Over the past few years, I have been harvesting weeping willow with Joyce from Elvis Parsley Store to make healthy fresh dried wreaths for the bunnies as a low-cost well-favored snack. They’re also great to have on hand for stasis episodes, as not only does willow contain natural aspirin, but they are also very tempting to rabbits and useful to judge their appetite with.
Weeping willow is often found next to lakes, creeks, and rivers and are generally considered an invasive species. They can also be grown as a fast-growing decorative tree in yards – if you know a neighbor with a tree, they often won’t turn down the help to keep the growth in check!
Willow can be harvested at all times of the year. Rabbits like them best when there are leaves, but they will usually still happily chew on twigs in the winter or with baby leaves and flower catkins in the spring.
To harvest willow for rabbits, you can take home any parts of the tree, from giant branches to the thin draping twigs and stems to just the leaves. The long and thin twigs over 18″ long and full of leaves are the best to harvest and make willow wreaths with. You can usually snap them straight off the thick branches with your hands, but it may be easier for some people to use some pruning shears instead.
Once you have collected all your twigs and stems, go through the twigs and pick off all the leaves with spider webs, bird poop, or excess brown or mold. We would recommend going through the following processing steps within a day or two, or the leaves will start to rot and turn brown if left without air circulation to dry instead.
We would recommend processing these twigs outdoors where it is easier to clean up (or not), due to the mess of dropped twigs and discarded leaves you will make in the process.
To make the wreath, you simple bend the twigs in a tight circle shape and cross over the ends to make a knot. Depending on the twigs you use, it may end up in a tiny small wreath with soft baby twigs or a huge 10″+ wreaths if you use thicker branches that aren’t so flexible.
Once it forms a rough circle, you then take the rest of the hanging stems and weave them around the circle to loop in the leaves.
After you are done making all your wreaths, if they are still seem to be covered in dust and other contaminants, you can choose to soak them in water for 4-12 hours to loosen the dirt and rinse the leaves. Do not leave the wreaths in the water too long or they will start to rot. We usually use a trash can or a few buckets full of water for this step, depending on how many wreaths we have in the batch.
Once they are clean, or if you decide to skip the soaking step, you can dry them either in a dehydrator or out in the sun for a few days. We usually hang them up outside using clothesline or a rope and check on them after about 3-4 days. The wreaths should be dry and crispy to the touch with no damp leaves left. If you leave them out too long in the sun, they start to turn yellow and sun-bleached. The rabbits don’t mind the change in color, but it certainly looks less appetizing than dark green dried wreaths!
If you are too lazy to make wreaths and have the space, you can also just straight out dry the twigs flat and make brooms to feed instead. However, I personally find that the wreaths are much easier to store without losing all those tasty leaves.
With wreaths, for storage, we just throw them in a giant open cardboard box in the corner of the room — they are good for a year or two as long as they are kept away from heat, moisture, and direct sunlight. Similar to over-drying, keeping the wreaths in heat and direct sun will slowly bleach them to yellow and brown.
Hope this helps any other frugal bunny owners out there to have happy bunnies on a budget!