I have some cottonwood trees growing on my property, including one that is almost dead. This got me to wondering whether or not they had any good uses for preparedness. I have always considered them kind of worthless trees, but after a bit of research I have changed my mind.
While they are not good firewood, they burn poorly because they are so fibrous. But for many woodsmen, the cottonwood tree is a revered tree.
It is a good indicator of water. Their roots seek out water and you will normally be able to find water near where they grow. The dry fibrous inner bark of Cottonwood trees is great for tinder. Find dead branches, scrape off the bark, and crush the inner bark between your hands working those loose fibers. Before you know it, you will have a good bunch of tinder. These tinder bunches were also used to transport fire since they will smolder for long periods of time.
Many parts of the cottonwood tree are medicinal. A compound called salacin, which is found in the leaves, buds and bark of cottonwood is very similar to acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) which is found in White Willow trees. This has proved to be effective in lowering fevers and reducing inflammation and lessening pain.
The yellowish, sweet-smelling sticky sap of the cottonwood tree, also known as “balm of gilead”, has been used for centuries to treat many different skin troubles, such as small cuts, bruises, rashes and even minor burns.
The inner bark of cottonwoods can be eaten and was often used to feed horses.
In you find a dead or dying cottonwood you will often find a type of mushroom or fungus general referred to as conks growing on them. Dry conk was used to start or transport fire. By placing a burning ember in a hole in the conk, it would smolder all day allowing you to transport your fires. If you are short of matches or other fire starters, this can be very valuable.