Balm of Gilead

I have some real treasures for friends in my life.  Sometimes, we may be lucky enough to run across a friend who completes something we are missing in our own lives.  My friend Julie is one of these, and I thought of her often as I gathered cottonwood buds in the park on a crispy day in March.

We have a lot in common, and a visit with Julie and her lovely husband is a relaxing treat of comfort, conversation, and laughter.  As we chat and exchange ideas, I often reflect on how much I am influenced not just by what we have in common, but by our differences.  Her home is a welcome haven that reflects her style, filled with delightful things, from the willow she gathers for baskets to strange seeds, thorns, and bones she has collected (and delightful is a word she uses often).  I admire how in tune she is with her environment and the seasons.

Her joy in all things natural is reflected in the art she makes, in soft muted tones of the earth and things growing from it.  My work is often a riot of color and texture that sometimes seems representative of my life, lived at a frantic, no-holds-barred pace as I divide my time between my art, my family, and my community.  Julie reminds me to slow down, look at things a little longer, hold them in my hands, really feel them.

This year, I thought I would try making some of her glorious healing balm, which does wonders for my beat-up hands (and smells delicious, as well).  The process starts when she makes Balm of Gilead in February, progresses through a season of gathering various plants, and ends when she makes enough balm in the fall for herself and a few lucky friends. It embodies so many things I love about Julie.

So, here I am in the cottonwood grove, immersed in my most favorite fragrance on earth.  Nothing beats the smell of a cottonwood grove in the spring after a fresh rain. I think of Julie as I pick the fat, resinous buds from branches that fell in the recent windstorm.  My fingers are black, and they smell amazing.  I think about the Balm of Gilead, the balm of friendship, and the nettles to come up in a few weeks.  And I am thankful I live here and that I am lucky enough to have friends that complete my soul.

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4 Comments

Filed under Life, Plants and Nature

4 responses to “Balm of Gilead

  1. Kelly

    Lisa, this is lovely! Where are the cottonwoods? Did you pick these on the island?

    • fibreisle

      Hi Kelly,

      While there are cottonwoods on the island, I picked these off windfall branches in the lovely old grove near Lion’s Park along the Skagit River in Mount Vernon. I have no idea what the final recipe is for Julie’s balm (I’m just following her lead, and that’s sort of her secret anyway). To make Balm of Gilead, you pick the buds in the early spring before they pop, when they are full of that resin we smell at this time of year. Put them in a jar you don’t care about and cover them in olive oil and let them soak. You might need to stir them every day or two at the beginning, because they float for a while. Jjulie warned me to cap the jar in cheesecloth and not a lid, because they swell and bubble while they’re in there at the beginning. They can soak in there for months before you strain them out, and the olive oil will be infused with the resin. Already, mine smells heavenly and I can put a little in my bath, but I’ll keep them in there until November when I assemble all the ingredients I’m collecting.

  2. Barb Noonan

    The fragrance of cottonwood is magical every spring. I’m immediately transported to SE Alaska, the first memory of where I enjoyed this scent.

    As I was going to my car last Saturday in Skagit Valley, I tilted my head up with joy as I inhaled the rich perfume of spring. I never knew you could make a balm. But you know what…. you can create anything! I’ve seen your creative side at work.

    Lovely writing…
    Barb

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