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Medicinal Trees: Poplar (Populus)

 
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Populus - Poplar, Cottonwood or Aspen

Twenty-three varieties of Populus have been found useful in Herbal Medicine; they go by various names: Populus alba - White Poplar, Populus angustifolia - Narrowleaf Cottonwood, Populus 'Balsam Spire', Populus balsamifera - Balsam Poplar, Populus ciliata - Himalayan Poplar, Populus deltoides - Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides monilifera - Plains Cottonwood, Populus deltoides wislizenii - Rio Grande Cottonwood, Populus euphratica, Populus fremontii – Cottonwood, Populus grandidentata - Canadian Aspen, Populus heterophylla - Swamp Cottonwood, Populus maximowiczii – Doronoki, Populus nigra - Black Poplar, Populus pseudosimonii, Populus sieboldii - Japanese Aspen, Populus simonii, Populus tremula - Aspen Poplar, Populus tremuloides - American Aspen, Populus trichocarpa - Western Balsam Poplar, Populus x canadensis - Canadian Poplar, Populus x canescens - Grey Poplar, Populus x jackii - Balm Of Gilead

Four varieties of Populus are native to my region: Populus deltoides (Eastern Cottonwood) , Populus grandidentata (Bigtooth Aspen), Populus heterophylla (Swamp Cottonwood), Populus tremuloides (Quaking Aspen). Naturalized are: Populus alba (White Poplar), Populus ×canadensis [deltoides × nigra] (Hybrid Black Poplar), Populus ×canescens [alba × tremula] (Gray Poplar), Populus ×jackii [balsamifera × deltoides] (Balm-of-Gilead), Populus nigra (Lombardy Poplar), Populus simonii (Chinese Poplar)

Chief among the virtues of Poplar is its ability to relieve plan and reduce fevers, like the Willows and other plants that contain salycin. The tree was sought out and utilized wherever it grew, and it seems there have always been many names used for Populus.

Gerard wrote:

There be divers trees under the title of Poplar, yet differing yery notably, as shall be declared in the descriptions, whereof one is the white, another the black, and a third sort set down by Pliny, which is the Aspen, named by him Lybica, and by Theophrastus, Kerkis: likewise there is another of America, or of the Indies, which is not to be found in these regions of Europe.

A. The White Poplar hath a cleansing faculty, saith Galen, and a mixed temperature, consisting of a watery warm essence, and also a thin earthy substance.

B. The bark, as Dioscorides writeth, to the weight of an ounce (or as others say, and that more truly, of little more than a dram) is a good remedy for the sciatica or ache in the huckle bones, and for the strangury.

C. That this bark is good for the sciatica, Serenus Sammonicus doth also write:

Sæpius occultus victa coxendice morbus

Perfurit, & gressus diro languore moratur:

Populus alba dabit medicos de cortice potus.

An hidden disease doth oft rage and reign,

The hip overcome and vex with the pain,

It makes with vile aching one tread slow and shrink;

The bark of white Poplar is help had in drink.

D. The same bark is also reported to make a woman barren, if it be drunk with the kidney of a mule, which thing the leaves likewise are thought to perform, being taken after the flowers or reds be ended.

E. The warm juice of the leaves being dropped into the ears doth take away the pain thereof.

F. The resin or clammy substance of the black Poplar buds is hot and dry, and of thin parts, attenuating and mollifying: it is also fitly mixed acopis & malagmatis ["into a salve used to ease fatigue or pain, or as a poultice]": the leaves have in a manner the like operation for all these things, yet weaker, and not so effectual, as Galen teacheth.

G. The leaves and young buds of black Poplar do assuage the pain of the gout in the hands or feet, being made into an ointment with May butter.

H. The ointment made of the buds is good against all inflammations, bruses, squats, falls, and such like: this ointment is very well known to the apothecaries.

I. Paulus Ægineta teacheth to make an oil also hereof, called Ægyrinum, or oil of black Poplar


Saint Hildegard von Bingen wrote:

The aspen is hot and designates excess. When an infant lying in its cradle is wounded and suffused with blood between his skin and flesh, so that he is in much pain, take new, fresh aspen leaves. Put them on an unfolded linen cloth and wrap the infant with these leaves in the cloth. Place him for sleeping and cover him with clothing, so that he emits perspiration. The power of the leaves will draw it out and he will get well.

But, if one is virgitchtiget or has a cold stomach, he should take the bark of this tree, when it is green, and wood from the exterior, down to but not including the inner heart. He should cut them into minute bits and cook them in water. The, he should pour this water, with the wood, into a cask and bathe in it. If he does this often, the gitch will leave him, or his stomach will be warm, and each malady will be better.

Also, in May, take the bark of this tree, and wood from the outside, into he heart, and cut it into small bits. Pound this in a mortar, and express the juice. Add this juice to other ointments which you prepare. They will be much better against all diseases that trouble a person in his head, torso, loins, stomach and other parts, and these unguents will check the bad humors to a greater degree.


Culpeper wrote of Black and White Poplar:

Saturn hath dominion over both, white poplar, saith Galen, is of a cleansing property. The weight of an ounce in powder, of the bark thereof, being drank, saith Dioscorides, is a remedy for those that are troubled with the sciatica, or the stranguary. The juice of the leaves dropped warm into the ears, eases the pains in them. The young clammy buds or eyes, before they break out into leaves, bruised, and a little honey put to them, is a good medicine for a dull sight. The Black Poplar is held to be more cooling than the White, and therefore the leaves bruised with vinegar and applied, help the gout. The seed drank in vinegar, is held good against the falling-sickness. The water that drops from the hollow places of this tree, takes away warts, pushes, wheals, and other the like breakings- out of the body. The young Black Poplar buds, saith Matthiolus, are much used by women to beautify their hair, bruising them with fresh butter, straining them after they have been kept for some time in the sun. The ointment called Populneon, which is made of this Poplar, is singularly good for all heat and inflammations in any part of the body, and tempers the heat of wounds. It is much used to dry up the milk of women's breasts when they have weaned their children.

The leaves and buds are used to make the unguent populcon; but as the black poplar is hot, the ointment cannot receive itso cooling virtue from those leaves or buds, but from the other ingredients which are put in it. Schroeder says, that women in Germany use the buds to make their hair grow thick and ornamental.


Mrs. Grieve wrote specifically of the “Trembling Poplar: or Quaking Aspen:

Febrifuge and tonic, chiefly used in intermittent fevers. It has been employed as a diuretic in urinary affections, gonorrhoea and gleet. The infusion has been found helpful in debility, chronic diarrhcea, etc. Is a valuable and safe substitute for Peruvian bark.

Peruvian Bark was Chinchona, the main source of quinine. It was widely used for malaria and fevers.

An Irish Herbal states of White Poplar and of Trembling Poplar, called the “Asp Tree”:

The juice of the leaves of this tree eases the pains of the ears and hears ulcers and eruptions on the skin. The bark is useful for promoting the discharge of urine and is therefore good against strangury.

Brother Aloysius wrote of Poplar:

The leaf decoction is used externally in the form of a compress for sciatica; internally, ¾ to 1 cup per 2 cups water for difficult urination.

Jolanta Wittib writes of Poplar:

Poplar bud tincture is highly valued in our region. Maybe because poplar is a rare tree here. Trees protect their buds with resin. Bees know that. They have been collecting resin from the buds for thousands of years and have been turning it into propolis - the highly protective, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal substance with which they protect and disinfect their beehive.

We, humans, most probably have learned that from the bees, but, as we cannot turn it into Propolis with our bodies, like bees do, we make tinctures.

I collect some buds and with the help of high percentage Alcohol I get the resin from them and turn it into tincture. Diluted internally it is used for inflammations, colds, flu; externally for rashes, small wounds, muscle pain. I use it for gurgling when I feel that I might develop a sore throat.

Since I have bees, I have stopped collecting poplar buds. Instead, I take a little bit of Propolis from my bee hives, turn it into tincture and use it in the same way as poplar bud tincture. I like toothpaste with Propolis. It does so much more than just cleaning the teeth.

The Thomsonian System of Medicine states:

POPLAR BARK. Populus Tremuloides.(Dr. Thomson.)

There are several species of the poplar tree that grow common in the country. One kind is called the white poplar, and another the stinking poplar. The barks of both these kinds are good for medicine; but the latter is the best, being the most bitter. It has tags hanging on the limbs, which remain on till it leaves out, which is about a week later than the other kind. It has short brittle twigs, which are extremely bitter to the taste. The inner bark given as a tea is one of the best articles to regulate the bile and restore the digestive powers of anything I have ever used. The bark may be taken from the body of the tree, the limbs or the roots, and the outside shaved off. Preserve the inner bark, which should be dried and carefully preserved for use. To make the bitters No. 4, it should be pounded or ground fine, and mixed with the other articles, or it may be used alone for the same purpose. To make a tea, take a handful of the bark, pounded or cut into small strips, and put into a quart mug, and fill it with boiling water. This, if taken freely, will relax the system, will relieve headache, faintness at the stomach, and many other complaints caused by bad digestion. It is good for obstructions of the urine, and weakness in the loins; and those of a consumptive habit will find great relief in using this tea freely. In chronic diarrhoea, chronic dysentery, cholera infantum, it is a tonic, not an astringent. It is of much use in kidney and bladder trouble. It gradually increases the urine and relieves the aching back. If given with Uva ursi, it will give good results in cystic and renal catarrh and in congestions. It is also indicated in uterine, vaginal and anal weakness, and can be used as a wash or internally. Is good as a wash in skin diseases and sores caused by gonorrhoea or syphilis. The dose of the Tincture is from 30 to 60 minims.

King's American Dispensatory, 1898 tells us:

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Poplar bark is tonic and febrifuge, and has been used in intermittent fever with advantage. An infusion of it is reputed a valuable remedy in emaciation and debility, after protracted fevers and reproductive disorders of the nervous and hysterical, lumbricoid worms, impaired digestion, chronic diarrhoea, intermittent fevers, etc. As a diuretic, it has been beneficially used in urinary affections, gonorrhoea, gleet, etc. Both populus and populin have a decided affinity for the genito-urinal tract. It is thought to aid the recuperative powers of the kidney when undergoing granular degeneration. In tenesmic vesical irritation and in tenesmus after urination it is decidedly effective. Minute doses—fraction of a drop—are most beneficial here. It is suggested by Prof. Webster for trial in stubborn uterine congestion and prostatic hypertrophies. The Large aspen, P. grandidentata, is said to be the most active and bitter. Dose of the powdered bark, 1 drachm, 2 or 3 times a day; of a saturated tincture of the fresh bark, from a fraction of a drop to 30 drops; of populin, 1 x trituration, 1 grain every 2 or 4 hours.

Specific Indications and Uses.—Marked debility with impairment of digestion; tenesmic vesical irritation; tenesmus after micturition.

Plants for A Future states:

Medicinal use of White Poplar: The stem bark is anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, diuretic and tonic. The bark contains salicylates, from which the proprietary medicine aspirin is derived. It is used internally in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, gout, lower back pains, urinary complaints, digestive and liver disorders, debility, anorexia, also to reduce fevers and relieve the pain of menstrual cramps. Externally, the bark is used to treat chilblains, haemorrhoids, infected wounds and sprains. The bark is harvested from side branches or coppiced trees and dried for later use. The leaves are used in the treatment of caries of teeth and bones. The twigs are depurative.

Medicinal use of Eastern Cottonwood: The bark contains 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 has been used in the treatment of whooping cough and tuberculosis. A decoction of the bark has been used to rid the body of intestinal worms. The bark has been eaten as a treatment for colds. A tea made from the inner bark is used in the treatment of scurvy. The inner bark, combined with black haw bark (Crataegus douglasii) and wild plum bark (Prunus spp) has been used as a female tonic. A poultice of the leaves has been used as a treatment for rheumatism, bruises, sores and boils.

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs states:

The entire poplar genus contains salicylate precursors, which are related to aspirin and share its properties as an anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and analgesic. The species vary greatly in their medicinal properties; those with highly resinous buds are usually the most effective.

Peterson Field Guides Eastern and Central Medicinal Plants tells us:

Balsam Poplar, balm of Gilead: buds boiled to separate resin then dissolved in alcohol, once used as preservative in ointments. Folk remedy (balm) used for sores; Tincture for toothaches, rheumatism, diarrhea, wounds; Tea used as a wash for inflammation, frostbite, sprains, and muscle strain. Internally, bud tea used for cough, lung ailments expectorant. Inner bark tea used for scurvy, also as an eyewash, “blood tonic”. Root tea used as a wash for headaches. Probably contain salicin, explaining its aspirin like qualities.

Cottonwood: inner bark tea used for scurvy, as a female tonic. Tree held sacred by American Indians of the prairies. Bark contains the aspirin-like compound, salicin.

Quaking aspen: American Indians used root bark tea for excessive menstrual bleeding; poultice roots for cuts, wounds. Inner bark tea used for stomach pain, venereal disease, urinary elements, worms, colds, fevers, an as an appetite stimulant. Leaf buds used in a salve for colds, coughs, irritated nostrils. Bark tincture contains salicin, a folk remedy used for fevers, rheumatism, arthritis, colds, worms, urinary infections, and diarrhea. Bark contains aspirin like salicin which is anti-inflammatory, analgesic; Reduces fevers.

Botany In a Day states:

Medicinally, the buds are diaphoretic, expectorant and diuretic. The leaves were used as a poultice. Cotton wood and Aspen leaf buds contain a sticky, aromatic resin that can be collected in the early spring an used in an oil based ointment for burns and skin irritations. It is popularly known as “Balm of Gilead”. The buds are soaked in olive oil for a week to extract constituents.

The Physicians Desk Reference for Herbal Medicine tells us:

Poplar buds have antiphlogistic antibacterial and wound healing effects Poplar bark and leaves have antiphlogistic, analgesic, antibacterial and spasmolytic effects. Unproven uses: Poplar bark and leaves are used for pain and rheumatism therapy an in micturition complaints due to prostate hypertrophy. Poplar leaf buds approved by Commission E: hemorrhoids, wounds and burns. Unproven uses: Poplar buds are used for frostbite and sunburn. Contraindications: contraindicated in cases of hypersensitivity to salicylate. No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages.





This article is an excerpt from The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: by Judson Carroll

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The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
 
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