“Spring is the mischief in me”. This is a quote by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a writer, storyteller doctor of Jungian psychology, teacher, and reminder to all of us about the beautiful and mystical side of life. If you haven’t read her work, or listened to her stories, and are into the meaning behind dreams and archetypal symbology in folk tales, I can tell you with enthusiasm that she’s the cream of the crop.
I love the simplicity and fun in that quote, and when I go into the woods on any given early spring day, when the sun is coaxing the moisture out of the ground and up into the warming air, tree sap is running and buds are beginning to grow, a green blush moves through the canopy of alders, the cottonwood comes alive with its intoxicating perfume, and I imagine the trees embodied as that quote.
The aroma of cottonwood wafts gently through the sunbeams and birdsong. It smells of newness and sticky mineral-rich liquid amber both peppery and sweet. I read somewhere that Cottonwood trees have been revered as spiritual conduits to some first peoples. Because they are so very tall, and reach way up high into the sky, they are close enough to touch the heavens, and send messages to the spirit world. If I couldn’t love cottonwood any more for it’s scent, its for this beautiful concept.
So, at first sign of spring, I go into the woods and under the giants to harvest the resinous buds from cottonwood windfall resulting from the winter storms. You know, it sometimes takes a while for a fallen branch to realize it’s no longer a part of the tree. It still contains the energy of life and will form buds in a glorious final attempt to show appreciation for the warming days, and the very cycle of the seasons. And this is all received graciously, like a gift, by me.
But not just me. The bees are also gifted these resinous buds as they wake up from their winter slumbers, and they cleverly use them to make propolis which is basically their own medicine and glue to help protect the hives. It probably goes without saying, “a friend of bees is a friend of me.”
So, I collect the buds in late March or early April, and my fingers turn brown and sticky. I bring my hands up to my face often to breathe in the invigorating sweet smell of the wetland woods, the fragrance of the sky and breezes of spring. It smells like my happy childhood out in the bush and the nostalgic energy that comes with days getting longer, and emergent growth all around. I can spend hours out there, communing with the birds and the bugs, all of us happily saying hello to each other, getting reacquainted after a long winter apart, tucked away each in our own little worlds.
Cottonwood buds make a really nice topical medicine. The thick red sticky resin in each bud is packed with antimicrobial properties, anti-oxidants, and contains a chemical compound called Salicin which is an anti-inflammatory also found in willow trees, and is the origin of aspirin. Mixed with oils and beeswax, this resin can be made into a salve often called “balm of Gilead”.
(I have made some salves which will soon be available for order here)