What Does a Willow Tree Symbolize?

The willow tree figures in mythology and literature as a symbol of the moon, water, grief, healing and everlasting life. These themes refer to the willow’s propensity to grow near a source of water, which can be an underground spring or stream. Its reputation as a healer was enhanced by the fact that salicylic acid, an ingredient in aspirin, comes from the bark of the willow tree.

The willow tree’s association with the moon comes from the lunar influence on water, including tides. Fast-growing and long-lived, the weeping willow is ubiquitous in cemeteries, where its drooping shape is reminiscent of a grieving human. The willow’s regenerative properties, associated with everlasting life, mean that it can be reproduced by planting a twig in moist soil. The willow is associated with renewal, growth, vitality and immortality in countries from England to China. The Christian connection between death and willows is thought to originate with Psalm 137, which refers to willow trees and grief.

The pain-relieving properties of salicylic acid were documented in Greek literature as early as 500 B.C. Native Americans chewed willow bark to relieve pain, fever, rheumatism and inflammation. The willow is featured in children’s literature, including Hans Christian Andersen’s “Under the Willow Tree” and Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows,” as a source of rustic beauty and ancient wisdom.