WHITE WILLOW

Salix alba 

Part/s Used:  Bark
Energetics:  Cooling, sweet, acrid, astringent 
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti septic, diaphoretic  

Medicinal Preparations:

Tincture: Fresh 1:3 or 1:4    Dry (ratio & % alcohol): 1:5 60%
Drops: 20-60   Times a day: 4x

Tea:   Strong decoction   Ounces: 8-12   Times a day: 3-4x

Habitat:

You can find willow in low elevations near water.  Lakes, ponds and stream banks and shorelines in sun to part shade.  Willow can be a shrub or tree growing up to 75 feet tall.  The lanced shaped leaves are covered in tiny hairs when they are young.  As leaves mature, they become less hairy and turn pale green on the underside and are covered in white hairs.  The flowering catkins are pollinated by insects. 

Medicinal Uses:

White willow is one of the first herbs most people think of in the treatment of pain and the most commonly used species of willow for its medicinal purposes.  Often prepared as a tincture or tea.  It is an anti-inflammatory and mild analgesic because its bitter and cooling and draining to accumulated fluids in the tissues.  It is used much in the same way as aspen bark (populus tremuloides).  Salix is chemically related to aspirin with similar properties.  It works slower but lasts longer and without the gastrointestinal problems than its commercial counterpart and it won’t shut down the inflammatory pathways like most drugs do.  Willow is most beneficial in painful symptoms associated with excessive heat and dampness.  Swollen, inflamed joints where there is poor digestion.  Suitable for hot, throbbing headaches and helps cool and drain the vital force down. 

White willow water-based preparations make a simple astringent (high in tannins) and ideal for digestive tract inflammation such as diarrhea.  The hot tea is a cooling diaphoretic and sudorific (use every hour to every 2 hours).  A gargle for sore throats, tonsil or gun inflammation, sitz baths for rectal and vaginal tissues and soothing for urinary tract irritation.  Topically, bathing the affected tissues in tea or fomentation are beneficial for moist skin conditions that need to dry up such as poison oak. 

Harvesting:

Salix is harvested in the spring, just as the leaf buds begin to form.  Though willows thrive along waterways, it’s the ones growing in drier environments that have a higher level of salicylin.  Choose healthy branches 1-3 inches in diameter.  Working with one branch at a time, use a sharp knife to make an incision from top to bottom, cutting the thin outer bark which consist of the outer bark and the thin layer of green inner bark.  Gently remove these outer layers, which should easily peel away from the heartwood.  It will curl into a sort of quill much like a cinnamon stick.  Willow can be processed fresh or cut into 1-2  inch strips and dried completely for later use.  Store in glass jar. 

Projects:

Basket weaving, flower crowns

Contraindications:

Use caution before and after surgery. Willow is very drying to the mucus membranes.  Combine with demulcents.  Cold infusions can be less drying.

 

Sources:
Northwest School for Botanical Studies by Christa Sinadinos
Advanced clinical herbalism: Musculoskeletal system by Sajah Popham 
Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs 
Trees and shrubs of the Pacific Northwest by Mark Turner and Ellen Kuhlmann