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5 Ecologically Sustainable Uses for Willow Trees

Weeping willow tree (Salix babylonica)

Willows are fast growing, deciduous trees of the genus Salix, that are mostly native to the temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere, growing in regions with moist soils, but are adaptable to almost any soil conditions.

The Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) pictured above is one of the most recognisable willow trees worldwide. It’s quite unmistakable with its characteristic graceful, pendulous weeping branches, short trunk, broad rounded crown, and thin narrow leaves, often with paler undersides.

Willows prefer moist soils and grow near flowing streams and still bodies of water

These incredibly useful trees are valued for their use as shade trees, for erosion control, timber production, and as a source of medicine. This article will detail all the possible uses in five broad categories, to provide plenty of ideas on how to make the most of this natural, renewable resource.

1. Source of Medicine

The use of willow bark dates back thousands of years, to the time of Hippocrates (400 BC) when patients were advised to chew on the bark to reduce fever and inflammation. Willow bark has been used throughout the centuries in China and Europe and continues to be used today for the treatment of pain (particularly low back pain and osteoarthritis), headache, and inflammatory conditions such as bursitis and tendinitis.

The bark of white willow contains salicin, which is a chemical similar to Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). It is thought to be responsible for the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects of the herb. In fact, in the 1800s, salicin was used to develop aspirin. White willow appears to be slower than aspirin to bring pain relief, but its effects may last longer.

2. Source of Material for Construction and Manufacturing

Willow wood is used to make furniture, tool handles, wood veneers, and toys. It is used in wood turning as it is easily worked and is also used to make cricket bats.

Willows are a source of wicker for basketry (weaving of wicker baskets) and for making fish traps.

The wood of a willow can also be used as a source of fibre for making rope, string and paper.

Charcoal used by artists is exclusively made from the wood of willows. All charcoal is made by burning wood in the absence of oxygen, when wood is burnt in air it just becomes ash, which has completely different properties!

3. Source of Energy

Willow is grown for biomass, a renewable energy source which reduces the need for fossil fuels and petroleum products. Willow can be converted into a variety of sustainable environmentally friendly resources, including:

Willows are an ideal source of biomass because:

Large scale projects to support willow as an energy crop are already at commercial scale in Sweden, and in other countries there are being developed through initiatives such as the Willow Biomass Project in the US and the Energy Coppice Project in the UK.

4. Ecological and Environmental Uses

Willows have many beneficial environmental uses, and are used in the following areas:

5. Horticultural Uses

Willow bark contains natural plant growth hormones which can be used for rooting new cuttings. A home-made rooting hormone can easily be made from young yellow or green willow branches, see the article – Home Made Plant Rooting Hormone – Willow Water

Willow trees are very easy to propagate from any size cutting.

These trees are also very fast growing. Coppicing a willow (cutting it back to ground level) will result in numerous rods growing from the base that will grow at an amazing rate of 1.2 – 3.0m (4 – 10′) in a single season.


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