Thursday, May 21, 2015
Willow: Salix Alba, Salix Nigra, Salix Geyeriana, Salix Discolor, Salix Purpurea, Salix Bebbiana, Salix Atrocinera, etc.
Also known as: Willow Bark, Withe, White Willow, Black Willow, etc.
Parts Used: leaves, bark
Meridians/Organs affected: stomach, liver, kidneys, heart, structural, nervous, circulatory
Properties: tonic, astringent, antiseptic, diaphoretic, anodyne, antiperiodic, diuretic, febrifuge, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, alterative, vermifuge
Willow is a member of the Selicaeae family. (Incidentally so is Poplar which can also be used similarly to Willow). It is a deciduous shrub/tree with round to lance like leaves with several trunks that branch off from the base. The flowers are referred to as 'catkins' and appear along branches as a furry like pod in the early months of the year (February to March) when snow is still on the ground. The bark ranges in color from gray to brown and should be gathered in the spring before new growth starts. The more it smells 'skunk-like' the more potent it is as a medicine. Cut 15-20, one inch strips to the cambium layer (the inner bark) and remove them from the shrub to dry or to be used fresh.
The Latin term for willow 'salix' comes from 'salio' which means 'to spring up'. Salix itself actually comes from the Celtic word 'salis' which means 'near water' no doubt referring to where it is found most of the time. References to willow and its uses go back several millenia. It is mentioned quite often in Sumerian writings 4000 years ago and an Egyptian papyrus as well as Assyrian tablets. Galen used it to help inflammatory eye conditions, Hippocrates for fevers and pain management and Dioscorides for gout, earaches and corns. The native american indians used it for rheumatic complaints, fevers, chills, sore muscles and headaches. In the 1700's it was commonly used to treat malaria. Then in 1827 a French chemist named LeRoux isolated the active component in willow which is salicin. The rest is history-it was eventually synthesized (1890's) into acetylsalicyclic acid more commonly known as aspirin and a billion dollar business was born.
Willow was also used early on to stop diarrhea, help toothaches (it was chewed) and to stop bleeding. It is interesting to note that willow doesn't typically irritate the stomach like aspirin can, nor does it thin the blood like aspirin. Many cultures have used it to treat diarrhea, dysentery, dyspepsia, gonorrhea, edema, worms, ovarian pains, recurring fevers and gastrointestinal issues. A tea made from the buds has been used for heartburn, stomach complaints, cancer, eczema, gangrene, nosebleeds, bleeding wounds and to increase urine flow. In some studies it has been shown to delay cataract formation. A tea from the bark was boiled and used topically for insect bites, ulcers, rashes, minor burns, warts, corns, cuts and skin cancers. The Romans would burn willow branches and use the ash for skin conditions and the leaves were mashed and soaked in wine and then consumed to stay lustful behavior (it was thought that too much of said concoction would make one impotent as well). The bark was chewed to prevent cavities (it is VERY bitter and tastes like skunk so be forewarned) and the leaves and twigs were boiled to make a hair rinse for dandruff. It is true that willow has an abundance of medicinal value but it is also a very practically used herb as well. Willow is flexible and so has been used for fish and fox traps, back rests, pins and pegs, frames for sweat lodges, baskets, mattresses, walking sticks, snowshoes, meat racks, cradle boards, fishing nets, twine, etc.
It is one of the Bach flower essences used for people who are bitter, offended easily, feel slighted or are always disappointed. Willow should not be taken if you have an allergy to aspirin. Do not take if pregnant (use your own discretion or consult a physician).
As is customary with my posts I am including some links herein for your perusal. Use them wisely and stay healthy!