Cottonwood Herbal Oil

Cottonwood     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. johns wort.

rubbing resin

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:

bud resinI tend to make a cold infusion by harvesting the buds in late January or February (typically the wind or a storm has blown cottonwood branches all over the ground, at least in WA state).  After harvesting the buds, place them in a warm room over night to make sure all moisture has been evaporated off, then place buds in glass jar (a canning jar will do) and cover with organic virgin olive oil. Leave for up to one month or longer. Strain. Voila! 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.



  1. Even though I grew up in the Pacific NW and remember these all over the ground, I’ve never used Cottonwood before. Looking forward to trying it!

  2. Wow! What an amazing idea. I live on the East coast and sadly do not have this tree. BUT I have west coast buddies I can employ to get me some ;) Isn’t it great to refer to WWMMD and then realize you prefer your own method? I think its empowering!

  3. Isabel Pacheco says:

    Thank you for taking the time to educate the community! This is great info to have in hand. I am hoping to expand my knowledge in aromatherapy more and you are a great source.

  4. Teresa M. Winslow says:

    I would love to make this oil. Do you think it is too late this year?

    • Hi Teresa, It depends on how cold it has been. I have harvested in early March before but if the weather has been warm then it may be too late. Plan for next year!

  5. Deanna Norris says:

    I’ve got buds waiting for oil! I’m very excited as its my first time to make this.

  6. Kathy Provost says:

    I love the cottonwood resin! We have many trees on our property.

  7. Love your blog, wish i lived closer!

  8. Mollie Bednarek says:

    I would like to see what this smells like. Is the resin available for purchase? Would love to infuse some.

  9. Thanks for sharing, this oil is very poplar in my home as it is very helpful for me when I have over worked my joints, helps with the relief of arthritis pain and stiffness. The smell also warms my spirit. Mmmmm :)

  10. I am moving to VA next month so maybe someting i can think about for next year! Thank you

  11. I would love to find some of this to make an infused oil. I saw it used in a deodorant recipe and have yet to find it. Thanks for the info it looks wonderful!

  12. carrie vigoren says:

    We got the family involved in harvesting the cottonwood buds and they all enjoyed the smell! What an awesome way to connect with kids,and outdoors! I was surprised at the way the buds worked up quite a bubbling to overflowing ( about 10 days.) I won’t fill the jar quite so much next time. Any suggestions on what to use for straining?

    • Hello Carrie, Thank you for your email. With cotton buds being so resinous I tend just to gently pour out the oil, avoiding getting any material in the final product. Straining it through cheese cloth is quite the experience and too much is lost. So happy to hear that you had your family share in this experience. Beautiful memory and memory based association that shall last a life time!

  13. I’ve been making an amazing salve, I call God’s Gift to Gilead using Cottonwood blossoms as an infusion. I was confused though for a long time about which Balsam EO was known as The Healing Blam of Gilead until spending today studying Module 1 Part 3! Now I understand the Binomial name for this plant and have a greater enlightenment!!! Thanks Jade!!!

  14. I read somewhere that the longer you let the buds sit the better. So I infused the buds in organic olive oil since since last spring. My question is if there is no sign that it has gone bad is it still good to use? Thank you for your response.

    • Hi Lily, If there is no sign that the oil has gone off then yes, it would still be good. Herbal oils when stored well will last for a number of years. :-)

  15. Hi Jade,
    This post positively cracked me up, as we cottonwood blowing in our pool daily driving us crazy!! Who KNEW it had such beneficial qualities? I may have to wander down the block and around the corner and barter a bit with that tree’s owner……”Since we’ve been so kind as to allow your tree to trash, I mean blow it’s beautiful cottonwood into our pool at least ten houses away all summer long, I think it’s only befitting you let us harvest its droppings when the cool weather arrives.” Ha ha ha!!

  16. I have been trying to find the cottonwood buds, bc I want to make the oil and salve. I live in Pennsylvania. I found a woman on eBay selling the buds, she wants $140 for 16oz. I don’t have that kind of money. Can anyone help me? Thank you!

    • Hi Dina, Yikes! I would never pay that much plus the most important thing about the buds is you need to harvest and make a fresh infusion. Try and find someone who either sells the infused oil or look for cottonwood trees in your area. Shall ask around to see if there are suppliers of the infused oil. Warm regards, Jade

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