Aspen Trunk
Bear scratch on Populus tremuloides in Wyoming

Poplars, or Aspens, Populus grandidentata
and P. tremuloides

Family: Salicaceae, the Willow Family

Description: Native deciduous trees often growing in groves. Leaves of big-toothed aspen (P. grandidentata, below photo) are coarsely toothed, while the leaves of quaking aspen (P. tremuloides, above photo) are round and finely toothed. Star-shaped brown pith, leaf petioles flattened, young bark smooth, mature bark furrowed.

Abundance: Common

Habitat: Rocky soils, field and roadway edges

Plant Parts Used: Bark, buds

Medicine: Analgesic, antiseptic, de-worming, fever, colds, congestion, itchy eyes

Food: Survival food

The inner bark can be used as a survival food as it is not particularly tasty on a daily basis. However, the inner bark has many medicinal purposes. Poplar tea is pain-killing and treats fevers and colds. Deb uses the antiseptic qualities of quaking aspen, primarily the buds, for treating sore throats and walking pneumonia. She said that an infused oil is penetrating to achy muscles and joints and helpful for rubbing on the chest to relieve congestion. Poplar also helps with de-worming animals and humans. The Abnaki used an infusion of the bark of quaking aspen as a vermifuge. Quaking aspen can be used similarly to big-toothed aspen, but John told me that the ground bark of quaking aspen is particularly used to make a tea to dab on irritated or itchy eyes. Sue described big-toothed aspen as being more commonly used as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic, but Moerman writes more Native American uses of quaking aspen, including frequent use for bee stings, cuts, colds, and expelling worms. The powder that forms on the smooth bark of these trees can also be rubbed on the skin to serve as a sunscreen.

Aspen in snow
Populus tremuloides in Wyoming

Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.


  • Brooks, John. Personal Interview. 28 Nov. 2010.
  • Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
  • Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. Print.
  • Soule, Deb. Personal interview. 4 Feb. 2011.
  • Szwed, Sue. Personal interview. 12 Nov. 2010.