Cottonwood buds are usually the first harvest of Spring. In Oregon in February when the sap first starts flowing and the big winds blow branches break off the big trees and litter the forest floor. This year I harvested the sweet, sappy buds in December!
On a balmy winter day I was out for a little stroll to one of my favorite, secret hills. Mt. Talbert in the fine town of Happy Valley is tucked away behind a freeway and retirement center. It is actually an amazing wildlife refuge and a unique area where the oak savanna is being restored. A loop around the mountain leads across a little stream, past the ancient Elder, through a dense Cedar forest, around the Oak savannah and a back via a Doug Fir forest. A fabulous variety for such a small area. Since dogs are rare there and people too birds are easier to see and I have lots of space to dream.
I have been keeping an eye out at the leaf less trees to practice my ability to identify them by shape. Maple, Oak, Red Alder. Who is who in their winter coat?
The surprise harvest occurred as I was just about to leave. Heading through the parking lot I spied a big tree. I walked closer to see if perhaps it was an oak. Clearly my identification skills have further to go. Because all around the base, hanging from the Rhododendron bushes, were huge, bud filled Cottonwood branches. I was shocked and delighted and started to stuff my pockets with buds. Hoping not to look suspicious to the folks visiting the retirement center.
After a few moments I got re-centered and a little more sensible. I stopped by my car for a paper bag. Cottonwood resin is notoriously hard to get out of pockets and anywhere else it ends up. I returned to the tree with some offerings of other herbs and slowly proceeded to dismantle the branches. I realized that no one was really going to be that upset if I broke some bits off of downed branches just outside the nature preserve. And really I was tidying up the area.
In the end I had over a pound of buds and didn’t come close to taking all that was there. Who knew, sometimes Spring comes extra early. Now it’s time to make some medicine.