This is the down and dirty story of how plant medicine changed my life. You know, on a personal level. (Heads up: If the word 'vomit' is too much for you, it's best if you don't read this one.)
The balsam poplar or black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) is the first plant in which I found true refuge. The salve made from its sap, known as Balm of Gilead, has become the most important item in my medicine cabinet. Here's why:
For roughly three decades, I got hit with debilitating pain for 2-3 days with each period. As I got older, it got worse. I popped OTC pain pills to control the pain, hoping to time it so that I'd digest them before the hormone waves and vomiting kicked in. It was highly unpleasant and somewhat unpredictable. Often I'd miss a day of school or work. Besides offering me prescription pain killers, doctors couldn't do anything for me. They seemed to believe I was greatly exaggerating my situation. So after a while, I stopped asking.
Then one day last year, I got the idea to rub a cottonwood salve I'd recently made on my abdomen to help with the cramps. Given its effectiveness with rheumatic pain, I felt fairly optimistic. Even so, it proved to be far more effective medicine that I had dared hope for.
I applied it right after a bath, slathering it all over my front and lower back. I laid down for the minutes, and vi-ola, The cramps backed off. It turns out if I apply it just at onset and with heat, the cramps never take hold at all. Now, for the first time in my menstruating life, I take no pain pills, and the nausea that accompanies is much less. That's self care success!
I'm deeply grateful to the oft-maligned cottonwood for offering me its medicine. Deep in the snowy heart of wintertime, a walk among my cottonwoods allies to gather a few buds will always cheer me up. The scent is incomparable, and the process of making the useful and beautiful medicine easily becomes ritual. I've been fortunate enough to pass the salve along to several others who suffer from chronic pain. I'm always happy if it can make a difference in the amount of pain medication they have to take. It's greatly improved my quality of living, that's for sure.
Around the farm we use this as our go-to for headaches, scrapes, strained muscles and joints. It has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and pain relieving qualities. You can it rub anywhere you've got pain, a cut or chapped skin. You can add the infused oil to cosmetics as a preservative. If you're allergic to aspirin, you should probably avoid it, but otherwise, it can be used by anyone, young or old.
DIY or BUY: To make your own salve, gather the buds in the winter and infuse them in extra virgin olive oil. Use the scented oil as-is, or get fancy and add beeswax if you prefer it in solid form. For the infusing process and salve recipe, check out this easy how-to from Alderleaf Wilderness College. If you'd like to buy some of ours rather than make your own, you can do so in our online shop. We also carry cottonwood infused honey, which is useful anytime you'd normally take an aspirin.
Note: This is my own story. It is not meant to diagnose, prescribe, or replace the advice of a medical doctor. Persons who are allergic to aspirin should avoid cottonwood, as it contains salicin--the same medicine that is in aspirin. Always research thoroughly any plant you are considering introducing into your regimen. If you decide to try it, start slowly with small amounts.