Aspen

Aspen trees are unique because an entire grove shares one root system, which stems from one parent tree. Find out more about this medicinally useful plant.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Aspen, quaking aspen
  • Scientific namePopulus tremuloides
  • Plant typeTree
  • Native regionNorth America
  • Main producer(s)United States of America
  • Main Economic UseTimber industry
Medicinal and Nutritional Information
  • Medicinal actionAnalgesic
  • Key constituentsSalicin, populin
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
Buying
  • Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores
Growing
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsBark
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions
Additional Information
  • Other usesPaper, Cosmetics, Timber
Aspen

Aspen trees, also commonly called "quaking" or "trembling" aspens, are deciduous trees that can grow up to 40 - 100 feet (12 - 30 m) in height. Aspen groves are unique because they consist of one huge organism, not individual trees. Quaking aspens are the most widely distributed tree species in North America. Since they can be found in nearly every state and most Canadian provinces, aspen trees have been used as both a timber source and a remedy to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cystitis, diarrhea, and the common cold by native populations since time immemorial. Nevertheless, they were not introduced to the rest of the world immediately after colonization, and did not appear in Europe until the 19th century.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnalgesic
  • Key constituentsSalicin, populin
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant

Health Benefits of Aspen

The anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antiseptic properties of aspen extract can be used in the following ways:

  • Relieving inflammatory pain
  • Soothing the symptoms of coughs and colds
  • Relieving headaches
  • Treating chronic skin conditions like eczema or acne
  • Speeding up the healing of frostbite

How It Works

The anti-inflammatory and antiseptic action of aspen bark extract is produced by salicin, a compound that is chemically similar to the active ingredient of aspirin. Salicin can inhibit cytokines, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins, three body-produced hormones that cause the pain, throbbing, or redness related to inflammatory processes. Experts believe that salicin is stored in aspen bark as a natural defense against parasites and other infestations, since its astringent qualities keep them away. The medicinal properties of aspen trees is additionally supported by the unique mixture of tannins, triterpenes, and other compounds found in their bark extract. Aspen buds also contain a high amount of flavonoids, while the leaves and twigs contain insoluble fiber.

Salicin is metabolized by the liver into salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.

Aspen Cautions

Those with an allergy to aspirin must avoid aspen preparations.

How to Consume Aspen

Main preparations: Decoctions, ointment

The bark of the aspen tree is used medicinally thanks to its salicin content, similar to willow. On occasion, the leaves may be combined with the bark. Aspen preparations are homemade, so they are not standardized.

  • Decoctions. An aspen decoction can be brewed from about one to four grams of bark steeped in a cup of water. Because the bark is tougher than leaves or flowers, it will need to steep longer than an infusion.
  • Ointment. Aspen ointment is used for topical applications, such as on sunburns. The tree's buds are often added to the ointment to thicken it.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores

Aspen is available to buy in its original tree form at any local nursery or through online carriers. Aspen bark extract is popularly used in skin care products and can be found in cosmetic stores. Though uncommon, aspen extract, ointment, and tablets are also available and can be purchased in specialty nutrition shops and online retailers.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsBark
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions

Growing aspens can be tricky because their root system requires a lot of room to grow and branch out. They grow laterally, so a large, open space is ideal for an aspen grove. Aspens prefer cool, relatively dry summers with lots of sun and winters with abundant snow to keep the soil moist. They adapt to many different environments and altitudes, but are sensitive to extreme heat.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesPaper, Cosmetics, Timber

Plant Biology

Classification

Aspen, or Populus tremuloides, is a member of the willow family, Salicaceae. Aspens are characterized by their smooth, white bark with black scars where lower branches have naturally self-pruned. Leaves are small and oval, almost heart-shaped, and are attached by long stalks called petioles. The long petioles allow the leaves to quiver in the wind, giving them their common name. The leaves change from green to golden and sometimes bright red in the fall.

Varieties and Subspecies of Aspen

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, extensive genetic and morphological variations exist within the range of the aspen tree. A number of subspecies and varieties have been described, but none are currently recognized.

Economic Data

Aspens are widely used in the timber industry to make pallets, crates, paper, pulpwood, and playgrounds. It is highly valuable for shipping purposes (i.e., crates, boxes, packing) because of its light weight and strength. It is widely preferred for making playgrounds because it does not splinter easily. In 2012, global industrial aspen production amounted to 1.7 billion cubic meters, with the United States and Canada leading production. The U.S. is by far the largest producer in the world, with 321 million cubic meters in 2012.

Other Uses

Aspen trees have been used for thousands of years for shelter and medicinal purposes. Today, they are mainly used in the timber industry. Aspen wood is lightweight and strong, so it is popular for making shipping boxes, plywood, and furniture. Other uses include animal bedding, fence posts, siding, shavings to pack produce, and paper. Its strong pulp is inexpensive, easy to peel, and it bleaches well, so it is a popular choice for paper production. Aspen bark extract is also an ingredient in cosmetics, like skin creams.

Bibliography

DISCLAIMER: The information provided is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician. Information contained in HerbaZest.com is based on pharmacological records, scientific research, traditional knowledge and historical data, both old and modern. HerbaZest.com cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the information provided.