Survival Plant 3: Willow Medicine

When choosing plants, trees, and shrubs to write about it's easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer quantity and the sheer awesomeness. For this series on survival plants, I'm choosing to stack functions. I'm trying to write about familiar or semi-familiar plants that help us meet our needs of warmth, fire, shelter, food, water, and medicine. And I'm especially focusing on easy to identify plants that do more than one of those things. Heck, I'm even trying to focus on Northern Hemisphere plants that were useful to our ancestors. Willow is a great example of this.

There are A LOT of varieties of willow in the world. The Weeping Willow is probably the most recognized, but if you find a shrub near water that has long lance-shaped leaves and really flexible branches, it's a really good chance it's a willow. Willows can be made into a lot of things. There branches can be turned into baskets. The trunk or main body of medium-size willows can be made into bows, including one of my favorites the quickie bow (a functioning bow that can be made in about an hour or less). Even if the main trunk is cut down, it's highly likely that the stump of the willow will sprout several new trunks-and so this shrub is ideal for coppicing.

You can harvest and use willow branches for fire kits, especially bow-drill fire. The bark can be stripped and made into decent cordage. You can also make a really interesting style of shelter by harvesting several willow poles, bending them and inter-weaving them and placing the ends in the earth. This forms a dome structure that is very sturdy. In fact, this is how most sweat lodges are made. Finally, the leaves and bark contain salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. Chewing the bark or making a tea or tincture from it is an effective form of pain relief and fever reduction.

I have had the experience a couple of times of being in sweat lodge made from freshly cut willows. I'll probably write about that more down the road, but it was really unbelievable how powerful the combination of heat, steam, and willow medicine was at removing aches and pains from the body!

Definitely a survival plant worth knowing!!!


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Jon Young  is a deep nature-people-self connection researcher, mentor, naturalist, wildlife tracker, author, workshop leader, consultant, sought after public speaker and storyteller. Jon has been mentored in deep nature connection by his own grandmothers, Tom Brown, Jr. and a host of elders and experts. As a leader in the field of nature-based community building over 30 years, Jon’s research into the impact and significance of nature on mentoring, human intelligence, spiritually, well-being and development has influenced tens of thousands of people worldwide.  Jon has authored and co-authored several seminal works on nature connection and connection mentoring, including What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World (2013), and Coyote's Guide to Connecting to Nature (2007). Jon has appeared in numerous documentaries including The Animal Communicator (2012). In 2016, he received the Champion of Environmental Education Award for his innovative work, which has inspired positive developments in the field, and fostered the growth of the nature connection movement on a global level. Jon is a father of six children, and lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with his partner, Sarah


Sarah is a energywork practitioner, bodyworker, wildlife tracker, and interspecies communicator. She has studied wildlife tracking through Shikari Tracker Mentoring with Jon Young and Josh Lane, Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School, and Cybertracker Conservation. She is a graduate of the Kamana Naturalist Training Program and studied Interspecies Communication with Anna Breytenbach and Wynter Worsthorne. 


For over 19 years, Sarah has been practicing various healing modalities including Chakra-work, Craniosacral Therapy, Meridian Therapy, Qi Gong, Emotional Clearing, and Five Elements Herbalism. She currently offers Earth-based energywork sessions, and lives in the sandhill mountains near Santa Cruz, CA with her partner Jon.