Tree of the Month – Balsam Poplar

The Balsam Poplar is a moisture-loving tree that lives in river valleys, from the Red Deer River north to the Sheep River in the south. These water storing trees, like all leaf-bearing trees, form the buds for their spring leaves in the fall.

The buds overwinter and from February 2nd (the Celtic marker of the seasons called Imbolc), to mid-April, the buds can be harvested to make a wonderful ointment or salve, that is great for strains, sprains, bruising, light cuts, sunburn and dry skin. (see Balm of Gilead recipe here)

The buds are also food for Deer and Elk in winter and early spring before the grass shoots come up.

Harvesting the Buds

Since the buds are the leaves of the tree, you want to leave enough buds on the tree to nourish the root for another season and to become the spring leaves.  A general rule for harvesting balsam buds is:  never take the terminal bud, as this bud represents the new main branch.  The terminal bud is typically located at the end of the stem.



Some things to keep in mind when you harvest:

  • Of the buds along the sides of the branches, only remove 1/3rd.
  • Don't harvest from a tree that has already been harvested from - including those buds eaten by ungulates.  Overharvesting will kill the young trees.  Leave some for other animals too.
  • Only harvest on land that you own or land where you have permission to harvest.
  • Make positive identification of the tree.
  • Use what you take.

If you find a downed tree, either by wind or a beaver or other natural causes, and it has buds on it, take 1/3 since the buds are low down.  Keep in mind these are easy food for the rabbits, deer, beaver and other plant-eating animals too.

Did you know?

The cousin of the Balsam Poplar, Trembling Aspen is under threat in Alberta?  (read more - external website)