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Native American Willow Mythology

The bark of willow trees has been an important medicinal herb since ancient times in nearly all corners of the world (salicylic acid, which comes from willow bark, is the original source aspirin was derived from,) including many different Native American cultures.

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In addition to the willow tree's importance as medicine, willow has also been used as a source of red dye and as a major basket-making material in the western tribes (the flexible willow shoots tended to be used for basket-weaving in the southwest, while Northwest Coast tribes like the Quileute used willow bark fiber for their baskets and Northern California tribes tended to use willow roots.) The Plains Indian tribes use willow boughs in the construction of their sweat lodges, and willow catkins were sometimes eaten as a food supplement among the Alaskan tribes. In some Northern California tribes, willow sprigs are carried for spiritual protection; in the Karuk tribe, willow sprigs are attached to boats to protect them from stormy waters. To the Arapaho tribe, the willow tree was a symbol of longevity.

Willow is also used as a clan symbol in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Willow Clans include the Hopi tribe (whose Willow clan is named Kahabi or Kahabi-Wungwa), the Navajo, the Apache, and the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico.

Native American Legends About Willow

*Rabbit's Wish For Snow:
    Narragansett legend about how the willow got its fluffy buds.
*Old Man and the Squirrels:
    Blackfoot legend explaining why red willows are greasy.

Recommended Books of Willow Stories from Native American Myth and Legend
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Rabbit's Wish For Snow:
    Picture book by a Narragansett author telling the story of Rabbit's accident with a willow tree.
Native Plant Stories:
    Excellent collection of Native American tales about plant spirits, by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Native American Ethnobotany:
    Comprehensive book on the names and traditional uses of trees and other plants throughout Native North America.
*Sacred Trees:
    Interesting book on the role of trees in world mythology and spirituality, including Native North America.
The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore:
    Another good book about the folklore and cultural symbolism of trees worldwide.

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