Goat Willow (Salix caprea)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Goat Willow
Salix caprea

The stems are very flexible and are used in basket making[61]. 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.

The bark is tough and flexible, it is used as a substitute for leather[115].

The bark contains around 10% tannin[223].

The plant is fast growing and tolerant of maritime exposure, it can be used as a windbreak hedge and shelterbelt though it is of untidy habit[75].

The seeds are very light and so can travel some distance in the wind. The plant is therefore able to find its way to areas such as cleared woodland where the soil has been disturbed. Seedlings will grow away quickly, even in exposed conditions and the plant will provide good shelter for the establishment of woodland plants. Thus it makes a good pioneer species and, except in wetter and moorland-type soils, will eventually be largely out-competed by the other woodland trees. Its main disadvantage as a pioneer plant is that it has an extensive root system and is quite a greedy plant, thus it will not help as much in enriching the soil for the other woodland plants as other pioneer species such as the alders, Alnus species[K].

Some cultivars can be grown as ground cover[208]. ‘Pendula’ is female whilst ‘Kilmarnock’ is a male, they should be spaced about 1.5 metres apart each way[208].

Wood – soft, elastic, easily split. Used for baskets, rugs etc[46, 61]. A good quality charcoal is made from the wood[46, 61].

  • Medicinal Use

    The fresh bark of all members of this genus contains salicin[226], which probably decomposes into salicylic acid (closely related to aspirin) in the human body[213]. This is used as an anodyne and febrifuge[226].

    A decoction of the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers[240].

    A distilled water from the flowers is aphrodisiac, cordial and stimulant[240]. It is used externally in the treatment of headaches and ophthalmia[240].

    The ashes of the wood are useful in the treatment of haemoptysis[240].

    The stems and the leaves are astringent[240].

    A gum and the juice of the trees are used to increase visual powers[240].

  • 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].

    The source of an edible manna[183]. No further details.

  • 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. Cuttings of this species do not root well[200]. Plant into their permanent positions in the autumn. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, June to August in a frame. Cuttings of this species do not root well[200].
Succeeds in most soils, including wet, ill-drained or intermittently flooded soils[1], but prefers a damp, heavy soil in a sunny position. Grows in drier soils than any other British species of Salix[186]. Rarely thrives on chalk[200]. Plants are found most frequently on basic soils in the wild[17]. Tolerates atmospheric pollution and exposed positions, including maritime exposure[75, 186]. A fast growing tree, it establishes well[75]. The tree has an untidy habit[75]. A light demanding tree, it becomes tall and drawn when grown in woodland, though it grows well along the sunnier edges[186]. Hybridizes 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]. Trees are very tolerant of cutting, they coppice well[186]. Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus[200]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
Europe, including Britain, from Norway south and east to Spain, temperate Asia and Syria.

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.