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Some Willows

Updated: May 30

The Willow family includes Willow, Poplar, Aspen and Cottonwood. The oldest Willow fossils found are from the early Eocene epoch in North America. Eocene means ‘new dawn’, from Ancient Greek, ἠώς (ēṓs - dawn) and καινός (kainós - new), the period in which modern fauna first appeared. The earliest known in Europe date from the early Oligocene epoch, around 33 million years ago.


Almost all Willows will take root easily from cuttings or where broken branches lie on the ground. For this reason, the Chinese consider Willow to represent immortality. One famous example of such growth from cuttings involves the poet Alexander Pope, who grew a Weeping Willow from a twig used to tie a parcel. The rooting hormone indole-3-butyric acid is extracted from Willow water.

Willows are among the earliest woody plants to leaf out in Spring and the last to drop their leaves in Autumn. In the northern hemisphere, leaf drop occurs when the day length shortens to approximately ten hours 25 minutes.

Willows produce a small amount of nectar and are especially valued as a source of early pollen for bees. They support more than a hundred aphid species. Wood ants, in particular, are common on Willows collecting aphid honeydew, as do wasps.

All Willows have abundant watery sap full of salicylic acid, which is a great pain-killer and the source of aspirin. It is anti-inflammatory. The sap can be collected by simply creating a slit in the bark. The intake of Willow water helps to clear negative emotions. It will also stay vomiting and promote the flow of urine. Both the bark and leaves are also a source of salicylic acid. Willow eases rheumatism, influenza, headaches and diarrhoea. It is good for sore eyes, clearing spots and to treat other skin complaints, such as eczema. Also, rub a strong decoction of leaves and/or bark into the scalp when washing hair to remove dandruff. A poultice can be made to staunch bleeding.

The poor have been known at one time to often eat the catkins. They were cooked to a mash. The inner bark can be eaten raw or cooked, as can the young leaves and underground shoots.

An aqueous extract of the bark is used as a fungicide. The bark extract is approved as a 'basic substance' product in the European Union and United Kingdom for the control of scab, leaf peach curl and powdery mildew on grape, apple and peach crops.

The oldest known object made from Willow is a fishing net that dates back to 8300BC. Willow is widely used in the manufacture of boxes, brooms, poles, dolls and a range of toys, tool handles and other turnery. Also, wood veneer and sweat lodges. Plus a wide range of basic crafts, along with wicker and basket weaving and sculpture, fish traps, wattle fences and thatching. And, most famously, cricket bats. The Britons used Willow to make the frame of coracle boats. The nomadic peoples throughout the northern hemisphere make cradleboards with Willow. They make the bark into a twine which sometimes serves as a harpoon line. The wood is also used to start fires, the shoots to weave baskets and both the branches and stems to build various items including fishing weirs. Willow is also used to make whistles, flutes and double basses. Tannin, fibre, paper, rope, string and charcoal are produced from the wood.

During World War II, the British dropped thousands of supplies contained in Willow baskets by parachute. The benefits of Willow baskets also include lightweight strength and flexibility. They could be made in any shape and bounce on impact. British production of Willows reached about 2000 tons per year by some 630 manufacturers employing 7000 basket makers.

Willows are used for riverbank and slope stabilisation, soil erosion control, plus windbreaks and shelter. There has been research into possibly using Willow for future bio-filtration of waste water.

Willow is used for religious purposes around the world. Christians often use Willow branches in place of Palm on Palm Sunday. Willow branches are also used during the synagogue service on the seventh day of Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. In Buddhism, a Willow branch is one of the chief attributes of Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of Compassion. In China, some people carry Willow branches with them on the day of their Tomb Sweeping or Qingming Festival. Branches are also put up on gates and/or front doors to ward off the evil spirits that wander on Qingming. Taoist witches use a small carving made from Willow for communicating with the spirits of the dead. In Japanese tradition, Willow is associated with ghosts. It is said that a ghost will appear where a Willow grows. Willow was used in funerary rites in Neolithic times. Flint shaped as Willow leaves have been found in megalithic tombs. Burial mounds were lined with Willow. It is traditional to place Willow in the coffin and for those in mourning to wear Willow garlands. The Sumerian Willow goddess Belili rules over the Moon, Love and the Underworld. She resides over Springs and Wells. Her consort was Bel, Belin in the Celtic world, whose feast is celebrated as Beltaine. The Jack in the Green frame is made using Willow. The Maypole is also Willow. The Spartans used Willow in their fertility rituals.

Willows are quite prevalent in folklore and myths. Orpheus carried Willow branches on his journeys into Hades. Persephone had a secret grove of Willow in Tartarus. The Greek sorceress Circe had a riverside cemetery planted with Willow dedicated to Hecate.

White Willow (Salix alba)

The Latin, Salix is derived from the Celtic, Sal (near) - lis (water).

The wood has a low density and a lower transverse compressive strength. It is tough, strong and lightweight, but has minimal resistance to decay. The wood was important for the manufacture of gunpowder. The tannin was used in the past for tanning leather. It is most famous for making cricket bats.

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)

This tree is native to dry areas of northern China. It was named scientifically by Carl Linnaeus in 1736. The epithet ‘babylonica’ derives from a misunderstanding by Linnaeus that this was the tree described in psalm 137 in the bible. The trees growing in Babylon along the Euphrates River in ancient Mesopotamia were in fact Euphrates Poplar.

Importantly, they grow around the oases of the Gobi Desert. They protect agricultural land from desert winds.

These trees were introduced into England from Aleppo in 1730, though legend has it that all of England's Weeping Willows are descended from a twig planted by the poet Alexander Pope, who was given one from a parcel tied with twigs sent from Spain to Lady Suffolk. They have rapidly become naturalised, growing well along rivers and in parks.

Goat or Pussy Willow (Salix caprea)

Strictly, a shrub, caprea means ‘goat’ and probably derives from the first known illustration of the species, in Hieronymus Bock's 1546 herbal, ‘Kreutterbuch’ where the plant is shown being browsed by a goat.

Goat Willow is one of the few Willows that do not take root readily from cuttings.

The tree is not considered a good source of timber as its wood is brittle. It is also known to crackle violently when burned.

The many buds make it a favourite flower for the Chinese New Year. The fluffy white blossoms resemble silk. They sprout young shoots the colour of green jade. This represents the coming of prosperity. The flowering shoots are also used for religious decoration on Palm Sunday.

Rusty Sallow (Salix cinerea) aka Grey Willow

Again, a shrub, it is rated second for the most nectar production per unit cover per year in a British plants survey.

Sallow is from sealh, the Old English for Willow.

Eared Willow (Salix aurita)

Another shrub, it is named for its persistent kidney-shaped stipules along the shoots.

Basket Willow (Salix viminalis) aka Common Osier

A shrub, the flexible twigs, known as withies, are most commonly used in basketry, hence the common name, basket willow. Cultivation and use of the Osier to create osier beds to line rivers and streams became common in the 18th. century.

The Viminal Hill, the smallest of the Seven Hills of Rome, derives its name from viminalis (osiers) from vimin (a pliant twig - osier).

Bay Willow (Salix pentandra)

The English name of this shrub derives from the resemblance of the leaves to those of the Bay Laurel. For this reason it is known as Laurel Willow in North America. The scientific name refers to the fact that the male flowers have five stamens.


Sadly, Poplars in the UK and much of Northern Europe are suffering from heavy dieback. This is due in part to ornet moths boring into the trunk during their larval stage.

Due to their rapid growth rate, height and columnar branches, they are commonly planted as windbreaks. This fast growth rate also makes it the tree of choice for producing biofuel.

In Punjab, where it is grown commercially, Poplar is seriously susceptible to termite attack. Logs of Poplar are therefore used as bait in termite traps for biocontrol of termites in crops.

The history of the use of Poplar for shields goes back to the ancient Greeks and Etruscans. Now, they are used for pulpwood and pallets, in the manufacture of paper, plywood, matchboxes and cheese boxes. Also chopsticks and wooden shoes. Poplar is also widely used in the manufacture of snowboards and because it has exceptional flexibility, it is sometimes used in the bodies of electric guitars and drums. Particularly when seasoned, Poplar makes a good hearth for a bow drill.

Poplar was the most common wood used in Italy for panel paintings. The most famous painting on Poplar is the Mona Lisa.

Baking moulds from peeled Poplar may be used in the freezer, oven and microwave oven.

Due to its high tannic acid content, the bark is commonly used for tanning leather.

Since it has the ability to remove and store harmful pollutants in its trunk while also removing air pollution, this plant has been successfully used to target many types of pollutants including trace elements in soil, sewage sludge and a range of industrial waste chemicals.

Incense made from Poplar is traditionally burned at Samhain to cast off the old as we move into the new year.

Fresh leaves and buds are used to smear on the body prior to meditation. They were also added to flying ointments to rub on the body and broomsticks. Poplar is also believed to bring monetary good luck and was often planted at the birth of a daughter to provide a dowry.

Black Poplar (Populus nigra)

Osokorsky, Kiev is named after the Black Poplar.

Black Poplar is sacred to Hecate. Traditionally, a lamb’s tail was buried under a newly planted tree. In Greek mythology, the sticky resin produced is said to be the tears of the sisters of Phaethon, who were turned into Black Poplar trees along the River Eridanus after witnessing their brother’s death.

The resin is good for treating bruises, inflammation and gout. Black Poplar water is used to treat despondency.

Grey Poplar (Populus x canescens)

Grey Poplar is a cross between Aspen and White Poplar. The resulting much stronger wood makes it popular for barn doors.

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Medics are trained only to trust evidence that has been 'clinically' proven to work via exhaustive empirical testing. Thousands of years of the accumulated wisdom of mankind - and frequently other species too - counts for nought in their world (unless some 'big pharma' outfit has managed to synthesise some active ingredient which they can then patent and put on the market at a huge mark-up)!

Replying to

Exactly! Though, on occasions, ‘we’ fast-track some ‘products’ to take advantage of a lucrative money-making opportunity.

Keep well old mate. Let me know how you get on.

I’m working on Beeches now. They’re more about construction than medication.


Well I'm damned! Who'd have thought the humble willow tree has so much going for it! 😃

Unfortunately, taking aspirin once put my old man in hospital with serious stomach ulcers and I'm unable to use it for similar reasons. But I wonder if there's a more natural (less synthesised) version that is less corrosive to the human gut?

Replying to

No worries. I hope they are honest about Nature. So many are so ignorantly anti anything that they don’t understand, or refuse to. I’m sure I’ve told you before; Hawthorn for your heart, Nettles are natural statins. I have mine every morning and evening, along with a load of other herbs based around my heart disease, surgical intervention and other general health issues.

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