Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.


Shrub, tree; dioecious; bud scale 1, not sticky, margins generally fused (or free, overlapping). Stem: twigs generally flexible, generally not glaucous. Leaf: generally alternate; stipules generally vestigial on first leaves, leaf-like on later; mature blade linear to broadly obovate, entire to toothed, generally ± hairy; petiole glands generally 0. Inflorescence: catkin, blooming before, with, or after leaves, sessile or terminating ± short leafy or bracted shoot ("on leafy shoot" or "on bracted shoot," "catkin length" including leafless or bractless part of subtending shoot); 1 flower bract subtending each flower, deciduous or persistent, brown, black, or 2-colored (paler proximally, darker distally; darker generally ± brown). Flower: perianth reduced to adaxial nectary (rarely also with abaxial nectary, then free or fused into shallow cup). Staminate flower: stamens (1)2(10); nectary generally 1. Pistillate flower: ovary stalked or sessile, style generally 1, stigmas 2, each 2-lobed, deciduous or persistent; nectary generally 1, generally rod-like. Fruit: valves 2.
± 450 species: ± worldwide, especially northern temperate, arctic. (Latin: ancient name) [Argus 1997 Madroño 44:115–136] Difficult, highly variable, many hybrids. Not all specimens key easily; sprouts, other extreme forms not included in keys, may require field comparisons. Studies of chromosome numbers, hybridization needed. Inclusion of Salix sessilifolia Nutt. in TJM (1993) based on misidentification of plants belonging to Salix melanopsis. Fruit length as given throughout excludes the stalk (stipe). Hair lengths: minute, < ± 0.5 mm; short, ± 0.5 mm; long, > ± 0.5 mm. Salix commutata Bebb, treated as misapplied to Salix eastwoodiae in TJM (1993), may occur in northern California mountains; Salix bonplandiana expected in s-most California. For alternate treatments, see Dorn (e.g., 2000 Brittonia 52:1–19).[Jepson]

True willow (Salix species) is one of the most widely distributed tree or shrub genera in the world. There are at least 75 species in North America. This useful plant may vary in size from less than a centimetre to that of a big tree. The features distinguishing willow from all other trees is a winter bud covered with one scale, and the bitter taste of the bark. [Northern Bushcraft]

Most willow woods are light, soft and tough, and have a multitude of uses. Some are well-known for their peculiar patterns of contrasting white sapwood and reddish-brown heartwood. Willow wood is popular for lampstands, canes, picture frames and coffee tables. Some willows have long shoots that are esteemed for basket weaving. Straight willow shafts are used for arrows or spears. This shrub's preference for moist areas puts it in the right place to control erosion 011 stream banks and mountain sides. In Europe, willow has long been utilized for willow furniture, wooden shoes, artificial limbs, and carriage bodies. The long flexible wands of many willows can be used for shelter frameworks or for wattle and daub construction. [Northern Bushcraft]

Local Species;

  1. Salix alba - white willow [E-flora]
  2. Salix arctica - arctic willow [E-flora]
  3. Salix barclayi - Barclay's willow [E-flora]
  4. Salix candida - sage willow [E-flora]
  5. Salix cascadensis - Cascade willow [E-flora]
  6. Salix geyeriana - Geyer's willow [E-flora]
  7. Salix hookeriana - Hooker's willow [E-flora]
  8. Salix lucida - shining willow [E-flora]
  9. Salix melanopsis - dusky willow [E-flora]
  10. Salix prolixa - Mackenzie willow [E-flora]
  11. Salix pseudomonticola - serviceberry willow [E-flora]
  12. Salix scouleriana - Scouler's willow [E-flora]
  13. Salix sessilifolia - soft-leaved willow [E-flora]
  14. Salix sitchensis - Sitka willow [E-flora]
  15. Salix xrubens - hybrid white willow [E-flora]


Ecological Indicator Information

S. hookeriana; "Shade-intolerant deciduous shrubs, restricted to the Pacific region. Occurs on nitrogen-medium soils in early stages of primary and secondary succession, and is restricted to very moist to wet soils." [IPBC-E-flora-7]

S. scouleriana; "Shade-intolerant deciduous shrub, distributed equally in the Pacific and Cordilleran regions (and marginally in the Central region) within boreal, temperate and cool mesothermal climates. Occurs on nitrogen-medium soils in early stages of primary and secondary succession. Grows in a wide range of soil moisture regimes and may hinder natural regeneration and growth of shade-intolerant conifers.[IPBC-E-flora-12]

S. sitchensis; "A shade-intolerant, montane, Asian and transcontinental North American deciduous shrub. In the region, present more in the Pacific rather than the Cordilleran region. Occurs in subcontinental to continental boreal and cool temperate climates. Scattered to plentiful on nitrogen-medium soils. especially in disturbed and early seral communities, common in flood plains. May hinder natural regeneration and growth of shade-tolerant conifers." [IPBC-E-flora-14]

Species Mentioned; Salix spp. - Willow. [Nyerges]


Salicylates Potential Allergen

Edible Uses

Other Uses

Willow is also one of the best sources of craft material. Whenever I collect willow, I go into the thickest patches and carefully cut only those branches I need with a sharp ratchet cutter. In all cases when I have returned to those areas, I find the best and healthiest growths of new willow where I had done my careful pruning.

Medicinal Uses

S. alba; Justly famous as the original source of salicylic acid (the precursor of aspirin), white willow and several closely related species have been used for thousands of years to relieve joint pain and manage fevers[254PFAF].The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Salix / Willow for diseases accompanied by fever, rheumatic ailments, headaches (see [302PFAF] for critics of commission E)." [PFAF]


"When dry, it burns with the least smoke of any wood to produce a hot, steady fire with excellent coals. The smoke is pleasant to eyes and lungs, a desirable quality for a cooking fuel used in an open fire. A drawback is that willow is generally small in diameter. In a pinch, willow may be cut into small pieces for a coal substitute in a forge for working iron. Willow is also a source of a high quality charcoal used in gunpowder. It is the most readily available northern wood for making fire by friction."[Northern Bushcraft]

"The most common northern bow woods are saskatoon, chokecherry, birch and certain willows. Birch and willow in particular, must be broken to determine if they have a long, fine-fiber fracture characteristic of a good bow wood. Conduct this test on a part outside of the main stave. This fracture can be found where moose break down small trees and shrubs to get at the higher twigs."[Northern Bushcraft]

"Because of willow' s flexibility and common availability, I typically use willow whenever I make a sweat lodge frame."[Northern Bushcraft]

"I have also used willow sticks for digging and for the framework for a primitive lean-to shelter. It is a good plant to become familiar with because it is so common and so versatile."[Northern Bushcraft]

"I have used the long dried willow sterns as pipes, and-following in the tradition of Native Americans-I dry the bark of red will ow and add it to my smoking mixture. I"[Northern Bushcraft]


White Willow - Salix species

Production: White Willow bark consists of the bark of the young, 2 to 3 year old branches harvested during early spring of Salix alba, Salix purpurea, Salix fragilis and other comparable Salix species.


Glycosides and esters yielding salicylic acid (1.5-12%): salicin (0.1-2%), salicortin (0.01-11%) and salicin derivatives acylated to the glucose residue (up to 6%, including, among others, fragilin, populin)
Tannins (8-20%)

The efficacy of the drug is due mainly to the proportion of salicin present. After splitting of the acyl residue, the salicin glycosides convert to salicin, the precursor of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is antipyretic, antiphlogistic and analgesic. White Willow bark is the phytotherapeutic precursor to acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin).
The salicin component is responsible for the anti-inflammatory and antipyretic effects. The tannin content has astringent properties on mucous membranes.

Salicin is useful in diseases accompanied by fever, rheumatic ailments, headaches and pain caused by inflammation.

Willow Bark is contraindicated in patients that have a hypersensitivity to salicylates. Salicylates should not be used in children with flu-like symptoms due to the association of salicylates with Reyes Syndrome.

General: Stomach complaints could occur as a side effect due to the tannin content.
Drug Interactions: Due to the salicin component, caution should be exercised when used in combination with salicylates and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. There are reports that salicylate decreased serum naproxen concentrations markedly and increased serum naproxen clearance by as much as 56% (Furst, 1987).
Though there are no reports of interactions with drugs that affect blood clotting times, and some studies suggest that thrombocyte inhibition is unlikely. Anti-platelet medications and any medication that prolongs the PT time should not be used with Willow Bark (Wichtl & Bisset, 1994).
Alcohol and barbiturates may mask the symptoms of salicylate overdosage and may enhance the toxicity of salicylates.
There have been reports of metabolic acidosis in children with normal renal and hepatic function that were treated with salicylates and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors for joint pain and glaucoma. This combination should be avoided (Cowan, 1984).
Disease Interactions: Patients with an ' active gastric or duodenal ulcer should avoid Willow Bark preparations. Hemophiliacs or anyone with a bleeding disorder should not use Willow Bark. Willow Bark should be avoided in asthmatics and diabetics.
Pregnancy: Salicylates should be avoided during pregnancy. Nursing Mothers: Salicylates have been associated with rashes in breast-fed infants; use is not recommended.

Mode of Administration: Liquid and solid preparations for internal use. Combinations with diaphoretic drugs 'could be considered. Drug extracts are contained in some standardized preparations of analgesics/antirheumatics, hypnotics/sedatives, and gastrointestinal remedies.
Preparation: To prepare an infusion, use 2 to 3 gm of finely cut or coarsely powdered drug in cold water, boil, allow to steep for 5 minutes, then strain.
Daily Dosage: Average daily dose corresponding to 60-120 mg total salicin.
Infusion—1 cup 3 to 5 times daily. (1 teaspoonful = 1.5 gm drug)
Liquid Extract—(1: 1 in 25 % alcohol) 1 to 3 ml 3 times daily. [PDR?]

Species (Family): Several Salix species are used including S. alba L., S. fragilis L., S. pentandra L., S. purpurea L. (Salicaceae) Part(s) Used Bark
The following is compiled from several sources, including General References G1, G2, G6 and G52.
Glycosides (phenolic) Various phenolic glycosides including salicin, salicortin, tremulacin, salireposide, picein and triandrin.(1) Acetylated salicin, salicortin, salireposide, and esters of salicylic acid and salicyl alcohol may also occur.
Salicylates (calculated as salicin) Vary between species, e.g. 0.5% in S. alba, 1–10% in S. fragilis, 3–9% in S. purpurea.(2) Flavonoids Flavanones, eriodictoyl-7-glucoside; naringenin-5- glucoside; chalcone; isosalipurposide; catechin.(2, G52) Tannins Condensed.
Other constituents Catechins.
There is reported to be no difference between the phenolic glycoside pattern of the bark and leaf. The latter is also reported to contain flavonoids, catechins and condensed tannins.(2, 3)
Herbal Use
Willow is stated to possess anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, antipyretic, antihidrotic, analgesic, antiseptic and astringent properties. Traditionally it has been used for muscular and arthrodial rheumatism with inflammation and pain, influenza, respiratory catarrh, gouty arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and specifically for rheumatoid arthritis and other systemic connective tissue disorders characterised by inflammatory changes. The German Commission E approved internal use for diseases accompanied by fever, rheumatic ailments and headaches.(G3)
Dosages for oral administration (adults) for traditional uses recommended in standard herbal reference texts are given below. Dry bark 1–3 g as a decoction three times daily(G6, G7) corresponding to 60–120 mg total salicin daily.(G3) Liquid extract 1–3 mL (1 : 1 in 25% alcohol) three times daily.(G6, G7)
Side-effects, Toxicity
Minor adverse effects including stomachache, nausea, dizziness, sweating and rash have been reported for willow.(G52)
Side-effects and signs of toxicity normally associated with salicylates, such as gastric and renal irritation, hypersensitivity, blood in the stools, tinnitus, nausea and vomiting, may occur. Salicin is documented to cause skin rashes.(G44)
Contraindications, Warnings
Precautions associated with salicylate therapy are also applicable to willow. Therefore individuals with known hypersensitivity to aspirin, asthma, active peptic ulceration, diabetes, gout, haemophilia, hypoprothrombinaemia, kidney or liver disease should be aware of the possible risks associated with the ingestion of willow.(8, G46)
Drug interactions Drug interactions listed for salicylates are also applicable to willow and include oral anticoagulants, methotrexate, metoclopramide, phenytoin, probenecid, spironolactone and valproate. Concurrent administration of willow with other salicylate-containing products, such as aspirin, should be avoided. Irritant effects of salicylates on the gastrointestinal tract may be enhanced by alcohol, and barbiturates and oral sedatives have been documented to enhance salicylate toxicity as well as masking the symptoms of overdosage.(G46)
Pregnancy and lactation The safety of willow during pregnancy and lactation has not been established. Conflicting reports have been documented concerning the safety of aspirin taken during pregnancy. Salicylates excreted in breast milk have been reported to cause macular rashes in breastfed babies.(G46) In view of this information, the use of willow during pregnancy and lactation should be avoided. [????]

"Willows are handsome, fast-growing trees, useful for holding banks against flooding."

"The wood can be used for fuel, and some willows have been recommended as energy sources. Slender willow twigs, or withes, are used in wicker work. Willow branches were used by the Jews in some of their religious rites and ceremonies. Willows were among four species the Hebrews were commanded to take at the Feast of the Tabernacles. The bark may contain as much as 13% tannin. Honey plants (BIB; FP1; ZOH). Regarded as antiperiodic, antiseptic, astringent, tonic, and vermifuge, the white willow is used in folk remedies for calluses, corns, debility, diarrhea, dysentery, dysmenorrhea, dyspepsia, fever, gout, hemotysis, malaria, rheumatism, tumors, and warts. Lebanese recognize the aspirin-like quality of the bark decoction, using it for colds, grippe, and pain, and a strong decoction for venereal disease. Even “transplanted” to America, the Lebanese used the bark of the American species for colds, fl, headache, pains, and rheumatism, even amplifying my generic belief that “all willows are the same in his medicine” (BIB; HJP)"

ACTIVITIES (WHITE WILLOW ): Analgesic (f12; HJP; KOM; PIP; PH2; WAM; PR15:344); Anaphrodisiac (f; MAD); Antiaggregant (1; VAD); Antihidrotic (f; CAN); Antiinflmmatory (f12; KOM; PH2; PIP; WAM); Antiperiodic (f1; DEP; EFS); Antiprostaglandin (1; BGB); Antipyretic (f12; KOM; NAD; PIP; PH2; WAM); Antirheumatic (f12; PR15:344; CAN; EFS; FAD); Antiseptic (f1; CAN; DEP; EFS); Antispasmodic (f1; BOU; VAD); Astringent (f1; APA; EFS; FAD; PED; PH2; VAD); Bitter (1; FAD; PED); Cardioprotective (1; VAD); Contraceptive (f; MAD); Febrifuge (f1; FNF); Keratolytic (1; FNF); Sedative (f1; MAD; VAD); Tonic (f; BIB; DEM); Vulnerary (f; BOU).

"1–2 ml bark tincture (25% alcohol) 3 r /day (APA; SKY); 20–40 mg salicin (APA); 1–3 g dry bark, or in tea, 3 r /day (CAN); 1–3 ml liquid extract (1:1 in 25% ethanol) 3 r /day (CAN); 1–2 g bark (20–40 mg salicin), two or three 380-mg capsules every 3 hours (JAD); 60–120 mg salicin per day (KOM; PIP); 2–4 Tbsp fresh bark (PED); 3–6 g dry bark (PED); 4.5 g dry bark:22 ml alcohol/23 ml water (PED); 2–3 g bark in cold water, bring to boil, steep 5 minutes (PH2), 1–5 r /day (SKY). Bosnians apply wine bark decoction to corns and warts (JLH). Cherokee take the astringent bark for alopecia, diarrhea, dyspnea, fever, and hoarseness (DEM). North Africans consider the leaves are calmative, antispasmodic, genital sedative, the bark useful for fever and rheumatism (BOU)"


Class 1. Salicylates; tannins (AHP, 1997)....excessive use, especially during lactation and pregnancy, should be avoided. Individuals with aspirin hypersensitivity, asthma, diabetes, gastrosis, gout, hemophilia, hepatosis, hypothrombinaemia, nephrosis, and peptic ulcers should be cautious with salicylates. Alcohol, barbiturates, and oral sedatives may potentiate salicylate toxicity. Beware of salicylate interaction with oral anticoagulants, methotrexate, metoclopramide, phenytoin, pronebecid, spiron olactone, and valproate. Salicylates excreted in breast milk reportedly can cause macular rashes in breast-fed babies. Salicylate toxicity may cause dermatosis, gastrosis, hematochezia, nausea, nephrosis, tinnitus, and vomiting (CAN). Excessive use of the tannin-rich bark may cause diarrhea and nausea (SKY). Still, “willow is much safer than aspirin” (SKY). Not for use during viral infections because of [remote theoretical; JAD] possibility of Reye’s syndrome (WAM).


Salicylates antiaggregant, antiinflmmatory, antipyretic, antiuricosuric/uricocsuric, and hyper/ hypoglycemic. The pro-drug salicin, which does not irritate the stomach, is metabolized to saligenin in the GI tract and salicylic acid after absorption. “Products containing willow should preferably be standardized on their salicin content …” (CAN). “The analgesic actions of willow are typically slow-acting but last longer than standard aspirin products” (SKY). McCarty and Block (2006) note the potential in cancer and diabetes for IKKbeta Inhibitors like salicylic acid, found presumably in all willow species. IKKbeta Inhibitors may help reverse insulin resistance and control type-2 diabetes. Serving as IKKbeta Inhibitors in vitro are the salicylic acid, resveratrol from the biblical grape, and silybinin from milk thistle (X16880431).

Salix lasiandra Benth. (Willow)
Willow bark was peeled off in strips and used to make fishing lines, reef nets, and for basket imbrication (Barnett, 1955). Often it was strengthened with cedar bark (Stern, 1934). The wood was used by the Puget Sound Salish, and possibly those on the Island, for making the drill and hearth for friction fires (Haeberlin and Gunther, 1930). It was also used for making bows.[Turner&Bell]

Salix Sp Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium ), cottongrass (Eriophorum sp.), and "pussywillows" are all named after eagle down. A willow branch hoop was used in a Kwakiutl game (Boas, 1966). Willow bark was used by the Coast Salish to make fishing lines, and reef nets (Turner & Bell, 1971). It is likely that the Kwakiutl had similar uses for it. The wood was used to make needles for sewing fishing nets (Boas, 1909)[Turner&Bell]

Salix spp. No particular species was identified except as noted. Species collected included Salix glauca L. (No. 823), S. interior Rowlee (Nos. 799, 891), and S. alaxensis (Anderss.) Cov. (Nos. 798, 884) (willow, k'aii, jaak 'aii). Willow leaves are chewed, then placed onto mosquito bites or bee stings to soothe the pain. Willow branches (especially of S. interior) become ground covers upon which to clean fish and to eat. Branches are made into switches to brush away mosquitoes. Large, leafy branches are used in the same manner as alder branches to trap smoke in fish smokehouses. Fishes are tied with flexible willow branches to willow sticks for cooking over a fire. Green willow whips at least 1 m long are stripped of their leaves, and both ends are stuck in the ground, making a semi-circle. The semi-circles are repeated, overlapping each other in a row, thus creating a short home garden fence. Many construction projects that require flexible wood have willow branches as the main component, including muskrat traps, fish traps (especially for whitefish), spring traps for hares, and ribs of birchbark canoes. Small peeled willow sticks are constructed into miniatures of cabins, dog sleds, and fishwheels that are sold to tourists or used as children's toys.... Formerly, willow branches ca. 60 cm long and 2.5-4 cm wide were bent into two-handled tongs used to carry hot rocks as they were removed from a fire and placed in pots for cooking meat and fish. Willow branches were used in blood letting, particularly to relieve headaches. A small willow branch was cut longitudinally through the center for ca. 3-5 cm. A small piece of skin at the temple was inserted into the slit to pinch it and numb the flesh. The pinched skin would then be cut to release blood. Willow bark is occasionally chewed for refreshment and is a survival food in winter and spring. Strips of willow bark are made into rope, one use of which is to reinforce the tops of birchbark baskets. One informant responded that willow branches ward offrain. The bark is peeled to the base of the branch, then wrapped around the base. The branch is stuck in the ground and pointed away from the person and toward the clouds to prevent the rain cloud from coming overhead. Willow wood is mixed with rotten spruce wood to provide a steady, even fire for smoking moosehides.[EFYA Holloway]

Wildlife & Aesthetics
'''Dynamic Accumulators: Magnesium (Mg)[DynamicAccumulators]
The twigs, buds and leaves are valuable browse for ruffed and sharp tailed grouse, willow and rock ptarmigan, elk. whitetail deer, moose, beaver, musk rat, varying hare and porcupine. The foliage provides cover and nesting habitat for many birds. Many willows are esteemed for their ornamental horticultural characteristics.[Northern Bushcraft]

Cultivation & Propagation

Willows mostly propagate by suckering. Sucker formation is stimulated by cutting or burning down the parent, which also creates openings that allow the sun to shine on the forest floor. In turn, the sun warms the soil to stimulate sucker formation. Suckers that develop from the root system of one parent tree arc identical genetically. Taken together as a group, trees that originate from one individual in this way, are called a clone. Clones appear alike, leaf out and turn color at the same time and may have their own unique shade of color when they turn in the fall. Although the willows can grow from seed, conditions for successful germination are so exacting that this is an insignificant means of propagation. [Northern Bushcraft]
S. exigua; "Plants have an extensive root system, spreading rapidly with long surface roots that produce numerous suckers. They are used in soil stabilization projects[199] and also in reclaiming sandbars etc from rivers[229]. This is a vigorous fast-growing species that paves the way for longer-lived woodland trees. It is intolerant of much shade and is eventually out-competed by the other trees[229]." [PFAF]
S. alba; "A fast growing tree and tolerant of maritime exposure, it can be grown as a shelterbelt[75]. The plant's rapid growth and wind tolerance make it a very good pioneer species to use in establishing woodland conditions in difficult sites. Spacing cuttings about every 5 metres will soon provide shelter and a suitable environment for planting out woodland trees that are not so wind tolerant. The main disadvantage in using this species is that the roots are far-ranging and the plant is quite greedy, so it will not as much effect as species such as the alders (Alnus species) in enriching the soil and thus feeding the woodland plants[K]." [PFAF]
S. fluviatilis; "This plant rapidly colonizes sandbanks and wet areas near streams, lakes etc. It is therefore an extremely useful species for stabilizing banks, its network of roots holding the soil securely. It can also be used as a pioneer species to prepare the way for mature woodland. It provides good conditions for other trees to establish and is eventually out-competed by them[229]." [PFAF]

Cuttings - Root Enhancer
According to Dr. James Bauml at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia, horticulturalists have noted that willow cuttings put in water add some unidentified substance to the water, which helps other cuttings develop roots. So if you want to root cuttings of various trees or vines, you can put them all in a bucket of water with willow cuttings. We have had good results with this method for rooting apples, roses, figs, jujube, and blackberries.
Growing Cycle: Willows can be bushes or tall trees. They are deciduous, so they lose their leaves in winter and produce their flowery catkins in the spring. Even when cut back, they seem to sprout back again and again. [????]


"Willow wands figure prominently in folklore and magic. Many dowsers claim they get the best results from a Y-shaped willow rod. Case in point was dowser Ralph Harris, who found all the water needed for General George S. Patton' s troops in North Africa. Patton' s geologists reported that there was no water to be found by drilling. Private Ralph Harris meekly told Patton that he could find water by dowsing but that he needed a willow twig. Patton had an entire willow tree flown in the next day. Ralph Harris then cut a Y-shaped piece of willow, dowsed, and told Patton where to drill. They found water at every site where Harris said to drill. When I took a class in dowsing at Los Angeles City Class, taught by Ralph Harris and Legory O'Loughlin of the Dowsing Society, Harris claimed that everyone can learn to dowse if you can control your thinking and concentrate. Harris, who was a fourth-generation dowser, always provided documentation for every one of his dowsing successes. He said it was a gift from God. O'Loughlin often reminded his students that the light of dowsing shines brightest when helping humanity. Uses of willow rods and staffs figure prominently in Wicca, in folklore, and in various religious and metaphysical traditions worldwide. As always, I' d love to hear from readers who have unique data to share about willow, its lore, or uses." [????]


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