When medicine willow (the apricot-coloured one below) grows in deep shade, it collects a deep, reductive power. It is not the leaves you harvest but the inner bark, but it forms in balance with the leaves. You can read it there.
Go seek it under cottonwoods and pines. This is not its place of choice, but the artistry of the world might place it there. Expect to find the power of cottonwoods and, to a lesser extent, of pines.
When it grows in full sun, it is as red as its name. Note that in both cases, the berries are white. Expect here to find the plant in its full, positive power.
There is, however, a fourth environment, which brings the plant out in many colours, with black blotches. In this environment, choose your stems carefully. You have a whole palette to work with. Note that you are likely not going to choose the stems deep in the fall, so learn what you see here. You will need it next year. And how to do that? Read the light.
You are harvesting light. There is a fourth state: high and in full sun, growing out of a steady wetland. Here the full spectrum of colours is present, without the blotches. If you’re looking for a precise effect, of a plant combatting attack, you will find the concentrations in the stems above, in a combination both weak and strong. If you are looking for a brighter energy, look up.
Always consult a wise elder before using any plant, but remember that the elder can only show you what the plant has already shown. And here is the fifth state I found today: the newest growth of all, which stopped producing chlorophyll while still in its most productive prime.
The inner bark here is the thinnest of all. Look at the berries below: neither inner nor outer bark but a third state.
If you eat them, you will vomit. I do not show you these images to recommend self-medicating with red willow. I am just sharing the revelation the plant makes and which is not as foreign to us as modern metaphor and cataloguing might make it seem. It might be that scientific ordering might not reveal what we already know, and might force us to ask our way of strangers. Here they are above the porcupine trail.
I suspect that says a lot about porcupines!