The Many Uses of Willow

For thousands of years, willow has been used for a variety of purposes including moisture control, as a medicine, and for weaving.   

There are over 400 species of willow, which range from tiny woody plants that are under 3 inches tall to massive trees that tower over sixty feet in height.

One characteristic of willows is that they are generally found in moist areas. Because they absorb so much moisture, they are often intentionally planted in wet areas to help soak up excess water. Sometimes such plantings become a nuisance. If they are planted too close to water transportation systems, their roots can end up clogging water pipes. 

In addition to being used for moisture control, willows were traditionally used medicinally. There are stories of Native Americans long ago chewing on willow bark to relieve pain. That’s because willows contain a chemical in their bark and leaves called salicin. This chemical, which is an anti-inflammatory agent, was used to reduce fevers and aches before aspirin was invented.

Another quality that most willows share is that they have relatively pliant, slender stems which can be used for weaving sculptures as well as practical items such as baskets and fishing nets.  

For those who would like to try their hand at weaving with this age-old plant, artist Susie J. Gray will be at the Woodstock History Center on Wednesday, September 18, from 1:30-3:30, conducting a willow weaving workshop. Advanced registration is required, and participants must register by September 11. The materials fee for this workshop is $15.00/person. To register, please call the Woodstock History Center: (802) 457-1822 (Ext. 2)

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Matthew Powers