The tree commonly known as quaking aspen is a member of the poplar family that also includes willows and cottonwoods. Aspens are widely found across North America. They are one of the dominant tree species in what is known as the Montaine Lifezone, which is generally found at elevations of 7,000 to 9,500 feet in Colorado. They aggressively colonize burned and cleared areas, most often reproducing by sending up shoots from their root system. When standing in an Aspen grove, you are not looking at individual trees but instead are looking at one single plant that shoots up from the root system and are genetically identical. In fact, the largest living organism on our planet is an Aspen grove. Aspens are easily identifiable by their smooth, white bark, and unique leaves.
As a food supply, aspens can provide you with a bit of energy. Though bitter, the inner bark can be peeled and eaten. This layer is the food transportation network for the tree, so it contains a fair amount of sugar.
The white powder found on the outside of the tree contains a good quantity of naturally occurring yeast. A sourdough bread mix kicked off with this powder will add some leavening and a great flavor to bread, pancakes, and other baked goods. Try scraping off a few teaspoonfuls, and add it to a soupy mix of flour and water. Throw in a tablespoon of sugar for good measure and wait a few days, stirring each day. The mix should begin to foam and smell "yeasty." Once this has occurred, add a portion of the mix to a bread dough recipe, replacing what you remove to perpetuate the starter. The poplar family is well known for its medicinal qualities. The leaves, buds, and inner bark of all the poplars contain varying amounts of populin and salicin. These chemicals add up to a natural form of our synthesized aspirin. The inner bark or leaves may be steeped in water for a pain-relieving tea. In addition, the buds may be placed in a jar with olive oil to make a soothing salve for skin irritations and abrasions. The white powder found on the outer bark makes a good emergency sunscreen.
In addition to being a food and medicine source, Aspen have a great variety of other uses such as the use with a bow drill, making of wooden bowls and eating utensils, shelters and more.