I have returned to the marsh on Muddelty Creek off and on throughout the season to look for interesting photos and to check up on the red-winged blackbirds that seem to thrive there. When I noticed the amount of willow trees in the area I knew that I would be doing a Forage Friday post featuring willow. But I also wanted to expand the concept of foraging for my readers a bit.
Typically when we speak about willow trees in the foraging realm we are referring to the traditional uses for aspirin. Aspirin was originally madr from the inner bark of black willow. Small twigs were gathered and stripped out. Once the inner bark was free from wood and cork it is steeped in hot water and sipped slowly. (Please remember that I make no claims of being an expert on herbalism or medicine. Forage Friday is only intended to be a conversation starter. ) Back in the old days you couldn’t just run down to the corner store and grab a bottle of pills. In fact most people who lived in Appalachia just getting out of the “holler” was a major feat. Families needed to be able to fabricate the necessities of life.
Aside from pain killer and fever medicines willow was one of those trees that came with a variety of uses.
The small twigs can be baked in a low oxygen environment and converted into charcoal. Those charcoal sticks are still highly prized by artists today. At the time of this writing the top result on Google was selling a canister of 144 willow sticks for over $50.00. However the next supplier was less than $10.00.
Willow was also popular for construction. The long flexible branches were used in a technique called “Wattle and Daub. In the wattle and daub the willow branches are woven through the framework of the sstructure and a mixture of “cob” is uesed as plaster coating for the wall.
Willow is found worldwide and at one time it was actually farmed by a practice known as coppicing. The branches would be cut back every year or so leaving a bare stump. The new shoots that grew from the stumps were straiter and more flexible. The harvested shoots were used for baskets and fish traps. The Welsh used them to make a shield shaped boat called a Coracle. While a Coracle was a flatwater boat it was capable of supporting a tremendous load. Native Americans in Alaska used willow to make kayaks and bows.
In the Spring willow produces a downy seed that is carried on the wind.
Willow is also both a pioneer species and a stabilizing force on streams. The tree grows on the edge of the water and acts as a buffer to slow down flood waters and it’s roots help hold the soil in place. In 2016 my area was hit by what was said to be the worst flooding in 1000 years. I credit the willows and other trees that grow on my property with preventing my yard from being washed out during the flood.
I’m certain that I’ve left a few tidbits out but if you happen to have access to willow trees then you might want to try making a basket or charcoal stick as a small project.
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