As we move into
this season of glorious golden aspen trees, we might wonder about the history,
lore and uses of this plant, beautiful enough to cause one to take a long drive
into the Colorado mountains to be amazed.
the Latin name for Aspen, is a member of the Salicaceae (Willow)
Family, which includes cottonwood and poplar trees. The species name tremuloides means trembling, for its leaves flutter in the
slightest breeze. It also goes by the name White Poplar and Quaking Aspen.
Aspen has long
been used for food and medicine. The inner bark can be eaten as an emergency
food and is high in protein. (However, never girdle or cut all the way around a
tree, as the sap will be unable to rise and the plant can die.) The buds have
long been made into cough syrup. Aspen contains salicin and populin, which have
properties similar to aspirin in reducing fever, pain and inflammation. Native
Americans and American pioneers used Aspen bark tea medicinally in place of
quinine. Aspen is also one of the famous Bach flower remedies, where
two drops of the flower essence are taken to calm fears and anxiety of an
Aspen feeds at
least 500 animal species. Examples include: grouse who eat the winter buds and
moose who eat the foliage. Beavers use the branches to build dams.
The wood of
Quaking Aspen is used to make particleboard. The fibers of the bark can be used
to make paper. The wood does not
splinter easily, so it is used to make toys and popsicle sticks.
Aspen branches are
soaked in a stream to become flexible, then fashioned into sweat lodges. Aspen is used to decorate lawns
and provide shade.
Quaking Aspen is native to North
America. Aspens grow from sea level to timberline. They grow well in
mountainous regions where weather is cooler and water somewhat more abundant
and thrive in loose ground and rocky soil. The trees produce a nitrogen and
calcium abundant litter, which when decayed enables new vegetation to grow.
One mother Aspen
plant has resulting plants are exact clones of her, sharing identical
characteristics and a single root structure. One clonal colony from a single
male Aspen is named Pando, found in Utah and considered the heaviest and oldest
living organism weighing about six million kilograms and thought by some to be
about 80,000 years old. Aspens do produce seeds, but trees seldom grow from
them. Even when pollinated, the small seeds (about three million per pound) are
only viable a short time and lack a food storage capacity or protective coating.
Aspen is often the
first tree to grow back after a forest fire. Even though the
aboveground portion of the trees
may die in a wildfire, the roots, which are often protected from extreme temperatures
by the soil, will sprout new trees soon after a blaze. Aspens are medium to large sized trees with male and female flowers
occurring on separate trees in drooping catkins before leaves appear in spring.
The deciduous leaves are short, round, pointy, shiny and finely toothed. They are dark green with white veins
and attach alternately to the twigs. In autumn, the leaves turn a golden color
resembling gold coins, though sometimes red coloration is seen. The bark of the
Quaking Aspen has a distinctive white color. Aspen grows rapidly can and reach
50 to 100 feet.
Is there any thing you would like
to share about this tree that gets our attention every fall in Colorado?
Mars, a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, is a
nutritional consultant who has been working with Natural Medicine for
over forty years. She teaches Herbal Medicine at Naropa University,
Omega, Boulder College of Massage, and Bauman Holistic College of
Nutrition. She has a weekly local radio show called "Naturally" on KGNU
and a private practice. Brigitte is the author of twelve books,
including The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine, Beauty by Nature, Addiction Free Naturally, Healing Herbal Teas, and Rawsome!. Click here for more healthy living articles, raw food recipes, videos, workshops, books, and more at brigittemars.com.