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Herbal Traditions and Rituals: Spotlight on Willow (Salix sp)


Harvesting Willow

One of the things I enjoy most about working with plants are the rituals and opportunities for deepening the relationship that our ancestors long had with plants. One of the plants I enjoy working with during the winter months is Willow (Salix sp). Willow is one of the plants that invite me to integrate my herbal skills as well as traditional primitive skills.

Historically herbal medicine was only one component of the support that plants offer. With the advent of modern medicine and an increasingly compartmentalized world, we often forget the importance of plants in our daily lives. The foundation of the vast majority of activities and tools for daily living are plant-based. Oil is fossilized plant material, rubber originates from plants and so does aspirin as well as other medicines, conventional and traditional. 

Willow is sometimes called natures aspirin. The plant contains salicin a compound that is synthesized to produce aspirin. When salicin is metabolized it converts to salicylates, which reduces inflammation and offers the body pain relief. Like our ancestors, I often just chew on the bark for this effect. I also do preserve this medicine by preparing extracts of the bark. 

Willow stalks are also used to make baskets, to witch or dowse for water, to make artists charcoal, and to make a rooting hormone. 

Handmade Artist Charcoal

I have used willow for all of the above and winter is such a great time to harvest this plant. In many regions of the world, some species of willow grows. In my area, I find it growing in parks and along farm fields. It is often cut back, which means that it is being coppiced, or cut back perfectly for making baskets. 

Handmade Willow Basket

Making baskets from natural materials is a traditional skill that has been practiced for centuries. Utilizing my own basket for foraging brings me closer to the healing traditions of my ancestors. 

In my herbal apprenticeship and traditional skills programs, I enjoy another long-standing aspect of these traditions: that of passing them on and sharing. Sharing skills and wisdom is a lost art in a culture that does not value the skills of our ancestors. Below you will find a video highlighting the apprentice work that I do and have offered for over 2 decades. 

2020 and the pandemic brought the need and importance of these skills and traditions into focus for me. Our health and well being is dependent on a relationship with the earth. Our well being is ultimately entwined with the health of the planet. Living in harmony and developing regenerative practices, that recognize our literal dependence on the earth for our well being and survival is paramount. Truthfully our very breath, every breath we have ever taken is dependent on the plants. They breathe out and we breathe in. From the day we are born, until the day we die we literally depend on the plants for our lives. When we work with the plants we are brought into a harmonious relationship with the patterns of our very breathe.

Whether you simply make tea or take a deeper dive into the plant world I hope you will join me in 2021 in acknowledging our relationship with the plants and the possibilities that these connections offer. Connecting with the plants in some way is a portal to understanding our place on the planet.

May This New Year Bring You and Your Loved Ones A Sense of Peace and Harmony,

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