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Cottonwood Leaf Meaning

What is the meaning of the aspen tree?

Aspen 'the shield tree' was seen as a tree of heros. The Greeks believed aspen had magical powers and protective qualities. In Greek mythology, poplar (aspen) leaves were worn by heros venturing into the underworld. The leaves were thought to have the power to pass freely between the worlds. Aspis, the aspen's Greek name, means 'shield' and amongst the Celts its lightweight wood was favoured for making shields. These shields were more than mere physical barriers between the warrior and his enemy. People thought the shields had magical qualities to safeguard the bearer from psychic as well as physical harm. 

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The protective nature of 'the shield tree' extended to the general population too. It was a popular choice of tree to plant close to a dwelling. Aspen was also said to be able to protect buried treasure. The Latin name for aspen is 'populs temula' meaning trembling poplar because the leaves of the aspen appear to tremble in the wind. In Celtic mythology this visual effect was said to be the tree communicating between this world and the next. 

The aspen, also known as poplar was associated with language, communication, the wind, endurance and resurrection. Crowns of aspen or poplar leaves have been found in ancient burial grounds thought to be there in order to aid the dead on their path to rebirth.

Aspen also symbolises family and growth. The aspen tree never grows alone. From the root system of one tree, aspen grows and spreads new stems, which further spread the root system. One tree can eventually spread to have several trunks, eventually creating entire colonies all sprouting from one tree. One aspen colony can continue spreading and growing for thousands of years. Each individual trunk lives for around 100 years. Symbolically, this was important to the Celts, who valued family connections and believed many trees contained the souls of their ancestors.

Because the root system is underground, aspen colonies are safe from fire. After the fire has burned over, the aspen can sprout again as their roots are preserved underground. After only a few years, an entire aspen colony can replenish itself. 

What are the uses of aspen leaves?

The bark and leaves of the tree are used to make medicine. Aspen is used in combination with other herbs for treating joint pain (rheumatism), prostate discomforts, back trouble (sciatica), nerve pain (neuralgia), and bladder problems. Aspen contains a chemical that is very similar to aspirin. This chemical, known as salicin, may help reduce swelling (inflammation).

The buds can be made into a salve to treat wounds and sore throats. An aspen leaf placed under the tongue is said to help you to be more eloquent with speech. The inner bark can be dried, ground into powder and used as a flour. This is normally mixed with other flours for making bread and can also be used as a thickener in soups. 

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Are aspen leaves poisonous?

In spring aspen leaves and buds are edible. There are possible toxic effects due to salicylates e.g. heartburn, tinnitus. Avoid with ulcers, stomach or peptic ulcers.

What are the health benefits of aspen?

The Bach Flower remedies recommend extract of aspen to treat fears and apprehensions. The bark can be used to treat fevers, UTI's and sexually transmitted diseases. 

American aspen has a long history of herbal use. It was widely employed medicinally by many native North American tribes who valued it especially for its antiseptic and analgesic qualities, using it in the treatment of wounds, skin complaints and respiratory disorders. It is used for the same purposes in modern herbalism. The stem bark is anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, nervine and stimulant. 

The bark contains salicylates, from which the proprietary medicine aspirin is derived. It is used internally in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, gout lower back pains, urinary complaints, digestive and liver disorders, debility, anorexia, also to reduce fevers and relieve the pain of menstrual cramps. 

Externally, the bark is used to treat chilblains, haemorrhoids, infected wounds and sprains. The bark is harvested from side branches or coppiced trees and dried for later use. An infusion of the inner bark is considered to be a remedy for coughs and an appetite stimulant, it is also used in the treatment of stomach pains, urinary ailments, VD, worms, colds and fevers. The root is poulticed and applied to cuts and wounds. A tea from the root bark is used as a treatment for excessive menstrual bleeding. The leaf buds are used as a salve for colds, coughs and irritated nostrils.

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What is aspen used for?

Aspen wood is very lightweight when dried, becoming especially buoyant and was a popular choice for oars and paddles. Its lightness also made it useful for surgical splints and wagon bottoms. Its softness and lightness, ideal for carving, is not suitable for use in buildings. Most of the practical uses for the wood of the aspen are quite modern. It is used for making paper and matches due to its low flammability and when heat treated it is an effective sauna interior.

What does aspen smell like?

A grove of aspen trees gives off a sharp, slightly dusty smell. 

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