Herb: Western Balsam Poplar

Latin name: Populus trichocarpa

Synonyms: Populus balsamifera trichocarpa

Family: Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Medicinal use of Western Balsam Poplar:

Western balsam poplar has a long history of herbal use. It was commonly used by many native North American Indian tribes who valued it especially for its antiseptic and expectorant properties, using it to treat lung complaints, wounds, skin conditions etc. It is still commonly employed in modern herbalism with much the same uses. The leaf buds are covered with a resinous sap that has a strong turpentine odour and a bitter taste. They also contain salicin, a glycoside that probably decomposes into salicylic acid (aspirin) in the body. The buds are antiscorbutic, antiseptic, balsamic, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant and tonic. They are taken internally in the treatment of bronchitis and upper respiratory tract infections. They should not be prescribed to patients who are sensitive to aspirin. Externally, the buds are used to treat colds, sinusitis, arthritis, rheumatism, muscular pain and dry skin conditions. They can be put in hot water and used as an inhalant to relieve congested nasal passages. The buds are harvested in the spring before they open and are dried for later use. 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.

Description of the plant:


40 m
(131 feet)

to May


Habitat of the herb:

Moist woods, ravines, shores, prairies and park lands.

Edible parts of Western Balsam Poplar:

Inner bark - raw or dried. It is usually ground into a powder and used as a flour, this is normally mixed with other flours for making bread etc. It is best used in the spring. The inner bark is mucilaginous and extremely sweet, but it sours or ferments rapidly and so, unlike most inner barks, it cannot be dried for winter use, though it can be sun-dried for more immediate use. Catkins - raw or cooked. A bitter flavour. Sap - used for food.

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. A yellow dye is obtained from the leaf buds. The bark of large trees is thick and corky. It is made into containers for carrying and storing food, also as a lining for underground food stores. The inner bark has been shredded, spun together with red or yellow cedar inner bark (Thuja plicata, Juniperus spp and Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) and used as a twine. A glue is made from the aromatic gum on the spring buds. Very strong, it can also be used as a waterproofing for wood etc. When mixed with pigment it can be used as a paint. A string is made from the roots. The supple young branches have been used as lashings or tying thongs. The seed fluff is used as a stuffing material for pillows etc. The wood ashes are a soap substitute, they can also be mixed with oil to make a soap. The white inner bark is also a soap substitute, it can be dried and stored for later use. The inner bark has also been used as a scouring pad. The roots have been used for making baskets. Wood - soft, moderately strong, easily worked, rather woolly in texture, without smell or taste, of low flammability, not durable, very resistant to abrasion. Used in making crates, packing material the staves of barrels, woodenware and for pulp. It makes an excellent fuel.

Propagation of Western 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:

Moist woods, ravines, shores, prairies and park lands.

Known hazards of Populus trichocarpa:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.