Monday, October 7, 2013

The Amazing Willow Tree

From The Scot’s Herbal by Tess Darwin: “Willows were one of the first trees to appear in Scotland after the last Ice Age and no doubt this versatile species has been used since prehistoric times for a great variety of purposes.

In addition to many practical uses of willows for basketry, rope, house building, fencing, beehives, lobster pots and coracle frames, it was a magic tree. A willow wand symbolized the goddess, and was used for divination—the original magic wand. Willow was one of the druids sacred woods…the word wicca (the craft and wisdom of witches) is said to be derived from the use of willow to make a wicker frame to build an effigy of the Celtic God Balder, king/consort to the queen/goddess, ceremonially sacrificed on Beltane.

Fear of the power of willow persisted long into Christian times: witches’ broomsticks sometimes had a willow shaft, and persecuted witches from North Berkshire were said to sail in willow winnowing riddles. In central Perthshire willow wands were reportedly used to work the evil eye. Black magic worked with willow could be counteracted by rowan.

On the other hand, a branch of willow catkins in the home is still believed to bring good health; this may relate to its medicinal uses. The bark contains acetylsalicylic acid (the main constituent of aspirin) and has long been used as a pain killer.”

In America, the willow is considered “one of Nature’s most valuable gifts to mankind.” From Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants by Bradford Angier. He goes on to say, “The North American Indians soon discovered that tea decocted and steeped from the cambium of the majority of willows was important for arthritis and for reducing fever and many pains—this centuries before the isolating and marketing of aspirin. The ashes of burned willow twigs were blended with water and used for gonorrhea. Willow roots were powdered with stones and turned to in an effort to dry up sores from syphilis. The settlers soon joined the Indians in using potent teas brewed from the cambium or inner bark of the bitter willows to treat venereal disease.

The dried and powdered bitter bark, astringent and detergent, was applied to the navels of newborn babies. It was utilized to stop severe bleeding, as were the crushed young green leaves, the bark, and the seeds, also stuffed up the nostrils to stop nosebleeds. These were also used for toothache.”

 And the uses go on, including a spring tonic made of steeped willow roots, an Indian practice adopted by the settlers. The roots were used to kill and expel worms and willow tea to bathe sore eyes. Some settlers also shared in the Indian practice of using pussy willow catkins as an aphrodisiac. Probably in the form of a bark tea, but it doesn’t say.


  1. Great article, Beth. So glad you recommended it. My great grandmother's family is actually from Northern Ireland and she would tell me all of the great folklore that went with it. It's been my favorite tree ever since. Mathair and I will definitely be checking out your other articles on herbs and trees.

  2. Very interesting about your great grandmother, and thanks!