Notes from the Apothecary: Willow
Willows are a type of tree in the family Salicaceae. They’re deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves towards winter, and they love both moisture and sunlight. Striking weeping willows are often seen trailing their leaves across the surface of streams, while fluffy goat willow or pussy willow brightens up the spring with its soft catkins.
While only the largest of gardens will enjoy a willow tree of their own, many people will have a green area or park they can visit to find one of the many species of willow which grow all across the northern hemisphere. Find your own favourite willow creek or willow springs and get to know this amazing family of trees.
The Kitchen Garden
Willow is edible but it doesn’t taste very nice! The bark has been used as medicine for thousands of years, and is high in vitamin C and other nutrients. Cooled willow tea may be useful to water other plants with as the growth hormones in willow can provide benefits for many green things.
For nature lovers, look out for deer grazing on the lower branches of willow in rural areas. Bees love the catkins in spring, and fish will shelter in the shade of a willow that grows by the banks of a river.
Willow bark is famously the source of salicin, the precursor to aspirin. Today’s aspirin is generally synthetic, but many herbalists still forage and create their own willow bark remedies. As well as being a useful pain reliever, it may have a cooling effect, can be used as a diuretic, and may be indicated in some cases of high blood pressure. According to Wild Food and Medicines, willow bark should be cut from fairly new branches and can then be made into oil, a tincture, or dried.
Willow tea is very bitter so if you prefer to take it this way, mix it with something to mask the flavour! As always, check with a medical professional before self-administering any medicine. Willow may react with some medications and can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals.
The Witch’s Kitchen
The willow reproduces by seed, but it can also grow from a broken branch and even wood that has been left cut and dried for months! Once, I attended a pagan gathering where a small hut had been crafted as a temporary structure out of cut willow stems. The stems were later used to weave a fence, and every single one of the cut branches took root and started to grow. Amazing. From this we can associate willow with resilience, life, hidden growth, spiritual growth and the ability to bend yet not break. Willow is adaptable, and by respecting and honouring the spirit of the tree, we can learn that skill of adaptability.
In Christianity, the willow is associated with grief, not just because of the appearance of the weeping willow but because of psalm 137 which references grieving by willow trees on the banks of the rivers of Babylon. Willow leaves have also been used in place of palm leaves for Palm Sunday.
Willow is heavily inked to water, the moon, various powerful goddesses, plus it’s regularly used to make diving rods.
Home and Hearth
If you’re able, find a willow tree to meditate beneath. Be careful not to rest too close to water in case the bank collapses or you fall asleep! Take time to breathe, and think about the associations of the tree. What does the willow mean to you? How is the willow linked to the other life around it? Think about the animals it feeds and shelters, and how its roots help keep the soil stable. Rest and recuperate by the tree and let the knowledge of its place in the world fill you up.
I Never Knew…
The roots of the willow are often larger than the whole of the rest of the tree, and capable or blocking or damaging sewage systems!
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.