Black Willow (Salix nigra)

S. falcata.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Black Willow
Salix nigra

The young stems are very flexible and are used in basket and furniture making[171, 229]. The twigs can be split in half lengthways, sun-dried and used as the foundation of coiled basketry[257]. 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[189]. 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[189].

The trees are often used in erosion control, their roots forming dense networks that stabilize stream banks[229].

The bark is a good source of tannin[46, 227].

A decoction or infusion of the bark can be used as a hair wash to make the hair grow[257].

Wood – not durable, light, soft and weak but does not splinter, warp or check[82, 149]. The wood is tough and fairly strong according to another report[171]. It weighs 27lb per cubic foot[227]. Used where strength is not important, for artificial limbs, barn floors etc[82, 123, 149]. A good charcoal is also obtained from the wood[61].

  • Medicinal Use

    The bark is anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiperiodic, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, hypnotic, sedative, tonic[4, 7, 9, 21, 165]. It has been used in the treatment of gonorrhoea, ovarian pains and nocturnal emissions[4]. 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[238]. The bark can be used as a poultice on cuts, wounds, sprains, bruises, swellings etc[257]. The bark is removed during the summer and dried for later use[238].

    The leaves are used internally in the treatment of minor feverish illnesses and colic[238]. The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season and are used fresh or dried[238].

    The fresh bark contains salicin, which probably decomposes into salicylic acid (closely related to aspirin) in the human body[213]. This is used as an anodyne and febrifuge[213] and as an ingredient of spring tonics[229].

  • Edible Use

    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[172].

    Young shoots – raw or cooked. They are not very palatable[172].

  • Cautionary Notes

    None known

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – must be surface sown as soon as it is ripe in late spring. It has a very short viability, perhaps as little as a few days. Cuttings of mature wood of the current year’s growth, November to February in a sheltered outdoor bed or planted straight into their permanent position and given a good weed-suppressing mulch. Very easy. Plant into their permanent positions in the autumn. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, June to August in a frame. Very easy.
Succeeds in most soils, including wet, ill-drained or intermittently flooded soils[1, 11], but prefers a damp, heavy soil in a sunny position[200]. Rarely thrives on chalk[200]. A fast-growing but relatively short-lived species, it can reach 15 metres tall within 10 years from seed in the wild[229]. Twigs tend to break off easily in storms, these will then often root and grow into new trees[226]. A good bee plant, providing an early source of nectar[11]. Trees are impatient of root disturbance and should be moved regularly before being planted in their permanent positions, which is best done whilst the plants are young[11]. The root system is rather aggressive and can cause problems with drains[200]. Plants should not be grown within 10 metres of buildings. Closely related to Salix caroliniana, hybridising with that species where their ranges overlap[274]. This species is also likely to hybridize freely with other members of this genus[200]. Although the flowers are produced in catkins early in the year, they are pollinated by bees and other insects rather than by the wind[11]. Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus[200]. Seedlings are very fast-growing, they can reach 1.2 metres tall in their first year[11]. Plants are used commercially for papermaking[189]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
Eastern N. America – Maine to Minnesota, south to Texas.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.