As you may already know, willow trees are not a single species, as there are approximately 400 different species of willows that thrive throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Many willows are endemic to North America, and are often used to complement garden landscapes. In the past, Native peoples of North America used willows both for nourishment and medicinal purposes.
On moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
Deciduous shrubs with a single scale covering each bud. Characteristic shape of drooping branches. Flowers in dense catkins (aka. pussywillows) Dozens of varied species with different shapes of leaves, though most leaves are slender and long. The willow tree grows in the arctic tundra past the ‘tree line” in small clusters, usually beside rocks for protection. The arctic version of the willow is rarely over 12cm tall.
The young shoots and leaves, buds and inner bark are edible, though quite bitter. They can be cooked or eaten raw in survival situations. Half-digested willow sticks from the stomachs of slaughtered caribou was considered a delicacy. (I personally would have let the other tribe members enjoy that cuisine.)
Willow bark has been used for centuries to relieve pain. It contains salicin, the ingredient in Aspirin. Willow bark was chewed or made into teas to acquire the beneficial effects. Willow bark is less strong as aspirin, but also has less side effects.
Willow branches are often very flexible and can be made into whips. Willow bark can be chewed to clean teeth and prevent cavities. (You wouldn’t want to have to go to the dentist as soon as you get back from surviving in the arctic tundra)
Wikipedia also cites the following uses:
“-Agroforestry, biofiltration, constructed wetlands, ecological wastewater treatment systems, hedges, land reclamation, landscaping, phytoremediation, streambank stabilisation (bioengineering), slope stabilisation, soil erosion control, shelterbelt & windbreak, soil building, soil reclamation, tree bog compost toilet, wildlife habitat
-Willow bark contains auxins: plant growth hormones, especially those used for rooting new cuttings. The bark can even be used to make a simple extract that will promote cutting growth.
-Charcoal, energy forestry such as the Willow Biomass Project
-Boxes, brooms, cricket bats (grown from certain strains of white willow), cradle boards, chairs and other furniture, dolls, flutes, poles, sweat lodges, toys, turnery, tool handles, veneer, wands, whistles
-Basket weaving, fish traps, wattle fences, wattle and daub
As one of the “Four Species” used in a ceremony on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.”
People who are sensitive to aspirin should not take willow, since they are chemically similar. Remember that this article is no way is intended to offer medical advice; it is merely an interesting resource for those who would like to become more familiar with some useful plants.