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Ancient Egyptian plants: The Willow
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The Willow

Willow by riverside
Willow growing on a river bank
Tomb of Api, Thebes, 18th dynasty
    The Egyptian willow (Salix safsaf) is a small tree growing in Egypt since pre-historic times. It is generally found in wet ground such as along water-ways.
    It's timber was used for fashioning small items: furniture, tent-poles, handles of tools and the like [5]. Its branches, being long, thin and pliant, appear to have been used for flogging: in a love poem a girl speaks of not abandoning love even if banished to the highlands with willow whips [2]. In basketry willow played a minor role. Wicker ware began to appear in ancient Egypt only in Roman times. Leaves, seeds, and other parts of the plant were used in medicine. In the Hearst medical papyrus seeds are recommended for cooling the vessels, and for cooling a bone after it has been set [6]. pEbers contains similar recipes. pSmith suggests cool applications for drawing out the inflammation from the mouth of the wound which included willow leaves, but also dung. willow, tomb of Hu
Apparently a willow tree, tomb of Hu
The phoenix, soul of Osiris, is sitting on one of its branches.
Source: Ludwig Keimer, L'arbre tjeret est il réellement le saule égyptien?,
BIFAO 31 (1931)

    In mythology willows do not figure as prominently as sycamores or ished trees, though in the Heliopolitan tradition it was the primordial tree on which the sun rested in the shape of a bird at the beginning of the world. The Metternich Stela makes a connection between the tr-tree, apparently the willow, and the benu bird:
You will not die from the poison's burn, for you are the great phoenix who was born on the branches of the tr-tree in the princely house of Heliopolis.
After a French translation in Ludwig Keimer, L'arbre tjeret est il réellement le saule égyptien?,
BIFAO 31 (1931), p.190
    It was sacred to Osiris and gave shade to his coffin while his soul rested on it in the guise of the phoenix [3]. In some versions of the myth it was the willow which grew around the coffin protecting it, in others it was the persea.
    Trees were possibly less important in the Egyptian religion than in others. But some trees had divine connections, being home, birthplace or resting place of some deities. In the temple at Denderah one inscription proclaims:
The names of the sacred trees are jS.t, kbs, tr.
After a French translation in Ludwig Keimer, L'arbre tjeret est il réellement le saule égyptien?,
BIFAO 31 (1931), p.183
where jS.t and kbs have not been identified and tr is thought to be the willow (tjeret- Tr.t).
Erecting the willow ceremony     During the festival Erecting the Willow the gods promised the king fruitfulness of the fields. From the New Kingdom onward this ceremony was adopted by the Amen cult.

Pharaoh wearing the festive hemhem crown is offering willow branches.
Hathor temple at Denderah
After Ludwig Keimer, L'arbre tjeret est il réellement le saule égyptien?,
BIFAO 31 (1931)

Erecting the willow. Formula:
I offer you the willow. I erect before you this branch of the temple of the sistrum. One makes you the feast of drunkenness in the place which you love with the very great of your majesty. I have erected for you that which belongs to you at the beginning of the first month of the season of summer, and you enjoyed it.
Hathor temple at Denderah [1]
    Willow branches were often part of offering garlands and the gods were adorned with willow crowns, as an inscription on a wall of the Hathor temple at Denderah intimates: Mummy decked out in garlands
Formula: O divine spirits, come in joy playing the tambourine continuously, the women are delighted, the inhabitants of Denderah are joyful, the goddesses are adorned with crowns of willow.
After a French translation in Ludwig Keimer, L'arbre tjeret est il réellement le saule égyptien?,
BIFAO 33 (1931), p.196-7

Royal mummy decked out in garlands, possibly willow or mimusops
Source: Ludwig Keimer, L'arbre tjeret est il réellement le saule égyptien?,
BIFAO 31 (1931), pl.II

    Willow leaves stringed together into garlands have been found with the mummy of Ahmose I, of Amenhotep I [7], in the tomb of Tutankhamen [4] and in many other graves. Garlands wrapped around the heads of mummies since the New Kingdom appear to have been crowns of justification which the deceased wore as a mark of identification with Osiris who had been covered with garlands when leaving the Hall of Maat.
 

Bibliography:
James H. Breasted, The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, University of Chicago Press
L.Gail Darlington, Trevor Stone, Pills, Potions, and Poisons: how drugs work, Oxford University Press 2000
Barbara Hughes Fowler, Love Lyrics of Ancient Egypt, UNC Press 1994
Ludwig Keimer, L'arbre tjeret est il réellement le saule égyptien?, BIFAO 31 (1931)
A. Lucas, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries
Manfred Lurker, Lexikon de Götter und Symbole der alten Ägypter, Scherz 1998
Lise Manniche, An Ancient Egyptian Herbal, University of Texas Press 1989
Walter Wreszinski ed., Der Londoner medizinische Papyrus und der Papyrus Hearst, Leipzig 1912

 
Footnotes:
[1] After a French translation in Ludwig Keimer, "L'arbre tjeret est il réellement le saule égyptien?", BIFAO 31 (1931), p.211
[2] Fowler, p.6
[3] Lurker, p.225
[4] Manniche, p.146
[5] Lukas, p.448
[6] The seeds or leaves (which parts of the willow the Egyptian terms in the papyri refer to is not absolutely certain) were crushed and applied to wounds externally, apparently as an anti-inflammatory rather than an analgesic. Around 400 BCE the Greek Hippocrates is reported to have prescribed a powder of willow bark to be ingested for pain relief. (Darlington et al. p.82)
[7] Keimer, p.202
 

 
 
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