Name: Willow (Salix alba)
Otherwise known as: Pussy Willow, European Willow
Habitat: A tree member of the Salicacea family growing up to 25m in temperate wetlands and beside watercourses, with slender branches carrying lanceolate, opposed leaves. It has a deeply scored, dark grey bark and produces the common catkins in spring.
What does it do: The word Salix comes from the Celtic, sal-lis meaning near water. The stem and bark have been used for millennia as a pain-killer and a febricide. Dioscorides states: ‘…the bark being burnt to ashes and steeped in vinegar takes away cornes and other risings of the feet and toes’. Various bark extracts are used as a gargle for sore throats, for heartburn and stomach problems. Elizabethan herbalists claimed that there was no better cure for food poisoning, diarrhoea and dysentery. Gerard wrote: ‘The green boughs with the leaves may well be brought into chambers and set about the beds of those that be sicke of the fevers, for they do mightily coole the heate of the aire which thing is wonderful refreshing to the sicke patients’. Mostly used by modern herbalists as a tonic, antiperiodic and an astringent.
Willow is best known as an original source of salicylic acid for the production of aspirin. It was one of the convalescence herbs given to patients in long term recovery from serious illness or surgery. Black Willow (Salyx nigra) was used as a treatment for gonorrhoea and for the relief of ovarian pain. S. babylonica root treats leukaemia and restores bone marrow.
The willow is the source of wood for cricket bats and artists’ charcoal.