By Willow (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Salix spp.-Willow

Family: Salicaceae

Other names: White Willow, European Willow

Habitat: Europe, including Britain, from Norway south and east to N. Africa, Siberia, Himalayas, Israel.By streams and rivers, marshes, woods and wet fens on richer soils.

hazardsmallGastrointestinal bleeding & kidney damage possible. Avoid concurrent administration with other aspirin-like drugs. Avoid during pregnancy. Drug interactions associated with salicylates applicable.

Willow is justly famous as the original source of salicylic acid (the precursor of aspirin), white willow and several closely related species have been used for thousands of years to relieve joint pain and manage fevers. The bark is anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiperiodic, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, hypnotic, sedative and tonic. It has been used internally in the treatment of dyspepsia connected with debility of the digestive organs, rheumatism, arthritis, gout, inflammatory stages of auto-immune diseases, feverish illnesses, neuralgia and headaches. Its tonic and astringent properties render it useful in convalescence from acute diseases, in treating worms, chronic dysentery and diarrhoea. The fresh bark is very bitter and astringent. It contains salicin, which probably decomposes into salicylic acid (closely related to aspirin) in the human body. This is used as an anodyne and febrifuge.  The leaves are used internally in the treatment of minor feverish illnesses and colic. An infusion of the leaves has a calming effect and is helpful in the treatment of nervous insomnia. When added to the bath water, the infusion is of real benefit in relieving widespread rheumatism. The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season and are used fresh or dried. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Salix / Willow for diseases accompanied by fever, rheumatic ailments, headaches.

By Willow (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Description of Willow:

Salix alba is a deciduous Tree growing to 25 m (82ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone 2 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Apr to May, and the seeds ripen in June. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by Bees.The plant is not self-fertile. 
It is noted for attracting wildlife. 

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils. Needs full sun. It prefers moist or wet soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

Cultivation of Willow:

A very easily grown plant, it succeeds in most soils, including wet, ill-drained or intermittently flooded soils, but prefers a damp, heavy soil in a sunny position. Rarely thrives on chalk and dislikes poor thin soils. Very tolerant of maritime exposure and atmospheric pollution. Trees respond well to coppicing or pollarding. Best planted into its permanent position as soon as possible, trees respond badly to transplanting unless they are moved regularly. The root system is rather aggressive and can cause problems with drains. A very important food plant for the caterpillars of many species of butterflies and a good bee plant, providing an early source of nectar and pollen. A very good wildlife habitat, more than 200 species of insects are associated with this tree. There are many sub-species and cultivars in this species. S. alba caerulea is the cricket bat willow, cultivated for its wood. S. alba vitellina. (L.)Stokes. has been cultivated for its very tough stems that are used as tie rods in basket making. The cultivar ‘Cardinal’ is also grown for its use in basket making. This species is used commercially in papermaking. Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus, especially S. fragilis, to which it is closely related. Trees cast a relatively light shade. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.

Propagation of Willow:

Seed – must be surface sown as soon as it is ripe in late spring. It has a very short viability, perhaps as little as a few days. Cuttings of mature wood of the current year’s growth, November to February in a sheltered outdoor bed or planted straight into their permanent position and given a good weed-suppressing mulch. Branches of older wood as long as 2.5 metres can be used. Plant into their permanent positions in the autumn. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, June to August in a frame. Very easy.

Collection: The bark is harvested in the spring or early autumn from 3 – 6 year old branches and is dried for later use.

Culinary uses of Willow:

Edible Parts: Inner bark;  Leaves.
Edible Uses: Tea.

Inner bark – raw or cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and added to cereal flour then used in making bread etc.. A very bitter flavour, especially when fresh, it is used as a famine food when all else fails. Leaves and young shoots – raw or cooked. Not very palatable. They are used only in times of scarcity. The leaves can be used as a tea substitute.

Salix_Alba,willowMedicinal uses of Willow:

Actions: Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, tonic.

Part Used: Bark

Indications: Willow is an ancient remedy which has been used in various forms for rheumatism and gout, fevers and aches and pains of all kinds. It is usually considered to be the natural form and origin of the modern aspirin.

Other uses of Willow:

Basketry,  Charcoal,  Paper, Pioneer,  Shelterbelt,  String, Wood.

The young stems are very flexible and are used in basket making. The plant is usually coppiced annually when grown for basket making, though it is possible to coppice it every two years if thick poles are required as uprights. The bark can be used for tying plants. A fibre obtained from the stems is used in making paper. The stems are harvested in spring or summer, the leaves are removed and the stems steamed until the fibres can be stripped. The fibres are cooked for 2 hours with lye and then beaten with mallets or put through a blender. The paper is red/brown in colour. A fast growing tree and tolerant of maritime exposure, it can be grown as a shelterbelt. The plant’s rapid growth and wind tolerance make it a very good pioneer species to use in establishing woodland conditions in difficult sites. Spacing cuttings about every 5 metres will soon provide shelter and a suitable environment for planting out woodland trees that are not so wind tolerant. The main disadvantage in using this species is that the roots are far-ranging and the plant is quite greedy, so it will not as much effect as species such as the alders (Alnus species) in enriching the soil and thus feeding the woodland plants. Wood – elastic, soft, easy to split, does not splinter. Used for construction, turnery, poles, tool handles etc. The wood is also used to make charcoal, which has medicinal uses.

Esoteric uses of Willow:

Used for lunar magick, drawing or strengthening love, healing, and overcoming sadness. Willow is considered a sacred wishing tree. Wear a sprig of willow when facing the death of a loved one. Place on the altar for lunar magick and divination work. Keep a piece of willow in home or business to protect against evil.

The Chemistry:


  • Phenolic glycosides; salicin, picein and triandrin, with esters of salicylic acid and salicyl alcohol, acetylated salicin, salicortin and salireposide
  • Miscellaneous; tannins, catechin, p-coumaric acid and flavonoids.
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