White willow, or Salix alba, is a tree you might have even seen growing before. For medicine the bark is what is used but as with most trees be sure to harvest it properly from fallen branches rather than from the living tree, and especially the main trunk.
This bark is most often used as a pain reliever due to it’s high concentration of salicin, a pain relieving molecule. It’s traditional use to treat gout and various rheumatic pains (aka arthritis) has been greatly reduced due to the safety considerations. Salicin, which is what is used as the medicinal component of aspirin, may irreversibly reduce platelet aggregation. This has not been clearly demonstrated with willow but is still a caution when using this herb. With out platelet aggregation our blood cannot clot appropriately and we may bleed out more easily with minor injuries.
Willow has many other uses besides medicine and these may be the more valuable uses. It is an amazing plant for making cordage. It’s inner core, when boiled and mixed with a touch of baking soda makes a brilliant dark dye. If you are hopeful, branches from willow are considered to be amazing dowsing rods to find water. This tree loves water and will seek it out, often growing close to ponds.
This plant is very easy to spread and every branch is high in rooting hormones. This means you can simply cut off a branch and stick it in the ground to grow a new tree. This is commonly done to make amazing outdoor living structures.
Because willow is high in tannins it is a great astringent herb and can be used for diarrhea and thick nasal mucus but don’t take it for too long or you will notice dryness. For these uses you can use willow internally, making a decoction and drinking simply as much as you can get down. Women also generally enjoy taking this herb. Not only can it support poor menses flow and can be used for a prolapsed uterus but it also will help moderate libido: raising low libido in women and lowering it in men.
If you do choose to use this herb medicinally, my personal favorite way is in a bath. Make sure you use a tub you don’t mind getting stained and boil a large pot of branches of willow. Add this water (branches too if you feel inclined) to your warm bath and soak for an hour for pain relief and a lovely soothing bath.
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Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. The Dancing Herbalist posts on this blog every Thursday. For more of our posts, join us on Patreon. Jillian also presents regular live classes in The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online. For more learning opportunities or to work one-on-one with Jillian with her wellness and herbal consultations visit The Dancing Herbalist.com.