You may remember that last month I started a new series exploring the history and folklore of our native trees. It was called "The Magic of Trees" and followed the Celtic Tree Calendar of dates for each month, starting with The Alder in March. Well, now it's time for the next tree.
Actually, that's not quite true... the month of Willow started on 15th April, but as this week sees us celebrating Earth Day, whose focus this year is "Trees for the Earth", I thought it would be nice to combine the two topics into one post.
If you have never heard of Earth Day before, I encourage you to go and check it out. For over 40 years, people around the globe have been celebrating the beautiful earth we live on and focusing on ways in which we can heal, protect, and nurture our world.
Earth Day is more than just a single day each year, it is a moment in which to stop and think about the impact we have upon the earth and how we can individually and as a collective tackle environment issues facing us.
This year there is a real emphasis on planting trees, and there are so many ways in which you can get involved with this. Here in the UK The Woodland Trust actually offer free tree packs to schools and communities, so it really couldn't be easier to come together and create a greener space in your area. Some of their packs even include varieties of Willow, which brings me beautifully back to our next installment of "The Magic of Trees"...
The month of Willow runs from April 15th to May 12th. When I first started writing this post I was going to say that the Willow is one of my favourite trees, as it just feels so mystical and feminine and nurturing and reminds me of happy days walking along riverbanks and sitting under a Weeping Willow's boughs and feeling completely hidden from the world. Then, of course, I realised that my birthday falls right in the middle of the month of Willow and suddenly it made perfect sense that I love this tree so much!
But my own love of the tree aside, what is special about the Willow?
Well for starters, there are around 300 or more different species of Willow, 19 of which are native to Britain. Isn't that incredible? I hadn't realised the genus was so diverse until I started researching for this post, and it has certainly made me want to learn more about the Willow! But here's what I have found out so far...
As many species of Willow are fast-growing and respond well to cutting and pruning, Willows have been used for things as varied as leaf fodder, screens and shelter, and traditional besoms (with birch twigs for the brush end). Its long and extremely flexible branches have made it a popular choice for basket weaving and in furniture, whilst its ability to withstand knocks without splitting have made it a choice wood for cricket bats.
Not only does Willow grow fast, it is also very easy to grow from cuttings. Twigs that are planted in damp ground (whether purposefully or because they come loose from their tree) will quickly establish roots.
In modern "green technology", Willow have been planted as "reed beds" to help purify and recycle water naturally.
Our modern day aspirin contains an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving ingredient which was first discovered in salicin in Willow bark. The bark itself does not act as a substitute for aspirin, as there are many properties it does not possess, but it is still used to treat arthritis, musculo-skeletal pain, and fevers.
Young Willow leaves have also been used to help treat bleeding gums, mouth ulcers, sore throats and fevers.
On an emotional level, Willow helps us to focus on the watery elements of our emotions, helping us to "let go" of negative patterns, release emotions we have been holding back, find unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves and others, and realise that the healing process itself can teach us so much.
Folklore and Legend
The Willow has traditionally been associated with femininity and, in particular, female Deities. Reading just a small selection of books about the Willow has illustrated connections to a variety of Goddesses in the ancient world including (but certainly not limited to): Belili, the Sumerian Goddess of love, the moon and the underworld; Persephone, Queen of the Underworld and daughter of Zeus and Demeter in Greek mythology; and Spring Maiden Goddesses such as Brigit and Cordelia.
The connections to femininity continue with the Willow's association with both the Moon and fertility. The Willow was seen to symbolise death and the release of energy that makes way for change and new life, and was seen as good luck during childbirth, a point at which life and death can both seem so close when we are reminded of how fragile life can be.
It was also sacred to poets and music, with harps being made out of WIllow. This is particularly important when you consider how history, stories, and traditions used to be handed down from generation to generation through the oral tradition of the bards. Music and songs were the only way of keeping these stories alive before writing became commonplace, and so the Willow played an important role in assisting the bards in bringing the stories to life through music.
Interestingly, the Willow used to be associated with times of celebration, however through the centuries it became to be seen as a symbol of loss and grief.
Where and How to find the Willow
There are so many different species of Willow that it is impossible to write about how to spot them all. However many of them grow well in wet land, such as beside rivers and streams. I would suggest checking out The Woodland Trust's page on Native Trees and checking out the 6 species listed there as a starting place.
Want to know more?
To find out more about the folklore and legends connected to Willow, check out The Goddess Tree.
Disclaimer: Affiliate links have been used in this post in order to help fund the development and growth of Spirit Kid Network.