Herb: Goat Willow

Latin name: Salix caprea

Family: Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Medicinal use of Goat Willow:

The fresh bark of all members of this genus contains salicin, which probably decomposes into salicylic acid (closely related to aspirin) in the human body. This is used as an anodyne and febrifuge. A decoction of the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers. A distilled water from the flowers is aphrodisiac, cordial and stimulant. It is used externally in the treatment of headaches and ophthalmia. The ashes of the wood are useful in the treatment of haemoptysis. The stems and the leaves are astringent. A gum and the juice of the trees are used to increase visual powers.

Description of the plant:


10 m
(33 feet)

to April

Habitat of the herb:

Woods, scrub and hedges, usually on basic soils, to 840 metres.

Edible parts of Goat Willow:

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. Young shoots - raw or cooked. They are not very palatable. The source of an edible manna. No further details.

Other uses of the herb:

The stems are very flexible and are used in basket making. 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. The bark contains around 10% tannin. 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. 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. Some cultivars can be grown as ground cover. "Pendula" is female whilst "Kilmarnock" is a male, they should be spaced about 1.5 metres apart each way. Wood - soft, elastic, easily split. Used for baskets, rugs etc. A good quality charcoal is made from the wood.

Propagation of Goat Willow:

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. 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.

Cultivation of the herb:

Woods, scrub and hedges, usually on basic soils, to 840 metres.

Known hazards of Salix caprea:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.