Herbalists and foragers in the western part of the US are often writing about picking cottonwood buds for infusing in oil for a fragrant, healing salve also known as balm of gilead. We don't have those exact cottonwood trees in Maine but we have poplar trees which come from the same family as cottonwood: populus. I wanted to try making an infused oil from the buds of one of our native poplars. We have what we're pretty sure are quaking aspens (populus tremuloides) along the road on the southern edge of our property. Last Saturday I took a mason jar and snowshoed over to the trees.
The buds weren't that large and I didn't want to pick too many off any one branch on the trees. In all I probably picked just over a 1/4 cup.
I found the scent really light and pleasing, like the scent of woods and nature and late winter. Mike thought it smelled terrible.
I decided to use grapeseed oil to soak the buds in. I typically use olive oil but wanted the quaking aspen buds' fragrance (or stink, if you're Mike) to stand out and the olive oil I use for Ridge Pond Herbals has an assertive presence on its own. Grapeseed is an excellent oil for moisturizing. Its one drawback is that it has a slightly shorter shelf life compared to olive oil but it will still last a good year+ in a salve with naturally preserving beeswax (even longer if I use a bit of vitamin e). I left the buds to soak on the counter for a few days, then moved the jar into a water bath in the crockpot on low for a couple days to accelerate the infusing process and extract the goodness before the fresh buds started seriously fermenting. The finished oil is bottled up and waiting for use in salve. I should order a western herbalist's cottonwood salve and see if the smell is at all similar when I'm finished.