How to make ‘Balm Of Gilead’ by Jade Bisson

Adventures In Medicine Making

Populus trichocarpa

Populus trichocarpa

G’day Adventurers! Walking through the forest at this time of year can be a bit bland….Not much to eat other than the soup de jour: cream of lichen and twig! Hmmmm, that sounds great, but I think I’d rather make some beautiful sore muscle rub with some resinous tree buds! ENTER: Populus trichocarpa aka poplar, cottonwood, aspen or balsam tree. Any tree from the genus populus will work, however Populus trichocarpa or the Black Cottonwood tree is best for its large resinous buds. I’ve had a hard time locating a stand of black cottonwood trees in my area, so today I picked from a type of poplar tree that I have yet to identify!

Populus trichocarpa

Populus trichocarpa

Usually it is a huge no-no in the foraging world to pick something un-identified! However, being positive that it was some type of poplar tree, I was A-OK to forage. Genus populus is a sub group belonging to the Salicaceae family, the same family as another medicinal plant, the great Willow tree. You’ll find them in riparian and wetland areas as they thrive off of the readily available nutrients that riverbanks and floodplains have to offer. Black cottonwoods tend to thrive further south on the west coast of B.C, whereas Balsam poplars like it further north, from the upper Stikine and over east to the Rockies. You’ll find some hybridized versions of these two types where their ranges overlap.

They shed their oval-y wedge shaped leaves every fall, so pick out your stand in the spring, as you cannot miss the cotton like hairs that float around like snow at this time of year. Poplars are the underdog of the tree world. Their ability to grow very big, very fast has resulted in plantations of hybridized poplars for the manufacturing of….womp, womp, womp, paper! Oh, and chopsticks, matches and the boxes in which camembert cheese is sold in.

Populus trichocarpa

Populus trichocarpa

If only the world knew of its significant anti-infectant and pain relieving properties that it has to offer! The best time to collect the resinous buds is right before they bust open, which on the coast, is January and February! I went out after a big windstorm and picked off of fallen branches. This is the easiest way to collect the buds, as the trees are so tall that you would have to lug a ladder with you to reach anything. After collecting a whack of branches, I brought them home, and, with some help from a two year old, we picked all the healthy buds off and put them in a bowl, leaving any moldy or black looking ones out.

Now, there are a couple of methods to extract the resins. The easiest, tried and true method that I have found is to place the buds in a mason jar and cover with virgin olive oil, cap with a cloth and elastic band, then, make sure to stir the buds everyday UNTIL they all sink below the olive oil. This is important, otherwise the buds will get moldy and your batch of oil will smell like compost! Let it sit for months or a year, the longer the stronger. There are a few other methods that use heat to extract even more resin , however, they are more time consuming and require heating for long periods of time.

Populus trichocarpa

Populus trichocarpa

Once your buds have been macerated over a few weeks or months, you will carefully pour off the oil from the buds and put it in a separate container. Gently press the buds in the original jar to release any left over oil, put this in yet another container to use this for massage oil, as it will rancidify more quickly than the salve that you are about to make! With your separated jar of poplar bud oil you can measure out the same amount of beeswax shavings (1:1 ratio by volume). Melt down the beeswax in a double boiler, then add the poplar oil, mix until everything is melted, pour in a jar, cool, seal and label!

Balm of Gilead

Balm of Gilead

You now hold some magical tree medicine to rub on sore muscles and to help heal cuts and scrapes. In other words, the salve in which you have just made has active ingredients called salicin and populin, which are the same anti-inflammatory and pain reliving properties that the drug Aspirin has. It also heals all kinds of skin irritations, from sunburns to eczema! A truly indispensable item for your first aid kit!

There you have it, good job! I have long since called this salve; ‘Balm Of Gilead’, however, since writing this article, I have learned that true balm of gilead, which is mentioned about six times in the bible for being a place near Egypt and also a healing substance, can only be made from the resin of the Myrrh shrub, which is a totally un-related species to poplar. I still like to call it balm of gilead, but you can call it whatever you like!!! Thanks for tuning in….til next time!

PS Here are some links to check out a more in-depth look at Populus trichocarpa and its uses.

A Toxic Plant With A Purpose (Sambucus caerulea) by Jade Bisson

Blue Elderberry.jpg

Hello fellow readers! I've got a special native species in store for you today; Sambucus caerulea, also called Blue Elder or Blue Elderberry. Maybe you've heard of Elder berry syrup, wine or Elder flower water? Did you ever think that you could make these products all on your own by harvesting the fruits of a near by tree? Well, you can! Isn't life grand? All you have to do is locate one of these beauties and wait for the right season to arrive. To start, you should know that this species of blue Elder berry (there are a few others*) like to live east of the Cascade Mountains, from southern B.C to western Montana and south to California and New Mexico. They love the rich soils of a valley or stream bank. In B.C they like to establish themselves somewhere that is drier and more open rather than in the forest. The tree itself is a deciduous shrub growing up to 20 feet in height. The leaves are lance shaped and about 2 to five inches long, an unassuming plant for sure!

HIstorically, Sambucus caerulea berries were cultivated by many indigenous groups to make a jam-like product. Sometimes the berries and twigs were used to dye stems for basketry. The bark of the Elder tree was important in the construction of arrow shafts and musical instruments for ceremonies. Medicinally, Elder flower syrup is an amazing formula for colds, flu and upper respiratory infections. Both the flowers and the berries made in to a tea will induce sweating and break a fever. A very powerful plant!


So, this coming September, get your baskets ready and pick yourself some Elder berries! They will be out until October and are dark blue with a whitish, wax coating, almost like grapes. I should also mention that the plant is toxic when ingested, EXCEPT for the berries** and flowers. How can that be?! Nature is so tricky! You should also remember where your tree is so you can go back in the spring and collect the beautiful creamy-white flowers.

If you want to make a delicious herbal cold remedy that dates back centuries, follow this recipe by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar:

Elderberry Syrup


1 cup fresh elderberries (1/2 if dried, but make sure it is from a reliable source)

3 cups of water

1 cup of your local honey

1. Place the berries in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer over low hear for 30 to 45 minutes.

2. Smash the berries. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and add 1 cup of honey, or adjust to taste.

3. Bottle the syrup and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 2 to 3 months.

CAUTION: Use only blue elderberries; the red ones are potentially toxic if eaten in large quantities. Never eat elder berries that haven't been cooked first.

*There are a few other species of Elder that are common in the PNW. One is a european species with blue-purple berries (Sambucus nigra), which is also medicinal. Another is the ubiquitous Red Elderberry shrub (Sambucus racemosa), whose bright red berries can be poisonous in large doses (although I have heard that they are also highly medicinal....). In this article, I am specifically talking about Sambucus caerulea, our native Blue Elder shrub with waxy blue berries, however Sambucus nigra, the european species that also grows in our area can be substituted.

**When consuming the berries, make sure never eat the seeds. Always cook and strain the berries as they can also be toxic.


April Showers Brings Big Leaf Maple Blossoms (Acer macrophyllum) by Jade Bisson


Howdy Adventurers!

Spring has sproinged! And what a beautiful spring it has been in the PNW. I don't know about you, but this past winter reminded me of a black and white movie! While I do love old cinema, I really enjoy a splash of color every once in a while. There is no season other than spring where things are at their greenest. The newly emerging grass, the bright shades of moss, fresh seedlings sprouting everywhere you look....And if you look way up...Way, way up...Up to one of the tallest trees in our coastal forests and you will see the most brilliant shade of green dangling against a bright blue sky. Can you see them? Ok, incase you are inside sitting at your computer while reading this, (caught you!) I am talking about Big Leaf Maple tree Blossoms! Whhhaaaaa? Maple trees have blossoms? Yes! And you can eat them? Yes! And maple trees have many more uses other than just furniture and syrup?!? Yes! 


Ok, but lets focus on the now. As in April. Like I said, these maple blossoms are everywhere right now! If you want to get all techy, the term 'raceme' is used for the actual shoot of flowers that protrude from it's protective red sheath that connects to the branch (you'll see what I am talking about when you go picking!). Big Leaf Maples are tall! To pick the racemes, you'll have to find a latter or a shorter tree. I picked a few up after a wind storm, but had to soak them in water to get the bugs out! Fresh off the tree is best. Look for compact flower clusters that haven't fully bloomed yet. That way you won't get any older flowers, which turn quite fibrous. When you have enough collected, you can steam or eat them fresh. But seriously, you should just deep fry them!!! Mix a simple batter, heat up your cast iron pan, grab some high heat healthy cooking oil (preferably animal tallow or some types of coconut oil) and fry away! Here is a fool-proof recipe for maple blossom fritters and also one for maple blossom mint pesto: RECIPE


Finding a native maple tree is relatively easy if you live in southwestern B.C. They can get up to 36 meters full grown! They thrive in moist soils (most soils around here) and commonly grow alongside alders, cottonwoods, Douglas-firs, cedars and hemlocks. So, if you are looking at a forest in this part of the globe, you are sure to see a couple of maples. If you are STILL unsure.... look for trees with grey-ish brown bark usually draped in mosses, think Florida bayou style. And of course, at this time of year, you should be seeing beautiful florescent green blossoms dangling off it's leaf-less branches! Have fun collecting, and adios for now!

Finding Fibert (Corylus avellana) by Jade Bisson

Corylus avellana.

Corylus avellana.

Greetings! Thank you kind weather gods for this long, warm, dry fall! It is disgustingly perfect for collecting deliciously ripe edibles and being able to store them properly for winter. At this time of year, I like to look to my friends the squirrels for inspiration. These guys are pro-foragers and "storagers", as I like to call them. They know cold is coming and that now is the time to collect and save for thinner times. They know what's up! I should be more like a squirrel, really. 

Well today, the squirrel inside me stirred while I scavenged a near-by hazelnut tree for fallen fruit. Corylus avellana, the common Hazel, is not technically a 'wild' edible, but is so omnipresent that you can find them 'in the wild' on abandon homesteads or public parks, (note: we are not advertising trespassing here!). Many Hazel shrubs were planted as hedgerows to mark the boundary of a farm or property, which is why they are pretty common in all types of vegetation zones. Not to mention their wood is useful for fencing FULL STORY.

Johnny Jumpers / Viola pensylvanica by Jade Bisson

Hola Adventurers!

A beautiful Johnny Jumper!It's Spring! Whoop, whoop! Forget those roots and twigs you were foraging for this winter. It is that time of year again when abundance returns to the land and collecting edibles is such a joy. With so many choices, where do you start?!?Lots of Johnny Jumpers! Here is one beauty to look for: Viola pensylvanica, a member of the violaceae family, or more commonly known as, violets. These young guns are wild though. There are over 800 or so species in the genera, so imma just stick with these yellow ones I found in the meadow behind my house. You really can't miss 'em. Johnny Jumpers.They are one of the first colors to emerge from the dark forest floor. With heart-shaped green leaves and little yellow petaled flowers, how could you not pick a few? Pay attention when walking through a shaded meadow or on the edge of a forest. The plants can grow from 1-12 inches, producing a single yellow flower with 5 petals (3 lower, 2 side) rising above a carpet of heart-shaped leaves with sharp tips. This species spreads by rhizomes, so you will find them growing in dense clumps. I have yet to find a source which confirms the leaves as edible, so stick to eating the flowers only.Johnny Jumper.  A fun fact that I ran in to is that the flowers are the larval host and/or nectar source for the silver-bordered butterfly. I know, right! So don't pick all of the flowers, leave some for the larvae! So, in conclusion, you definitely CAN'T make a meal out of violets, but you CAN impress your friends by adding them to a dish you've made. Pretty up that bowl of wieners and beans that you made for your girlfriend by adding some edible wild violets, she'll thank you for it!!! Adios for now!