This post is part of my continuing series about Harry Potter Herbs, & other herbal legends and folklore See Hazel
The willow has fascinated people for centuries, it has so many legends and uses I could not possibly list them all. The bark of the willow is famous to most because of it's use in modern medicine, the extraction of one constituent to make a multi million dollar drug that continues to be marketed to this day, Aspirin gives us mixed feelings........ This was the beginning that led medical scientists to discover single constituents in plants, isolate them and create modern drugs, this would change peoples view of medicine forever. The pros and cons for this are for another post. Now on to the fun stuff!
Harry Potter Herbs
The Whomping Willow is planted right in the center of Hogworts grounds. It was planted when Remus Lupin first attended Hogworts. Remus would go in a hole under the tree and transform safely into a werewolf, with the tree guarding his entrance to the Shrieking Shack he did not have to worry about hurting anyone or being discovered. The students were not told the real purpose of the Whomping willow only to stay away from it because it would pummel anyone who came close to it. Harry and Ron had quite a ride when they hit the tree in the enchanted car.
Willow is also used to make wands.
The power of the willow Tree
The Legend of the Weeping Willow
There are literally hundreds of legends involving the ancient and beautiful willow. Here are a few more for you to enjoy.
There is a European legend about the origin of Alder and Willow. April 21st was the festival day for the Goddess Pales, Roman goddess of shepherds and herdsmen. Two men decided to spend the day fishing instead of participating in the required ceremonies. As a punishment the Goddess turned them into these trees so they would forever have to haunt the banks and streams leaning over watching for fish.
It has been a custom to plant willows in cemeteries, a symbol of sadness and death for some, I personally have always thought they were absolutely beautiful. The first recording of this custom is in China where the willow is also a symbol of immortality because of it's long life.
In European folklore the willow has been believed to be "planted by the devil to lure people to suicide by the restful swinging of it's branches"
According to Bible stories it was the tree where Judus hung himself after betraying Jesus.
It has been said that the willow produces snakes, while it's ashes will drive them away.
Witches give the tree special importance and use it as a meeting place.
In Louisiana folklore Willow leaves are used. You treat the fever by laying on the cool leaves, when the leaves become warm, it meant the fever had transferred into them.
Willow smoke is believed to sooth and guide the souls of the dead
Old Time Medicinal Uses
Henriette has some great info & pictures on her site: White Willow bark contains salicin . In 1827 a french chemist Named Leroux extracted the active substance that relieves pain and named it " Salicin." In 1899 Friedrich Bayer in Germany marketed aspirin.
Willow has been used for 1000's of years to treat pain & fever.
Pliny A Natural History records several other uses for willow: The ashes from the burnt bark of the tips of the branches was said to cure corns and calluses and to remove spots on the face. A decoction of the bark and leaves in wine was applied externally for gout. Earache was treated with willow sap warmed in pomegranate rind with rose oil or with boiled willow leaves beaten up with wax.
Both European herbalists and Rocky Mountain Native American tribes both independently discovered the use of the decoction as a hair rince removes dandruff, the English mixed the decoction with wine for their shampoo.
Native Americans also used the leaves for a poultice to apply to wounds & cuts, it was also used for making strings for baskets and other uses.
Hippocrates used white willow, the cuniform sign for the willow appears frequently in prescriptions on the 4000 year old Sumerian tablet from Nippur
The Ebers Papyrus lists a liquid from the tree which was mixed with figs, frankincense, beer, and other things, and "boiled, strained, and taken for four days to cause the stomach to receive bread"
Willow appears in Dr Thompson's translation of the Assyrian tablets
The Bible makes reference to the trees for comfort, shade and water.
Dioscorides pointed out Willows astringent qualities, and makes reference to it's use for gout, and the ashes steeped in vinegar used for corns on the feet
Galen a Greek physician who came along a century after Discorides (his name is where the term "galenicals" comes from) noted willow bark extract was helpful in cleansing & healing the eyes when infected.
In The Herball of John Gerard 1597 states " to stay the spitting of Bloud when boiled in wine and drunke."
The Wisdom of Trees
Meditation and the willow tree
Resource: Profiles of Northwest Plants by Peggy Robinson, Natures Healing Arts 1977 National Geographic