Herb: Crack Willow

Latin name: Salix fragilis

Family: Salicaceae (Willow Family)

Medicinal use of Crack 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, astringent and febrifuge. The bark of this species is used interchangeably with S. alba. It is taken internally in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, gout, inflammatory stages of auto-immune diseases, diarrhoea, dysentery, feverish illnesses, neuralgia and headache. A poultice of the bark has been applied to sores as a styptic and healing agent. The bark is removed during the summer and dried for later use. The leaves are used internally in the treatment of minor feverish illnesses and colic. The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season and are used fresh or dried.

Description of the plant:


15 m
(49 feet)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Streamsides, marshes, fens and wet woods.

Edible parts of Crack 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. A saccharine exudation is obtained from the leaves and young branches. Used as a food.

Other uses of the herb:

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 contains around 10% tannin. Wood - tough, withstands friction. Used for floors, bases of carts etc. A good quality charcoal is obtained from the wood.

Propagation of Crack 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. Very easy. Plant into their permanent positions in the autumn. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, June to August in a frame. Very easy.

Cultivation of the herb:

Streamsides, marshes, fens and wet woods.

Known hazards of Salix fragilis:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.