trees. A fairly wind resistant tree, it can be grown as part of a shelterbelt planting. Another report says that it is easily storm-damaged. The wood has been used as a bio-mass for producing methanol, which can be used to power internal combustion engines. Annual yields of 7 tonnes of oven-dry material per year have been achieved. Wood - weak, soft, rather woolly in texture, without smell or taste, of low flammability, not durable, very resistant to abrasion but warps and shrinks badly. It weighs 24lb per cubic foot. The wood takes paint well, is easy to glue and nail. It is used principally for lumber, pulp, crates, veneer etc.

Propagation of Eastern Cottonwood:

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:

Rich moist soils, mainly along riverbanks, bottoms and rich woods.

Known hazards of Populus deltoides:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.