SALICACEAE Populus tremula
The alternating, almost circular leaves possess bluntly toothed or wavy borders and emphatically sideways-flattened petioles, which tremble in the least breeze: they adorn a small deciduous tree with flat bark – at the onset yellowish but then developing darkish grey highlights.
The female blooms have purple stigmas. The flowers unfold before the leaves emerge. The fruit is a capsule which releases seeds with a white pappus.
The slightly sticky buds are sturdily oval. Aspen is dioecious with separate male and female catkins, that have purple hairy bracts.
Aspen and the archaic version, Asp, are taken from the Anglo-Saxon name aespetoithe tree. The word ‘asp’ was sometimes utilized to indicate tremulous, after the shaking leaves. The particular epithet also identifies this distinctive attribute of the tree.
Other than on the Continent, Aspen is not widely used in herbal medicine. A better-known resinous product from poplar buds is balm of Gilead, which is produced by the tree referred to as Balm of Gilead (P. gileadensis or P. candicans), from Balsam Poplar (P. balsamifera) or American Aspen (P. tremuloides).
Balm of Gilead is likewise gathered from a North American fir (Abies balsamea). The true balm of Gilead is, however, the resin of tropical bushes or small trees of the genus Commiphora.
Externally compresses, bathtub formulations and treatment-creams are used for haemorrhoids and management of burns. Preparations from fresh leaves are employed in homeopathy.
The leaf buds, sometimes the young bark and the leaves of Aspen, are all employed medicinally. Like the buds of Black Poplar (P.nigra), Aspen buds include an essential oil, bitter compounds, salicin and populin.
Such ingredients provide Aspen powerful diuretic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties and the buds are used in an infusion for gout and rheumatism as well as for problems of the urinary tract and enlarged prostate gland.
Aspen grows all over Europe including the British Isles, in open woods, notably on poorer soils. It is also regularly placed in home gardens and avenues.
Flowering time: February to March. (Northern Hemisphere)