The Willow Plant

The common willow tree is a plant that has many uses from a source of food to a cure for headaches.

Many civilisations still believe in the power of plants in healing and medicine and, indeed, things like quinine have found their way into the pharmacopoeia of many of the so-called advanced nations.

Others remain simply plants for all but a few who have discovered, and used, the properties of plants to avoid the expensive prescribed drugs which often come with nasty side effects.

Such a plant is the willow. In England, willow is used to make cricket bats for that sport which few, outside the Commonwealth, understand. However, besides providing the wood for those bats the various species of willow have medicinal and nutritional properties of which everyone can take advantage.

Willow contains salicin and tannin and can be used as an anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, analgesic, antiseptic and astringent. The bark of Black willow, especially, provides a source of safe chemicals and the bark can be made into a tea which can be used effectively in the treatment of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism and arthritis. The recipe for his "˜tea' can be found at the end of this article.

Salicin is an aspirin type chemical and the "˜tea' can be used for the headaches, fevers and, some even say, hay-fever. Additionally, the antiseptic qualities of willow mean that the "˜tea' makes an excellent mouthwash and can be applied to external wounds. It is also claimed that rheumatism sufferers benefit greatly from a willow wash when the "˜tea' is applied externally adjacent to the affected joints.

The best time to take the bark and to make the "˜tea' is when the tree has younger shoots, is at its strongest and is easiest to harvest.

Willow can provide food in emergency but those who have had to resort to such remedies, will tell you that it has to be a dire emergency for the leaves are very bitter and only slightly better when steamed or boiled. The inner bark can also be eaten but is difficult to obtain and is not very palatable. The palatability can be improved by using it to make a flour by drying and grinding. Even then it is not great and it is for its medicinal properties that willow is best used.

To make willow bark tea, follow these instructions:

Collect the bark in spring as the new growth starts.

Pour a cup of water on to every two teaspoons of bark and bring to a boil.

Simmer for ten minutes and then allow to cool.

If treating a cold, flu or other fevers the patient should drink three cups of the mixture each day.

(As with any type of medication, it is imperative to practice moderation and, if taking prescribed or other OTC drugs then check with your pharmacist of physician before starting on willow bark treatment.)

For those rudely healthy individuals who need no medicine or medication, willow still has its uses. Besides the wood for cricket bats, its stripped stems can be used for basket weaving as it is light and flexible (especially after being soaked in water). There are many artisans producing willow furniture and some simple chairs can even be made by the complete novice though don't offer them to honoured guests!

Native Americans have long used willow for creating lodges though this is probably not something that the average citizen would need or use.

Even for curing that wretched headache without drugs the willow becomes special. It is not the only plant that has such properties, however, and a little research will take you to all kinds of natural wonders.


Antipyretic - fever reducing

Analgesic - pain reducing

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