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Willows in Water, Drugs, & Folklore

Sara & CesarComment

Willows and Water

Willow trees are essential to water ecosystems and have developed a special relationship with the lakes and rivers they border.

Image:  youtube

Willow roots are thin and abundant and work like a mesh to hold the soil along river and lake shores together to prevent erosion.  Willow branches cover the edges of the water, which helps cool the water itself and provides shelter for birds, frogs, and fish.


Plant Drugs

A chemical found in the growing tips of willow branches can stimulate root growth in other plants.

Indolebutyric acid (IBA), is found in high concentration in the tips of branches.  It is best to harvest these growing tips in February or March, when they are growing fast.  Boil these twigs in water or leave in the sun for a few days and the resulting "tea" can be spread in your garden to quicken and strengthen root growth in other plants.

White Willow Tea / Image:  Juicing for Health

White Willow Tea / Image: Juicing for Health

Human Drugs

Every year 90 million pounds of aspirin are taken. 

This miracle drug was synthesized after extensive studies in the 19th century figured out how to isolate the component salicin from willow bark. However, willow bark has been used in traditional medicine across several cultures and knowledge of its medicinal properties dates back to 4000 BCE in Sumatran records.

Willow bark- especially white willow bark- behaves in the body a little differently than synthesized aspirin.  According to the website Wild Foods and Medicine, "Willow bark contains fiber that slows salacin absorption along with tannins that tone irritated membranes and reduce bleeding. Willow is also a bitter, cooling and a diuretic. It can help to relieve heat and swelling associated with injury, arthritis, high blood volume and other conditions."  In short, the body absorbs natural salicin more slowly resulting in less stomach irritation.  


Willows in Asian Folklore

In Asian cultures willow trees can be associated with the underworld.

In Japan ghosts inhabit willows, there are tales of the spirit of a willow tree taking on a female form in order to marry a human.

In China, willow branches are used to sweep the graves of loved ones during their annual Qingming Fesitval (Tomb Sweeping Day).  This is a holiday for the reverence of past ancestors, when the gates of the underworld are open and the dead are allowed to roam the earth.  In some cases, a dead relative may not be welcome back, so a willow branch is placed above the door to protect the family from an unwanted visit.