With their majestic hanging branches and haunting name, weeping willow trees are some of the most mysterious trees in existence. Their history includes adventures with ancient Greek poets and goddesses, abandoned lovers, and people struck with fevers and pain. While some of their powers are purely superstitious, other powers have science to back them -- though people have not always known the science behind the weeping willow's magic.
Weeping willow trees have long played a part in witchcraft and magic. For instance, the sorcery teacher Hecate was the Greek goddess of the moon and willow tree. Meanwhile, the poet Orpheus took willow branches with him when he went to the Underworld, as the willow was holy to poets. The goddess Helice had priestesses who also employed willow in their magic.
Weeping willows are associated with death and grief. Oracles predicted Alexander the Great's death when they noticed that the willow brushed the crown off his head while he was passing in a boat, according to Russell Miller's article "Weeping Willow" on Bellarmine University's website. In the 1500s, people whose lovers had forsaken them started wearing crowns or hats made from willow leaves and twigs. By the 1800s, weeping willows -- with their sad name -- made appearances on mourning cards and gravestones. They also grace many cemeteries, and when it rains, their long, drooping branches appear to drip raindrop tears for the deceased.
Weeping willow trees have healing properties that have been well-known for centuries. Their bark helps cure fevers, colds and rheumatism. Some people used to chew willow twigs as an offbeat method of pain relief. Since the 1800s, scientists have known the secret ingredient that gives willow trees their healing power: salicylic acid. This led to the creation of the first synthetic drug, the pain reliever acetylsalicylic acid, also known as aspirin.