Cottonwood Herbal Oil

by Jade Shutes


Populus balsamifera

This is one of my all time favorite resin buds to infuse. The infused oil smells incredible and is highly beneficial in salves, gels, or massage oils for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.  Can be used at a 10 – 25% dilution with other carrier oils such as jojoba or other herbal oils such as arnica or St. John’s wort.


Other common names: Balsam poplar
Botanical family: Salicaceae

Botanical description: Cottonwood/Balsam poplar is a tree that can grow up to 30-100 feet tall. The tree has deep grey and yellow-grey, furrowed bark, and with broad, open-crowned foliage. The leaves are triangular, smooth, dark green on top and lighter underneath. The winter/spring leaf buds are resinous, aromatic, and reddish brown wads of oily goo.44 It is a common tree throughout the Pacific NW. And due to winter storms, limbs are often found on the ground making harvesting much easier.

Part of plant used: Gently dried or fresh (needs to be dried over night to insure moisture has evaporated off particularly in moist climates such as the Pacific NW)

Harvest Time: Typically harvested during January and February. Gather when buds are still closed. Good to gather when it is cold as this will keep the resin hard. If gathered during warm weather, resin begins to exude from bud.

Active components: Cottonwood is rich in a soft balsamic resin, a yellow volatile oil, principally humulene; gallic acid, malic acid, salicin, populin, mannitol, chrysin, fixed oil, tectochrysin, arachidonic acid, trichocarpin, and bisabolol.45


Therapeutic benefits:
Cottonwood is rich in a balsamic resin which acts as a topical anti-inflammatory. It is specific for the muscular skeletal system as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory herbal oil.

Cottonwood herbal oil is indicated for:

  • Arthritic joints
  • Sprains, strains, hyper-extensions
  • Pain caused by inflammation
  • Pain and swelling

To Make:

1. Harvest the buds in late January or February (typically the wind or a storm will have blown cottonwood branches all over the ground, at least in WA state). You will know the buds are ready to be harvested when you can pinch them and the resin exudes.

2. After harvesting the buds, place them in a warm room over night to make sure all moisture is evaporated off.

3. Place buds in glass jar (a canning jar will do) and cover with organic virgin olive oil.

4. Label jar with “Cottonwood – Populus balsamifera in Org. Olive Oil” and Date Infusion begin. Then place in a warm sunny window. Let the oil infuse for 1-3 months. *I find with cottonwood, the longer, the better.

5. Once infusion is complete, strain oil through cheesecloth. *Can use herbal press.

6. Voila! The cottonwood oil is now ready for use.

You can also explore another method of making the infused oil by Michael Moore. It is in his book “Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West“.  I did try this one time and ended up with a bit of a mess so I personally prefer a ‘cold’ infusion such as above.

Sample Formulation with Cottonwood Oil
  • 0.5 ounce Cottonwood herbal oil
  • 1.5 ounce Sesame oil
  • 15 drops Turmeric e/o
  • 10 drops Clove bud
  • 15 drops Lavender