Balsam Poplars Identification and uses

“The balsam poplars Populus sect. Tacamahaca are a group of about 10 species of poplars, indigenous to North America and eastern Asia, distinguished by the balsam scent of their buds, the whitish undersides of their leaves, and the leaf petiole being round (not flattened) in cross-section.” (Source: Wikipedia)

As you may already know, Balsam poplar trees are not a single species, as there are many different species of Balsam poplars that thrive throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Many Balsam poplars are endemic to North America, and are often used to complement garden landscapes. In the past, Native peoples of North America used Balsam poplars both for nourishment and medicinal purposes.

Temperate regions where winter temperatures do not fall below about -40 C.

Description/ Identification:
Deciduous trees with mature bark and large, fragrant buds. Flowers in tiny clusters, called catkins.

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Food Uses:
The inner bark is succulent and sweet , particularly when sap is running in the spring. The seeds are high in fat and protein and are commercially produced to this day.
The cambium, inner bark of the balsam poplar was very popular in native tribes. Hollows were sometimes made into the trunk to collect sap. The young catkins were eaten by some.

Medicinal uses:
The leaves can be applied to bruises and sores. The bark was believed to cure whooping cough and tuberculosis. Some tribes would boil the bark tea to make thick syrup, which could be used to make casts to support fractured bones.

Other Uses:
The balsam poplar is ideal for tipi fires, because of it does not crackle, and burns with clean smoke. In spring, buds could be mixed with animal blood to produce permanent black ink. Today, the balsam polar is farmed to produce pulp and paper products. It is ideal for farming because it grows at a very fast pace.

Balsam poplar tea should not be taken by pregnant women, Some sources report that the bark tea is slightly toxic. The bud resin may irritate sensitive skin. Balsam poplar resin can cause skin irritations and reactions in some people. Evergreen teas and fir needles should be taken in moderation. Pregnant women and people with kidney disorder should not take Balsam poplar tea. Remember that this article is no way is intended to offer medical advice; it is merely an interesting resource for those who would like to become more familiar with some useful plants.