blog & articles

Here is a medicinal plant profile about Populus, Poplar I wrote. Introducing…

Local Medicinal Plant Monograph – Poplar!

Populus spp. (Salicaceae)
Poplar, Cottonwood, Balsam Poplar, Aspen

Populus spp. (Poplar, Cottonwood Aspen) trees are locally abundant native trees here in Western Montana, all throughout the Western mountainous bioregions, and beyond. Some local, bioregional species include Populus angustifolia, P. balsamifera, P. deltoides, P. tremuloides and P. trichocarpa. Populus is a genus of as many as 35 species, with many other Populus species, including Poplar, Cottonwood and Aspen trees, native to wide areas of most of the Northern Hemisphere.

Distribution and biogeography
Locally, poplar’s distribution ranges from Western mid-elevation riparian and canyon areas to Aspen’s higher subalpine habitat range. Poplar and Cottonwood like their feet wet and are generally found along canyons, waterway and in riparian forests. Aspens like their higher elevation and subalpine area homes of the Rockies and mountain areas, between 6000 – 8,500 ft elevation.Poplar belongs to the Salicacaea family and is related to the Willows, a truly water loving riparian habitat plant.

Poplars are magnificent, fast-growing trees, growing as tall as to 50 m (165 ft), with wide trunks up to 2 m (6 ft) in diameter, and beautifully broad large crowns and root systems extending as far as over 30m. It has smooth and light greenish-grey bark, deeply furrowed and dark grey with age. Their loosely hanging flower catkins on male or female trees and leaf buds appear with first signs of spring, soon developing into full grown heart-shaped to egg-rounded, alternate bright green leaves decorating these beautiful deciduous trees all summer long. Its cottony fluffed seeds born in egg-shaped seed capsules are dispersed by wind in early summer, even though most propagation occurs through roots sprouts, often forming large colonies of cloned plants in the same area. For example, the Pando Aspen clonal colony in Utah is considered to be the oldest and heaviest (at 6,000,000 kg / 6,600 tons) known living organism with an age of 80,000 years. Impressive.

Medicinal properties and use
Poplar has a long history of medicinal and ethnobotanical use. It is also known as Balm of Gilead bud, traditionally prepared from the highly resinous leaf buds of cottonwood or balsam poplar.

Poplar contains the medicinally active biochemical constituents salicin and populin (best known as hall-of-fame salicylate precursors of aspirin), found in varying concentrations in its bark, leaves, and leaf buds.

The closed dormant buds contain a sticky deep red and highly aromatic resin, rich in flavenoids and phenol glycosides (populin, salicin), which is alcohol, oil, and somewhat water soluble for herbal medicinal preparations. Poplar bud oil, extract or ointment can serve as a first-rate topical anti-inflammatory and counter-irritant analgesic remedy for muscle and joint pains and sprains.

Internally the extract of fresh poplar bud is considered to have both analgesic salicylate and expectorant aromatic properties, making it particularly useful to help relieve those stubborn mucousy symptoms of certain bronchial infections. First aid use for burns and skin irritations are just some of the many other known medicinal properties of poplar buds.

The bark and leaf extract, in extract or tea form, may serve as anti-inflammatory agent for internal uses, and also has been found helpful for mild urinary tract infections, as fever reducing, or bitter remedy to aid indigestion and poor appetite.

Poplar’s long history in traditional and modern herbalism includes its antiseptic and analgesic uses in wound care, it’s anti-inflammatory, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifugic and stimulating qualities, which have proven useful in treatments of respiratory problems, rheumatism, arthritis, gout, genito-urinary problems, digestive and liver complaints and skin care.
Poplar has many other North American ethnobotanical uses, including as food, fiber and fuel source, and important medicinal applications for wound care, skin sores and infections, for rheumatism, body pain and inflammatory conditions, upper respiratory and intestinal infections.
The German regulatory-medical Commission E Monographs approved Populi gemma; Pappelknospe (poplar bud) use for hemorrhoids, wounds and burns for its antibacterial and wound healing properties.

Be cautious of using this plant medicine with salicylate (or aspirin) reactivity and of concurrent use with blood-thinning medications.

Herbal preparations
I am most familiar with the use of the fresh Poplar leaf buds, picked in spring, prepared as infused oil for topical use, or tinctured and extracted for both internal and external application.

When picking fresh poplar bud, I am aware that each bud births a leaf, trees’ important sites for photosynthesis and energy exchange. I am cautious in my harvesting practice to be conscientious and selective, and search for vigorously budding leaves on wind-fallen branches of this self-pruning tree.
It is best to use the fresh poplar bud for herbal preparation purposes to avoid rotten and fungal decayed plant material. Drum emphasizes the importance of checking for non-blackened or browned butts, which indicate early fungal rot within the valuable buds. (I recommend Ryan Drum’s great article on Poplar Bud harvest and herbal preparation. See recommended sources below).

The fall bark is thought to be best used as a strong decoction, a concentrated tea, and the summer leaves may be brewed as tea for internal applications.

I am excited about the big batch of poplar bud oil and extract I macerated in April from locally harvested fresh poplar leaf buds, that I should have really called this great tree the herb of last month. The lovely fragrant buds are a seasonal, early spring special and the trees by now adorned with luscious growth here in the valley.

by Britta Bloedorn, Clinical Herbalist
May 10, 2013

Recommended selected sources include

Drum, R. (n.d.). Poplar Buds. In Two Buds and a Leaf.
Felter, H. W., M.D. & Lloyd, J. U., Phr, M., Ph.D., (1898). Populus – American Poplar. In King’s American Dispensary. Cincinatti: Ohio Valley Co.
Kershaw, L., Mac Kinnon, A., Pojar, J. (1998). Plants of the Rocky Mountain West. Canada: Lone Pine Publishing.
Moore, M., (2003). Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press.
Plants for a Future. (n.d.). Populus tremuloides – Michx. In Plants for a Future.
University of Michigan – Dearborn. (n.d.) Native American Ethnobotany. A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants.
USDA, NRCS. 2013. Quaking Aspen – Populus tremuloides Michx. In The PLANTS Database (, 11 May 2013). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
Kommission E. Populi gemma (Pappelknospen). In Bundesanzeiger: 1.2.1990. Heftnummer: 22a. ATC-Code: D03CA. Monographie BGA/BfArM.

Comments are closed.