Willow – Herb Lore

Salix alba

And so to Willow. A very magical tree indeed. I’m mainly concerned with White willow – Salix alba, AKA Pussy Willow, Saille, Tree of Enchantment, The Witch’s Tree. Willow is also one of the “nine sacred trees” mentioned in Wicca and witchcraft, with several magical uses. In the Celtic calendar the Willow Moon corresponds to April. I was born in April, and this is why I have a tattoo of a willow branch on my foot.


Willows are all about water, so they’re all about the moon and the feminine too.  For example, Hecate the powerful Greek goddess of the moon and of willow, also taught sorcery and witchcraft, and was ‘a mighty and formidable divinity of the Underworld’. Helice was also associated with water, and her priestesses used willow in their water magic and witchcraft. The willow muse, called Heliconian after Helice, was sacred to poets, and the Greek poet Orpheus carried willow branches on his adventures in the Underworld. He was also given a lyre by Apollo, and it is interesting to note that the sound boxes of harps used to be carved from solid willow wood.

willow tree

Willows also have a lot of association with death. Ancient Celts believed willow planted on the grave would suck up the spirit of the dead person and their spirit would live in the tree.  In the Wiccan Rede, it is described as growing by water, guiding the dead to “The Summerland”.

knotted willow

Willow’s ability to quickly regrow from coppiced or pollarded trees, growing several feet in one season, or the ease with which a new tree can be grown merely by pushing a healthy branch cutting into the soil (even upside down!), has come to symbolise renewal, growth, vitality and immortality in other parts of the world such as China. The willow is a famous subject in many East Asian nations’ cultures, particularly in pen and ink paintings from China and Japan.

In China, some people carry willow branches with them on the day of their Tomb Sweeping or Qingming Festival. Willow branches are also put up on gates and/or front doors, which they believe help ward off the evil spirits that wander on Qingming. Legend states that on Qingming Festival, the ruler of Hades allows the spirits of the dead to return to earth (Is it me or does it seem unlikely that HADES would feature in Chinese legend?). Since their presence may not always be welcome, willow branches keep them away. Taoist witches (TAOIST witches?) also use a small carving made from willow wood for communicating with the spirits of the dead. The image is sent to the nether world, where the disembodied spirit is deemed to enter it, and give the desired information to surviving relatives on its return. In Japanese tradition, the willow is associated with ghosts. It is popularly supposed that a ghost will appear where a willow grows.

white willow leaves


  • In English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be quite sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travellers.

  • If you wish to conjure spirits mix crushed willow with sandalwood and burn at a waning moon outdoors.

  • 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”.

  • Willow smoke is believed to sooth and guide the souls of the dead.

  • Witches give the tree special importance and use it as a meeting place.

  • All parts of the willow guard against evil and can be carried or placed in the home for this purpose. Knock on a willow tree (knock on wood) to avert evil.

  • It has been said that the willow produces snakes, while it’s ashes will drive them away.

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.

Sources – Wikipedia, Trees for Life, The Herbalist’s path, Cunnigham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs

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