Balsam salve ointment was an old favorite.
Certified Herbalist, Ernestina Parziale sent us this reply:
I suspect Marjorie's mother-in-law remembers a salve made from the resinous buds of American Poplar, a.k.a. Balm (or Balsam) of Gilead, or else one made from Balsam Pears. Native Americans used an ointment of poplar buds for wounds and old-time quilters concocted a quilter's salve for their fingers from Balsam Pears.
I give general instructions on my website (http://Earthnotes.tripod.com/ index, htm) on how to make salves and ointments, but for your purposes will try to be specific. I have updated the equipment needed from older more arduous methods.
Equipment needed: top of a stainless steel double boiler and an electric skillet, plus a cooking thermometer. Largemouthed jar or suitable container to hold salve.
Ingredients: 1 to 2 oz. poplar buds (available at herb stores locally or on-line) 4 to 6 oz. of olive oil (or enough to cover buds well) 3/4 oz. beeswax (or more if needed to set) The process is simple and lard can be substituted for the olive oil. In that case, the beeswax is unnecessary. Also, the recipe doesn't have to be this large. 1/2 oz. of buds with 2 to 3 oz. of oil will also give a fine product--just remember to reduce the beeswax to 1/2 to 1/4 oz. Buds are placed in the top of the double boiler and covered with oil. Set the pan in the center of the electric skillet with the thermometer clipped to the inside and resting in the oil. Place about 1/2 inch of water in the skillet to protect the finish (replenish if needed). Fiddle with the control of the electric skillet (halfway to "warm" setting is a good place to start). You want the oil to maintain an even temperature of 95 [degrees] F for 12 to 14 hours, or until the herbs look "used up." Strain out buds and return oil to double boiler and place back in skillet. Add beeswax and increase heat to 150 [degrees] F. As soon as the wax is melted, test a drop or two of the liquid salve in the bottom of your jar. It will set up in moments. Test for consistency. If suitable, pour the liquid into jar and allow to set up. If it isn't suitable, add more beeswax or a drop or two of oil as needed.
Since poplar buds have some preservative qualities, shelf life is long. How long, I can't be certain. It quite literally depends on the weather and climatic conditions and how well it is stored. All homemade herbal products should be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct light.
Another useful salve is made with lavender. At the end of the process, just before pouring it out, a small amount of tea tree oil is added and stirred into the product. This salve works well on skin complaints for dogs as well as humans since tea tree oil is bactericidal and fungicidal.
On poplar buds
The size of the buds are dependent on the poplar variety. They are picked in late winter or early spring before they open and are slightly resinous and aromatic. If you are just starting out, then get a good field guide and spend the summer learning how to identify the various types of poplar. When you are certain of the identification, mark that tree and come back to it in late winter or early spring. I don't recommend wildcrafting without a guide or some serious self-education on the subject.
Two books I can recommend are The Herb Book by John Lust and The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown. Also, Herbal Preparations and Their Natural Recipes by Debra Nuzzi is a video/book combo that might be in your library and, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.