For fuel. The small, dry twigs found among branches on the willow tree are good for starting fires. Mary Francis (COPE,c) said that willow was used to make smoke for drying meat. For medicinal use, the bark from young shoots can be peeled into strips, wrapped around a cut like a bandage and tied in place with a cloth. The white inner bark from young shoots can be made into a poultice and used as a pain-killer on wounds. Any kind of green willow leaves can be crushed and chewed and applied to insect bites, burns, rashes, aches, cuts and toothaches. Some people prefer to use leaves that are white on the underside. For food, in the spring, the Gwich’in peel bark from the new shoots and lick the sweet juice, chew the stem or eat the tips. Annie Norbert said, “Mrs. Norris used to eat the pussy buds just like that.” For tools. Beaver pelt stretchers are made with willows, and in summer, the spring for high set rabbit snares can be made by bending over a thick willow. In winter the “spring” willow is replaced with a pole. Mary Francis (COPE, c) and Roddy Peters (COPE) both indicated that fish traps used to be made with willow poles that were stuck into the bottom of a river or creek. Paul Bonnetplume (COPE) and Elijah Andrew (COPE, a) both described how willow bark was used to make fish nets. Willow roots were used for mending and constructing snowshoes, smokehouses, canoes and nets. Mary Francis (COPE, c) described that in the days before metal cutlery, willow was used to make spoons and forks. Used in shelters, willow branches are good among ah’ (spruce boughs) in a tent. The brush does not dry up as quickly and it smells nice too. Willows can also be used as temporary flooring until spruce boughs can be gathered. Mary Kendi of Fort McPherson said that her grandmother used to knit willows into rugs for around the stove. Willows also make a good mat for outside the tent door. For musical instruments. When Elijah Andrew (COPE, b) made his drums, he used willow branches for the frames. Whistles can be made from new, hard willow stems. For games. Annie B. Robert described a game using rings made from willow branches. The ring was thrown into the river, and then children ran along the bank trying to catch the ring with a stick.
Source: Andre, Alestine and Alan Fehr, Gwich'in Ethnobotany,
2nd ed. (2002)
All the different types of willows are used in the same way except alder. The bark and leaves of willows are used to treat pain or to relieve insect bites. In the summer, willows leaves are chewed and applied to bee stings right away. The leaves are also crushed between the fingers and a drop of water could be added to provide moisture and crushed some more until it turns into a fine poultice. This is put on the bee sting, black fly bites or rash and sores around the ankle or hairline. The poultice will draw the infection out, help ease the pain from the sting, or reduce the swelling from stings and bites
Ruth Welsh commented on willow,
“We use all the willows the same. We use the bark and the leaves. The bark, we make a tea out of it - again, you just bring it to a boil and let it steep. You put quite a bit of bark in it because you want to dilute your tea. But we use that for headaches [and] for pain. It's a pain reliever, the willow is. And the leaves for poultices, especially...first and foremost, the older people wanted something for the bee stings or anything painful like that, they would go for the willow leaf first, then the [leaves of other plants].”
Source: Andre, Alestine, Nant'aih nakwits'inahtsìh (The Land Gives Us Strength) (2006)