Botanical and Common Names
- Family Salicaceae
- Populus species
- Populus alba (White Poplar, Silver-leaved/Silverleaf Poplar, Trembling Aspen)
- Populus nigra (Black Poplar)
- Populus tremuloides (Quaking Aspen)
- Populus x candicans syn. P. gileadensis (Balm of Gilead, Balsam Poplar, Mecca Balsam, Tacamahack)
- Do not use if sensitive to aspirin.
The poplars are deciduous trees, growing to seventy or eighty feet, producing heart-shaped or oval leaves and sticky, resinous buds. There are both European and North American varieties which are now naturalized in many areas of the world. The buds and the bark are collected in spring for medicinal use.
The Balm of Gilead is a small shrub that grows profusely in certain areas of the Middle East, especially around Mecca. It has been used for several thousand years to soothe inflamed and irritated skin. The ancient Arabian physicians, Mesu, Rhazes, and Avicenna were highly impressed with its medicinal qualities.
Despite claims to the contrary, there is little evidence to support the idea that P. candicans is the Balm of Gilead mentioned in the Bible. In fact, a far more likely candidate is Pistacia lentiscus as its buds are collected in late winter for medicinal purposes.
In the 17th century, Nicolas Culpeper recorded remedies for wounds and fevers, as well as its ability to dry up the milk after weaning; but this has never proven to be effective.
The Quaking Aspen received its name from the way the leaves quiver in the wind.
The Ojibwa people of North America used an oily compound made from bear fat and quaking aspen to treat earache. Other Native Americans used the bark for diverse purposes, including a wash for sore eyes.
The natural antibiotic nature of the Balm of Gilead resin is sought by bees and used in the construction of their hives.
(a) Poplar species
- antiphlogistic (takes down fevers)
(b) Balm of Gilead
(c) Quaking Aspen
- glycosides and esters yielding salicylic acid
- flavonoids (leaf buds)
- volatile oil (leaf buds)
- Bark, buds
Balm of Gilead is a common ingredient in cough mixtures and is often used for sore throats, dry irritable coughs, bronchitits, and other respiratory ailments which research is confirming. The volatile oils are readily absorbed through the skin and have an antibiotic and febrifuge effect, making it an ideal remedy for chest infections. The duration of colds and some strains of flu are shortened with the application of the ointment or lotion to the chest area.
In France and Germany, Balm of Gilead is applied as salves to scrapes, small wounds, chapped and itchy skin. sunburn, chilblains, and hemorrhoids.
A preparation applied externally may also help relieve the pain of rheumatic joints and strained muscles. It can also be used in treating chronic skin ulcers and other infected wounds and is thought to be superior to the turpentines for its antiseptic properties.
Like willow bark, poplar bark has long been used as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, especially when treating arthritis and rheumatism. It is also employed in reducing fevers.
Being a stimulant, the quaking aspen acts as a tonic remedy in the treatment of anorexia and other debilitated states. Its astringent properties make it a good remedy for diarrhea and symptoms of irritable bowel. It is also used to treat urinary tract infections.
The poplar bark and leaves have been used in treating prostate enlargement.
The buds are used for superficial skin injuries, external hemorrhoids, frostbite, and sunburn.