Spring is in the air and the Willow trees are getting their first leaves. I have a love/hate relationship with willow. Willow likes moist soils and temperate climates and has a large and aggressive root system. It is due to this extensive and strong root system that willows can be so problematic. They are known to lift man-made structures (drainage systems, garden tiles and pathways).

What I love about willow is the many, many positive uses it offers. Willow wood is fabulous stuff and has been used for manufacturing things by humans since the earliest of times. The medicinal properties of willow are well known by many cultures across the world.

young willow shoots

The abundance of salicylic acid in willow bark means that an infusion of this is good for reducing fever and also functions as a pain reliever. Salicylic acid is also useful for reducing aches and as an anti-inflammatory aid. The best method is to brew a tea from the inner bark, but if the situation is urgent chewing a few small green twigs and swallowing the resulting saliva-juice should yield similar results. It must be noted that high doses of salicylic acid are toxic and can induce stomach pains, diarrhoea and in high doses death. Just like aspirin it should not be given to those under 16.

While you can eat young willow shoots, inner bark and leaves, you probably don’t want to. They taste extremely bitter and even cooking them does not improve this taste much. However, they are high in Vitamin C and with the additional medicinal properties I’d rather eat willow then starve in a survival situation! The taste does not appear to be off-putting to the Kererū (NZ wood pigeon) who love the new shoots. As do many farm animals. The high levels of zinc and magnesium in willow (as a fodder crop) are said to help reduce facial eczema in sheep.