I love weeping willows, especially in the spring with their graceful branches draped in soft green, but there’s far more to this tree than beauty. The willow is considered “one of Nature’s most valuable gifts to mankind,” says Bradford Angier in Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants. As mentioned earlier, willow contains salicylic acid, the same component as aspirin. According to Mr. Angier, “The North American Indians soon discovered that tea decocted and steeped from the cambium of the majority of willows was important for arthritis and for reducing fever and many pains—this centuries before the isolating and marketing of aspirin. The ashes of burned willow twigs were blended with water and used for gonorrhea. Willow roots were powdered with stones and turned to in an effort to dry up sores from syphilis. The settlers soon joined the Indians in using potent teas brewed from the cambium or inner bark of the bitter willows to treat venereal disease.
The dried and powdered bitter bark, astringent and detergent, was applied to the navels of newborn babies. It was utilized to stop severe bleeding, as were the crushed young green leaves, the bark, and the seeds, also stuffed up the nostrils to stop nosebleeds. These were also used for toothache.”
And the uses go on, including a spring tonic made of steeped willow roots, an Indian practice adopted by the settlers. The roots were used to kill and expel worms and willow tea to bathe sore eyes. Some settlers also shared in the Indian practice of using pussy willow catkins as an aphrodisiac. Probably in the form of a bark tea, but it doesn’t say.
THE WILLOW CATS
They call them pussy-willows,
But there’s no cat to see
Except the little furry toes
That stick out on the tree:
I think that very long ago,
When I was just born new,
There must have been whole pussy-cats
Where just the toes stick through—-
And every Spring it worries me,
I cannot ever find
Those willow-cats that ran away
And left their toes behind!