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Seeds of Trade


Product: Willow

Other products:  
   Willow belongs to these categories: Building materials, Important drugs
   and originated in Eurasia


Early uses

Willow has many uses, of which the most important early ones were as rods and timber for construction and to make very pure charcoal. The outer bark had an important early use, as a tanning agent. An infusion of the inner bark provided primitive peoples with an early painkiller, willow tea being equivalent to a dose of modern aspirin, which was a directly comparable synthetic, invented in 1898 and the first safe non-vegetable painkiller after phenacitin (1887).

Willow rods have many uses. The osiers willows produce after one year-s growth (2000-2200 kg/ha) are raw material for baskets and hampers. After 2 years of growth, osiers were used as framework for many artefacts, including crude ancient houses, to be finished with one year-s growth of willows plus straw. Coracles and other boats were willow-framed vessels, with animal skins laid thereon. After more than 8 years- growth, willow timber has many uses, such as boat building, carts, housing. The wood is notably easy to bend when green, not needing steam. Primitive mankind living on damp soils, alluvial or sandy, would have found willow a most important resource. The dry timber from mature trees weighs about 150 kg/m3.

The use of the first and second year growths for basketwork and of the timber for construction was prevalent during the first century AD. The use of willow osiers to make coracles and other boats should be noted; it was in such coracles that Irish monks are said to have reached Iceland, an extraordinary voyage of over 1200 miles, in about 1000 AD. The Icelandic sagas speak of -leather boats-, but common sense would suggest a larger, better designed boat than a coracle, a boat with a bow and a stern, perhaps. In any case, the same sort of missionary monks certainly travelled in coracles from Ireland to Wales and Cornwall and on to Brittany and all round Scotland to Northumbria 400 years previously, in the 7th century. So, the Iceland voyages may have taken place. Coracles are still used for salmon fishing in both Ireland and Wales.