( Cottonwood buds, oozing with this propolis like resin are at an ideal stage for harvest )
My deepest and oldest plant relationships lie with the trees. Growing up I was always drawn to the white pine that dappled the woods by my house. It might have been the whirled branches, that made these tree giants easier to climb, or the smell and look of the pitch that intrigued me, but from an early age I felt a protection and grounding emit off of these trees, a feeling I still feel today.
At home we tap our Maples, which is a great, reliable indicator that the trees are beginning to wake up. The sap which is essentially water and nutrients begins to flow up from the roots, up towards the branches waking the trees up from dormancy. Once the sap begins to flow come late winter, I begin to look up at the branches of trees like cherry, black birch, cottonwood, and alder to see for signs of life in the trees.
The art of tree medicine or gemmotherapy is wild, ancient, and mysterious. Typically one harvests the buds and inner bark during the late winter and early spring. One of my teachers of tree medicine said that in order to harvest the buds at max potency, a relationship must be established. I truly believe in this idea, depending on the weather, a bud that was just forming can expand and open rapidly. Come late winter, I will often walk my usual spots on a daily basis looking for the ideal time to harvest. The best visual I can give is likened to a baby being born. There is a moment, right before the baby is born called crowning, it is the time where the baby’s head is starting to emerge, yet there body is still in the womb. It is a powerful and potent moment, somewhere between birth and life. This is when you ideally want to harvest tree buds, when the buds are opening, but not fully open. Of course, a tree like Cottonwood, which is known for dropping branches filled with buds in varying stages is a ground score no one will scoff at. As an herbalist, you will take what you can get, but it is nonetheless exciting to begin to practice observing a tree bud and bloom. For me this work never gets old, it simultaneously feels exciting and forbidden.
Once spring really begins to bloom, there are rootlets, very young shoots, leaves, and flowers of trees that are edible, medicinal, and used for basket making and such that can be harvested. But for now, let us walk the woods still bare and stark and bask in mud season!