Herb: Cottonwood

Latin name: Populus fremontii

Family: Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Medicinal use of Cottonwood:

The inner bark was consumed by various native North American Indian tribes in order to prevent scurvy. 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. An infusion of the bark and leaves has been used to wet a cloth which is then tied around the head as a treatment for headaches. The infusion has also been used as a wash on cuts, bruises, wounds and insect stings. A poultice of the boiled bark and leaves has been used to treat swellings caused by muscle strain.

Description of the plant:


25 m
(82 feet)

to April

Habitat of the herb:

Banks of streams and other moist places.

Edible parts of Cottonwood:

Catkins - raw or cooked. Eaten as a snack. The young green seedpods have been chewed as a gum. Inner bark. 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.

Other uses of the herb:

Strips of the inner bark have been used in garments. This report does not make clear if this was merely for ornament, or whether the bark had a functional use. 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 young twigs are peeled and split then used in basket making. Wood - soft, weak, light, rather woolly in texture, without smell or taste, of low flammability, not durable, very resistant to abrasion. Used locally for fence posts, the trees are also frequently pollarded for fuel.

Propagation of 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:

Banks of streams and other moist places.

Known hazards of Populus fremontii:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.