I remember my first Northwest spring. Every walk became a search for the source of a mysterious and captivating scent, my nose in the air and my eyes scanning the greenery instead of watching where I walked, with sometimes unfortunate results.
That scent has become a much-loved sign of spring for me. I now know what it is and have added it the farm bouquets for Friday, along with double tulips, anemones, ranunculus and daffodils. Happy Spring!
I cut the branches four weeks ago and forced the shiny, slightly sticky apple-green leaves in the greenhouse so we could enjoy them as early as possible. The shine is a wonderfully fragrant resin known as ‘Balm of Gilead.’ Those of you collecting this week’s bouquet at our farm-stand or Fiddlers Coffee will pass many wild trees of the source, commonly called black cottonwood.
I coppice a few cottonwoods on our farm so they make thin branches, nice for bouquets and within easy reach – black cottonwood usually grow up to 100 feet tall. The clean, sweet smell of Balm of Gilead is said to travel 100 yards, scenting the whole Northwest in April.
Balm of Gilead is used in everything from perfume and cosmetics to ink and other industrial applications. It is said to have analgesic, antiseptic and sedative properties, and it’s a key ingredient in propolis, those little orange superfood granules that bees make.
Black cottonwood buds for home use can be purchased on Etsy for $7 an ounce, but Northwesterners can collect our own, once we track down a tree. Check out http://wildfoodsandmedicines.com/test-post/ for a neat blog post about making and using Balm of Gilead salve.
Enjoy the smells of spring everybody – lots more flowers to come!