Willow

Issue published July 2020

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Letter from the editor

I love talking about willow with people who wonder if herbal medicine is effective for common, everyday problems. Often, people think of herbs as being hippie woo-woo nonsense, but humans (and other mammals), have been using plants as remedies for millennia.

Willow bark is the perfect example of an herb that has been used for thousands of years. It has documented uses going as far back as the ancient Egyptian and Sumerian cultures for pain relief, aches, and fever. It’s a remedy we hear about in normal conversation, as an example of herbal medicine that laypeople know. Researchers began in the 1890s with traditional herbal knowledge, isolated salicylic acid, and synthesized a similar but simpler compound—acetylsalicylic acid, now known as Aspirin.

Willow serves as an example in another respect: What can happen when plants are extracted into single-constituent medicine. Taking Aspirin has side effects that we don’t see with drinking willow bark tea. These side effects can include ulcers, indigestion, and unusual bleeding, problems we don’t find unless we use huge doses of willow bark. Willow bark is not a delightful sip of tea; it is not an herb you would easily or accidentally ingest large doses of, because it is quite bitter and astringent.

One of the best things about willow is that it grows all over the world, in both the northern and southern hemispheres. I live in Colorado, and I often use our wild willows just as you would willow bark purchased from high-quality herb suppliers, and to the same benefit.

Willows are very easily propagated and spread, finding no insignificant purpose as living hedgerows and walls to create garden boundaries. This plant can quickly overwhelm and clog a water system or ditch; so, consider harvesting as animal fodder and to make things like baskets, balls, walls, and anything else you can think of!

There is so much more to learn about willow, I hope this magazine issue is just the beginning for you.

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Articles

Salix spp. Monograph
Willow Coloring Page
Willow: Medicine of Place and People
History of Willow
Willow, for the Garden and the Gardener

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