Black Willow

Latin Name: Salix Nigra

willowOrigin: Native to east and central North America

Family: Salicaceae.

Known Hazards: None known.

Habitat: Found in a wide variety of soils, so long as they are wet, by streamsides, shores and rich low woods.

Edibility Rating: 1 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 3 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Deciduous, rapidly-growing tree to about 20 m tall with one, or less often up to 4, trunks.
Flowers: Plants male or female. Flower spikes are called catkins. Male catkins yellow, female catkins green. Catkins appear with leaves in spring.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by its non-drooping habit, twigs shiny and red-brown when exposed to sun, thin leaves that are almost equally green on both sides and deeply fissured grey bark on stems over 10 cm in diameter.

Developed male catkin by urtica

Dispersal: Seed, and to a lesser extent pieces.

Confused With: Other Salix species, see taxonomic text for detailed distinguishing features.

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Inner bark; Leaves. Inner bark – raw or cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and then added to cereal flour for use in making bread etc. A very bitter flavour, it is a famine food that is only used when all else fails. Young shoots – raw or cooked. They are not very palatable.


Medicinal Uses

Anodyne; Antiinflammatory; Antiperiodic; Antiseptic; Astringent; Diaphoretic; Diuretic; Febrifuge; Hypnotic; Sedative; Tonic. The bark is anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiperiodic, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, hypnotic, sedative, tonic. It has been used in the treatment of gonorrhoea, ovarian pains and nocturnal emissions. The bark of this species is used interchangeably with S. alba. It is taken internally in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, gout, inflammatory stages of auto-immune diseases, diarrhoea, dysentery, feverish illnesses, neuralgia and headache. The bark can be used as a poultice on cuts, wounds, sprains, bruises, swellings etc. The bark is removed during the summer and dried for later use. The leaves are used internally in the treatment of minor feverish illnesses and colic. The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season and are used fresh or dried. The fresh bark contains salicin, which probably decomposes into salicylic acid (closely related to aspirin) in the human body. This is used as an anodyne and febrifuge and as an ingredient of spring tonics.

Other Uses

Basketry; Charcoal; Hair; Paper; Soil stabilization; Tannin; Wood. The young stems are very flexible and are used in basket and furniture making. The twigs can be split in half lengthways, sun-dried and used as the foundation of coiled basketry. The plant is usually coppiced annually when grown for basket making, though it is possible to coppice it every two years if thick poles are required as uprights. A fibre obtained from the stems is used in making paper. The stems are harvested in spring or summer, the leaves are removed and the stems steamed until the fibres can be stripped. The fibres are cooked for 2 hours with lye and then beaten with mallets or put through a blender. The paper is red/brown in colour. The trees are often used in erosion control, their roots forming dense networks that stabilize stream banks. The bark is a good source of tannin. A decoction or infusion of the bark can be used as a hair wash to make the hair grow. Wood – not durable, light, soft and weak but does not splinter, warp or check. The wood is tough and fairly strong according to another report. It weighs 27lb per cubic foot. Used where strength is not important, for artificial limbs, barn floors etc. A good charcoal is also obtained from the wood.

Notes: Introduced to Australia for soil stabilisation in 1962. Male and female trees common. Viable seeds are freely produced. Major invasive woody weed of streams and stream banks. Like Grey Sallow (Salix cinerea), Black Willow has the potential to be a major invader of wetlands. Early identification essential. May hybridise with otherSalix species. In its native range it is a dominant tree, forming large stands.

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