Willow fills me up with the forces of Nature it so bravely inhabits. This tree is truly the interface of water and earth. It is an indispensable force in the landscape, in places in need of restoration, as an abundant nectar and pollen source for pollinators, and as a medicine. I am amazed at the life that Willows create.
There are so many different kinds of Willow in North America. Species are not easily distinguished as they express many different variations among a single kind. They also freely hybridize with one another, offering sometimes untraceable differences between each other. This offers tremendous strength in their genetics and an apparent oneness of spirit.
As I started to notice this, I felt one of the many vast lessons Willow have for us. Like Willows, we are all a part of one another even as many try to separate and polarize us.
Willow are the earliest flowering trees in our cold place of the world; Northern Ontario. They are amazing friends to bees. They produce incredible flowers very early in the season that honey bees and a plethora of native bees love dearly. They are very abundant in both nectar and pollen. So abundant that they out produce more nectar and pollen than most trees and plants. If there are Willows around, you can bet that they are the first thing honey bees seek when they leave the hive early in the year. There has never been a more important time to create food opportunities for bees, especially in the early season when there aren’t many things in bloom. Pollen in particular is some of the most protein rich foods you can find in trees. The pollen gives the larvae the energy they need to metamorphose into their adult form.
This is a really imperative message to be sent to farmers, bee keepers, and anyone interested in creating a food forest for bees to thrive. If there were hedge rows planted with different species of Willow blooming at different times throughout the country, bees would have a much better chance at maintaining health and vigour in the hive when they experience their lean end of winter challenges. Encouraging Willow in our landscapes has never felt more important with the current crisis we face in regards to our salient pollinating creatures.
Willow shows us that how we carry our gifts are just as important as our gifts themselves. Willows are some of the best material for basketry. They are flexible and pliable, and yet extremely solid. You can bend and weave them without ever fearing that they will break like most tree branches. Having a variety of baskets to collect vegetables, fruits, mushrooms and medicines out of your landscape is an invaluable resource. They are also the perfect tree to create living walls, tunnels, and arbors for growing other things on. They are extremely fast growing and vigourous. Any project you envision can be made into a reality with Willow in a matter of a few years.
Phytoremediation and Erosion Control
Willow is also the species I think of when concerns of erosion and remediation are in question. They are excellent buffers for waterways, carrying the contaminants of our everyday lives into their own bodies and stabilizing them. They also prevent a large amount of harmful run off from agricultural systems that have been a dire source of concern in many places in the world. In restoration projects, and contaminated sites, Willow is there with so much generosity. On top of all of that, their incredible root systems are so vast that they are one of the best species for controlling erosion and preventing it from happening.
Giving Back to Willow; Propagation Techniques
I once read that Willows were commonly used as fishing weirs because of their ability to root wherever the branches are plunked into the ground. This really emanates Willows incredible ability to adapt and live fully in the face of flux. They are some of the easiest shrubs/trees to propagate, willingly rooting wherever they are stuck into the ground.
While the Willow is still dormant, simply cut a foot long branch and stick it in the dirt. It doesn’t have to be garden rich soil, but an area close to water is what they love the most. It is relatively easy to have 100% success rate every time you do this. Their tenacity to respond and create roots in a single season is more than impressive. Being in their presence inspires a true will to live deeply.
Willow Water for Strengthening Other Plants
In the world of propagation, Willow can be extremely helpful. When it comes to taking cuttings in the summer off of various plants, Willow can be plunked into the same bucket of water to encourage rooting. Some plants are more difficult to root, but with the help of this incredible tree I am able to root softwood cuttings of Sea Buckthorn easily. The hormones that Willow exudes when it tries to root overflow into the other trees and plants. If you add a bubbler to the equation, this keeps the water from going anaerobic and gives the cuttings more time to root effectively. They can then be transferred to nursery beds in a somewhat shaded area to continue to grow out. This is only the beginning of what is possible for how Willow can aid in any propagation efforts you have. It would be interesting to try watering different plants with willow water, or cuttings. Please share in the comment section if you try other techniques with Willow.
Willow bark can be harvested in Spring. The bark contains the active ingredient salicylic acid, which was a derivative of aspirin. It has many of the same qualities as aspirin with its abilities to relieve pain, without the harshness on our kidneys. Willow is also very cooling, and can act as a diuretic in our bodies. It can help to relieve heat and swelling associated with things like injuries and arthritis. Like aspirin, Willow helps to prevent blood coagulation and assists in keeping blood flowing smoothly throughout our bodies. Willow can help ease headaches, muscular pain, cramps, swelling, flu like symptoms, fever, and urethra, and bladder irritability. It does not work with everyone, but sometimes it does magic. My favourite way to harness the medicine of Willow is by making a tincture with the bark. It can also be made into a tea.
Willow is an inspiration to me, and to anyone who knows this tree. Erosion, pollinator decline, remediation, and a need for sustainable biomass are all issues that Willow has answers for by simply being herself. Working with this tree has expanded my awareness for what is possible, and reaffirms that the solutions to all of the problems in this world can be found in partnering with Nature.