Crack Willow

Salix Fragilis

Proving conducted in November 1998

by Penny Stirling and members of her homœopathic study group.



The substance

Folkloric Themes

Comparison with meditative proving


The provers

Time and dates

Classification of symptoms

Pharmacy Placebo

Sensations and Symptoms felt on taking the remedy

Anecdotes from the Proving



Crack Willow



I first became interested in proving a tree remedy when I heard a talk on the radio by a man who had just written a book on olives. I was struck by the passion with which he had spent several years of his life researching and experiencing a different tree and its fruit, as well as by the culture, history and symbolism surrounding olive trees. Shortly after that, the BBC started to run a series called "Meetings with remarkable trees". I looked up the trees in Boericke and was shocked to discover that major trees, such as the yew tree, have never received a full proving, despite all the folklore surrounding them and their known uses in herbal medicine.

I decided I wanted to prove an English tree, and was intending to do yew. A group of seven willing and enthusiastic provers and supervisors formed itself effortlessly and was ready to start, when I discovered that Jeremy Sherr had already started a proving of yew in Holland. My second choice was willow, and I wanted to prove the common osier which is a flexible bush like plant used for weaving baskets. I had recently met a woman whose livelihood consisted of making live willow sculptures and I was struck by the flexibility of her lifestyle very much like the plant she worked with. Unfortunately, our group had a deadline due to the commitments of several members after which we could not continue meeting so I ended up choosing, or being chosen by, crack willow because Helios Pharmacy had it ready and available. The concept of drawing the line and accepting the consequences turned out to be important in the proving.

The Substance

The Anglo-Saxon wellig from which willow is derived means pliancy. There are many varieties of willow, white, crack, weeping, bay, purple, almond, grey, goat and others. All are indigenous except the weeping willow which was brought from China in the eighteenth century. Almost all varieties are used in basketry, being extremely pliable. The only exception is crack willow in which the branches and twigs snap off easily.


Willows flower in May, in the form of catkins. Male and female catkins grow on separate trees. They start off as furry buds, as in "pussy willow", which then grow into long catkins, which produce stamens in pairs. Between each pair of stamens is a honey sac. The stamens burst when they are ripe, producing a shower of pollen. The trees are unusually easy to grow from cuttings. A branch of up to 10 foot long can be driven into the ground and it will start to leaf the following spring. Even if planted upside down, it will "take", as the branches can become roots, and the roots branches. The crack willow has an advantage by snapping off so easily, in that twigs and branches that are snapped off by the wind, can float downstream and root themselves in the bank further down.

Willows are customarily pollarded. The shoots of pollarded wood have many uses, the pliable willows being used for baskets, coracles, hats, anything that can be woven. Trees, especially if they grow by water, are liable to split down the middle in storms. They will continue to grow, even if split right down the middle, and sometimes other saplings will take root in the split. Pollarding reduces the likelihood of splitting. As willows grow so prolifically, they can easily be used as a source of wood. Cricket bats are traditionally made from willow.

Folkloric Themes

I recommend Jacqueline Memory Paterson's book Tree Wisdom published by Thorsons, which contains a comprehensive section on the folklore of willow. In it, she comments that, as willows grow most commonly along streams and rivers the branches and roots together form a tube or tunnel which are like the venous system of the land. Willows are associated with Water, the Moon, the Underworld and powers of divination. Willow wands are used for dowsing, for druids staffs and for Witches broomsticks. The willow was attributed the power to avert evil. The custom of "knocking on wood" originally comes from the practice of knocking on a willow tree for luck. In pre-Christian times willow was traditionally placed in coffins or planted on the grave, to enable the spirit of the corpse to rise and free it from the body. To 'wear the willow" once meant to grieve. It was a custom for rejected lovers to wear willow in their hats, to attract new love to them and to protect them from jealous thoughts about their lost love. The tree is also associated with fertility and easing childbirth, and in herbal lore is used for the ailments of the newborn and the aged. The bark of the willow contains salycilic acid, which has been used in herbal medicine, and as aspirin in conventional medicine, to relieve the pain of headaches, rheumatism and flu. It is also associated with inspiration, and particularly poetry. There is an ancient tradition that poets would meet in willow groves. Many of the themes in the folklore also came up in the proving.

Death There is a "spookiness" about the tree, which has often been observed, especially in pollarded trees, as they can resemble wild men or hunchbacked women in the dark. There are stories of willows uprooting at night to stalk unwary travellers. During the proving, one couple saw a ghost, and two of the provers made a connection to a sibling who had died in infancy. Fertility One of the supervisors was pregnant when the proving began, two of the women provers became unexpectedly pregnant shortly after the proving, and one of the provers felt as if she was pregnant. Poetry One of the provers joined a creative writing group shortly before the proving and found herself writing pieces that were stranger and darker than the rest of her group.

Jilted Lovers Virtually all the provers experienced some tensions in their primary relationship. Maybe this is common in a proving. The general feeling was one of "drawing the line". Situations that previously had been unresolved but tolerated either became intolerable or spontaneously moved towards a solution. Out of the members of the group who actually took a remedy, one prover's partner started seeing a counsellor to resolve his problems, another couple split up temporarily during the proving, one couple came together and moved in together really quickly, mile couple split up shortly after the proving, one prover nearly started an affair, and another got her partner to discuss the issue of having children, which they had been avoiding for years. My own seven year marriage, which had appeared very stable, split dramatically and my husband left, a few weeks before the proving group finished meeting, to start a relationship with someone he met the week after the proving started.

Water Whenever l talked to the provers on the phone, and subsequently when we met, I noticed that they were using water metaphors in their speech. Drifting and floating were common words and there were statements like: "I felt like I was in the prow of a boat going forward through the water." Several provers had important experiences in swimming pools.

The Moon Menstrual cycles were strongly affected by the proving. However, as only one of the provers was male and he received placebo it is not really possible to confirm, though it seems likely, that there are strong lunar modalities in the remedy.

Comparison with meditative proving (Prometheus No 6)

This proving confirms the following symptoms:

Pain in the shoulders from responsibility. The feeling in this proving was "as if snowed under". Grief from love disappointment.

Letting go and moving on.

Infertility and sexual problems.

The provings are quite different in detail, but very similar in essence and could possibly be used together.


The protocol used was based on that outlined in Jeremy Sherr's Dynamics and Methodology of Homoeopathic Provings. All the provers and supervisors studied the relevant appendix from the book. Seven people six of them women, volunteered to take the remedy, and were supervised by four others. We all met together as a group to take the remedy, and shared a brief meditation shortly after taking it. The remedy was taken in randomly administered potencies of 6c, 12C and 30C, supplied by Helios. I had asked for there to be no placebo, but they included one anyway! There was no more communication between the provers until we met six weeks later to share and start collating symptoms. My experience of the group was that they were very cohesive and committed. I also felt that the proving itself took over, and that after conceiving the idea, I had very little to do with it. I am particularly grateful to Peter Fraser for taking charge of putting the material onto computer.

The provers

01P Female 1 6c 3/11/98 20.30
02P Female 1 30c 3/11/98 20.30
03P Female 1 6c 3/11/98 20.30
04P Female 1 30c 3/11/98 20.30
05P Male 1 Placebo 3/11/98 20.30
06P Female 1 30c 3/11/98 20.30
07P Female 2 12c 3/11/98 20.30

Time and dates

Times given are the actual time of day, not time from taking the remedy. XX.XX indicates no specific time was noted.

Days are numbered from 1, the day the remedy was taken. Day 0 indicates a symptom that was general and not tied to a particular date.

Classification of symptoms

NS A new symptom never before experienced.
OS An old symptom previously experienced, but not in the preceding year.
RS A recent symptom experienced within the last year.
AS An altered symptom, one previously experienced but with at least one quality changed.
CS A cured symptom, a symptom that was removed during the proving.


The tincture used was made from the stem and leaf of the crack willow, Salix fragilis.

This was made into a mother tincture and subsequent dilutions were prepared in 90 percent alcohol by the traditional single vial Hahnemannian method.

The remedy was prepared at the Helios Pharmacy in Tunbridge Wells.


One prover, number 5, was given a placebo. The symptoms of this prover are included in the text.

Conventional methodology rules that all these symptoms, and any like them, should be ignored.

Some of those conducting provings have observed that the symptoms of non participants who are members of a proving group experience valid symptoms (see Norland, M. Group and Proving Phenomena, The Homœopath 72 1999).

The symptoms are included and clearly marked so that the reader is able to use them as he or she sees fit.

Sensations and Symptoms felt on first taking the remedy

The proving group assembled as usual on a Tuesday night and went over the methodology of the proving. Those that were to be provers then took one remedy from their assigned vial. The whole group meditated quietly for a quarter of an hour. They briefly described the meditation and then dispersed.

These are some of the sensations and symptoms felt by provers during that meditation.

Prover 1

I had heart palpitations and alternately felt hot then cold. The coldness stayed with me for about 2 hours.

I opened my eyes from the meditation and the wall opposite appeared to have a green hue.

I had the image of a dark shadowy form on closing my eyes - it looked like a black bear. I felt sad thinking of the bear chained - having lost its nature and power.

Prover 2

Immediately after taking remedy felt 'spacey'. Felt mildly disconnected from the scene. Was in a dream/daze, turned left instead of right, and walked 200m before realized it was wrong direction.

Sensation of heat ascending from neck over back of Sensation of heat ascending from neck over back of head.

Prover 4

Feel as though would do something mad; that everyone will think I am crazy.

Feeling pressed down by a great force.

Heart palpitations.

Warmth and peace with others in group.

Prover 5

Absolute tension all over my body especially in my arms and across my back.

Little sharp pains in the tip of right centre toe, the furthermost point of my body.

Pain on top of left shoulder. Extends up into neck. Just left side.

Physical feeling of anger and rage coming up from my legs through my body. Anger is palpable and physical but not directed at anyone.

Sensation of both temples being pulled inwards, perhaps as if by a string between them.

Tension around my mouth. My lips are pursed.

Thinking in cliches: Chip on his shoulder; Put your best foot forward.

Throbbing pain in left wrist to thumb. (I hour later in right as well.)

Visions of mushroom clouds and nuclear explosions.

Prover 6

Meditation when taking remedy: I had a strong feeling that I was surrounded by green, like green glass, green sea, I saw a green glass bead curtain in front of me. I felt like I was in the prow of a boat going forward through the water.

These feelings and images are also in included in the body of the text.

Anecdotes from the Proving

Prover 1

Two weeks before the proving my partner and I had some counselling to address our feelings about not having children. For years it has been hanging around - an issue that my partner has been unable or unwilling to talk about even to me. We had reached a make or break crisis in our relationship and I had initiated the counselling even though I knew that there was a chance that he would leave. Inside I was screaming: "We can't go on like this, something has got to change!"

Now something has changed. He has continued to go to counselling on his own and much has emerged which makes a lot of sense. The primary thing being his fear and sense of abandonment that he has always had and the discovery that he nearly died at birth and was not seen by his mother for three days after his birth. He has been determined to get to the bottom of what happened and is frustrated by his parents denial or unwillingness to talk about anything. Luckily his aunt has been able to confirm what happened. He continues to confront his parents (unheard of in the past) wanting to hear the truth from them.

On Christmas day I went to the churchyard where my family are buried. I put a flower on my father's grave. It was a stormy day and we were late meeting up with the rest of the family, but I had a strong urge to go to the back of the graveyard and find my sister's grave. My sister was the third born of my siblings, I am the youngest of six. She was born with a hole in her heart and a cleft palate. She died on the operating table - she was three months old. She was buried somewhere at the back of the churchyard, while all the other members of our family are in plots at the front. I felt a strong urge to find her and that she should be with the rest of the family, not alone in this wilder part of the churchyard.

Prover 4

My experience of the willow tree proving contained certain striking characteristics. Firstly, I found that I became very tearful and irritable. Not only were these symptoms felt but they were expressed. Usually I am quite a calm person, keeping things well contained, but there was no chance of this - every emotion came to the surface in a flood. Secondly, there was a great suddenness and decisiveness. During the proving I moved in and set up home with my partner who I had only met a few months ago. All my friends were very surprised as I am usually very cautious, especially when it comes to personal relationships. In life, everyone goes through big changes, such as changing house or relationship, but these are usually decisions made after much thought.

In Willow Tree I feel that there is a suddenness which means that these sorts of events occur really quickly. The other unusual thing is that I had a symptom of being convinced that I was pregnant - no matter what precautions I took. I had no control over my body's desire to become pregnant. I didn't want to tell my supervisor at the time and this symptom only came out once the proving had finished. I believe it reflects the need to take root as well as the existence of hidden secrets in Willow Tree.

One day my partner came over with a goatee beard. I hated it and went into a huge sulk. I would not even look at him until he had shaved it off. (An unusually extreme and unreasonable reaction.)

Prover 5 (placebo)

During the proving my wife and I both experienced the presence of a ghost in our house. We had never sensed him before, even though we have lived in the house for more than five years. Our children did not seem to be aware of him. He was in no way threatening and seemed to be somewhat removed from our lives.

The main issue that arose for me during the proving was a memory of having been beaten at school as a child and the feeling that I would never take such treatment again. It was a sense both of indignation and of resolution, sensations that pervaded my whole life for several months.

Prover 6

I realized when we were talking about the proving that I had stopped going to my Buddhist group when we first took the remedy (with which I have been involved for some years) because when I last went after taking the remedy I felt alienated as if I did not belong. I also felt like that when I went to the School's graduation ceremony. I went on my own because my friend dropped out due to illness. I just could not cope with not knowing very many people and felt very alone, isolated and not part of the group. I slunk off and cried all the way home because I felt so lonely. I could not cope with talking to people I did not know.

The sinus symptoms have been particularly bad, although they were present before. What I have noticed most about them and something that is much worse than usual was that the muscles in my neck and upper back were much more tense than usual. It was as if they were all knotted up. The muscles felt like they had put themselves into one solid mass. They had never been that bad before. There was a link with the sinus headaches as massaging the tense muscles would help to relieve the pain. These symptoms are now much improved. I had some osteopathy which unlocked my upper back. My osteopath said that that part of' my back had never got that bad before. I managed to get a humidifier actually in my office at work. It seems strange though that the headaches were so pronounced during the course of the proving. I had a severe headache for almost the whole of the time that 1 was writing my diary.

Relations with my boyfriend were very strained, but we had been working on that before. The proving seemed to make my reaction much more hard line. I he said that he felt as if I would easily leave him and that I would not care. We had come to a point last summer where a crisis point was reached and as a result I had said that I could not cope with it all if we were still sexually involved, but I would continue to work on things with him if we carried on seeing each other without sex for the time being and we would see how things went. During the proving we devised a plan whereby he got certain amounts of points for getting certain things done and that when he reached a certain total we could recommence our sexual relationship because at that point there would be hope for the future. The points were his idea. This did work and we started sleeping together again at Christmas. Since then though I have at times felt like he was bullying me for sex and again I have not been prepared to take that.

During the proving I was told unexpectedly by my landlords that I would have to leave my flat.

Prover 7

Very upset. Whatever the remedy is it must be the simillimum. Something very strange has happened and it's about my brother who died aged 2, a year before I was born. I knew my brother had died aged 2 but nothing more. Nothing had been said for all these years in the family. My mother had been having treatment for pains in her legs and the therapist turned out to be a healer. The therapist was surprised to find a sense of overwhelming grief in my mother's body and asked her about it as she was sure it was relevant. My mother then began to talk for the first time and it turned out that the little boy had literally dropped down dead one day, quite without warning of any distress. She had another baby six months old at the time and was breast feeding in the other room when the toddler dropped down dead in front of them. She has kept this in for 52 years, I had no idea of how it happened. I was conceived soon after. I feel this explains a lot about my own life, my feelings of fear and nervousness. Needing support from a partner, etc. I was crying and decided to see my mother to try and talk about it. The therapist had told me all this herself, not my mother, so my mother does not know that I know.

I am overwhelmed with feelings of love for my own children and I must finish the relationship with my boyfriend because he will not embrace my son. I am vacillating with indecision about what the future holds, what should I do about my boyfriend, how to cope. I am angry that this has been transferred to me through this terrible grief incident and I hope to talk to and support my mother.

Supervisor 1

I don't know if my experiences have any bearing on the proving. Logically I don't really buy into that one but I observe and acknowledge that connections may be appropriate. Who know. I can only say what is happening.

A few days after the proving began I was plunged into a crisis. We had a huge, completely unexpected, tax bill to fund. It is an unmanageable amount. It means that we have to sell our house and take our daughters out of private education. We have been struggling against the tide for ages. There has been no obvious answer. But this feels like a real crisis. we put the house on the market and decided on a plan to move to where we have our business space. The house had 3 offers over the asking price within 24 hours.

Speed. It's all going so fast. Not sure we are doing the right thing. Yes, it's the best answer. It's feeling like a complete change. The children lots of looking at new schools. I am very frightened about what if it doesn't come right. Looking for houses. Found a lovely village and wanted to live there. We have friends there already. We saw lots of houses and I found a house very modest, smaller, in our new budget and empty! We are hurtling along! We put in an offer and it was accepted. It feels so right. This might be all for the best. I feel so scared, but so right. It's a huge change.

I am worried about the practice just starting to get going. During the crisis and the 2 weeks around it the phone died and no patients. I usually have 3 or 4 a week, that is all, but nothing then, silence. this week I am really busy. It's suddenly happened. Can't believe it. I'm being swept along. It's frightening exciting all together. It's been a momentous month. So stuck for ages - and our relationship has been really dodgy all year - loads of things going badly. Suddenly everything is changing and so fast. I'm wired, not sleeping, not eating and I've last weight but my energy is pretty good and I feel better than I have done for ages. I feel that this is all out of my hands in a way. My adrenaline is really pumping, I'm rushing. Got to make it.

My daughters were at a new school and after 3 weeks my eldest daughter had a couple of bad days and was crying and unhappy. I thought "I'm not prepared to take this. I won't have it. I'll send her to another school. In three days she had started at the new school and was much happier. I could have talked to the teachers I suppose, but it seemed like a fait accompli.

My mother told me of a dream about my father. She had it a few years ago, and had kept it to herself. She felt she couldn't tell me , but now she wanted to tell me. She felt that he was there, that maybe it wasn't a dream, that he was 'so real'. He had held her in his arms and he 'was really there'. She felt better when she told me. He had been there, in her room, that night. She told me so insistently that I had to believe her. He died twelve years ago.



Crack Willow