All things in life are born from earth. When the stars were created, they ran around beneath the soil looking for a root to be born from. They traveled underground until one day, they heard laughter and joyful voices near the river. They followed the happy noise to a stand of cottonwood trees, their roots thick and sturdy spreading in out in all directions. Delighted by what they heard, they went into the cottonwood roots, up the through the trunk of the tree and hid out in the knotty twigs. Soon all the stars began to come and hide out in the cottonwood twigs.
One evening, the spirit of the night noticed there were less and less stars in the sky. The spirit of the night called upon the spirit of the wind to help bring back the stars. The spirit of the wind knew the stars were hiding in the twigs of the cottonwood tree and so it created a mighty gale that would snap the branches from the trees. As the branches broke and fell to the ground, the stars shot out of the tree into the sky. To this day, if you break the twig of a cottonwood at just the right place, you will find a shadow where a star once hid.
Storytellers far and wide have held the attention of listeners with their own versions of how the cottonwood got its star for many generations. It is a many storied myth that both children and adults enjoy. With the snap of branch, the tree indeed reveals its stars. The enchantment is sealed and the full extent of her medicine begins to reveal itself as an ally of great depth.
I am an herbalist by trade, or so I’m told. I prefer plant philosopher or earthen storyteller. Something along those lines. You see for me, magic is in the connection I make with the plant not the product. I practice the Art of Noticing: deep listening and observation to the plant and her community. What is her story? Who are her neighbors? How is she telling her story through each of my senses?

I have my apothecary yes, but more healing takes place in an afternoon of collecting, noticing and crafting than any amount of potion I put in or on my body. The product serves as a reminder to trigger the sensory experience of that day. Every bottle of medicine is infused with the greater story of how the plant is here to connect us. Once upon a time, medicine people understood this to be an important part of healing. In the age of “there’s an herb for that,” we may do well to revive this part of our tradition in order to create a stronger bond with the medicine.
Cottonwood bud oil and salve is a wonderful multi-purpose healer. In my home we primarily use it for achy joints (carpal tunnel in my case) and burns. It can be made by gathering the twigs in late winter after lady wind has scattered them about the forest floor. Snap the buds full of resin from the twig and place them into a jar about ½ full. Fill to the top with olive oil, cover with cheesecloth and let infuse for a few weeks. It is a simple remedy to craft. However when you are gathering this year, don’t just make an oil. Before you return the left over twigs to the forest, have fun snapping those twigs. Make a wish as you break them open and send a few stars back to the sky. Consider their story and share it with us. I’d love to hear how you think the cottonwood got its star.
Latisha Guthrie, Mama. Nature girl. Plant philosopher. Joy junkie. Sensory herbalist. Rechilding my inner healer through ridiculous amounts of love, laughter and play.