Infused oil and salve
Cottonwoods are known as a pioneer species - they are often some of the first species to colonize an area after a disturbance. They are fast growing, but with that comes weaker wood. Meaning, you can often find fallen branches, full of medicinal buds, after storms. Jackpot!
*We prefer to find and use the fallen branches than to harvest off of living trees, as those buds are there for a reason. Always be mindful, and show reverence, when foraging from any plant.
Winter is the time to find the juicy, resinous buds of the Eastern Cottonwood (and many other species within the Populus genus). While dormant for the winter, the buds are at peak potency, with the resin being used as a defence mechanism against predators and infection. This resin is also a very potent medicine.
When made into an oil or salve, it can be used to treat sore muscles, sprains, strains, joint pain, burns, and can even be used as a chest rub. Being part of the willow family (Salicaceae) it has the same pain relieving constituents as Aspirin (salicylic acid).
Cottonwood Bud Infused Oil
*If you are just making herbal preparations for yourself, you do not actually need to harvest much plant material. I've learned from experience that unless you are an herbalist who is making things in bulk to sell, you may end up wasting. Less is best when making for yourself!
For most infused oils, all you will need is:
the plant material (cottonwood buds)
an oil of choice (I usually go for extra virgin olive oil)
Though with most of my infused oils I go for the slower "folk" method, everything that I have read points to a quicker stovetop/crockpot infusion for this particular plant. So:
You can give your buds a rinse to remove any debris, and then lay on a screen to let remaining water evaporate
The ratio of oil to plant material is 3:1. Find a clean jar suit the amount of bud you have collected and either measure out your oil:buds by weight or by simply filling your jar 1/3rd of the way with buds, and then covering with oil until jar is filled.
Place your jar in a hot water bath, with something to keep your jar from touching the bottom of the pot (jar lids, steamer basket, etc.)
Heat on low for 2-3 days, stirring occasionally throughout the day. This does not mean that the stove has to be on the whole time, just keep it on when you are around, and turn it off when you are not.
Once your oil has turned opaque, you are ready to strain. I usually use a jelly bag, but you can use a cheesecloth or a fine sieve.
Store in a clean jar, in a cool dark place.