White Willow (Salix alba)
White willow is a deciduous tree found in moist places in North Africa, central Asia, and in Europe, from where it was introduced into the northeastern U.S.
Covered with rough, gray bark, the tree grows up to 75 feet high; in some parts of the world it grows also as a shrub. Its alternate, lanceolate, serrate leaves
are ashy-gray in color and silky on both sides. Male and female flower occur on separate trees, appearing in catkins on leaf stalks at the same time as the leaves.
Family: Salicaceae (Willow family)
Other Names: Salicin willow, Withe, Withy
Parts Used: Bark
Habitat: In moist woods, along stream edges. (Alien – Originated in Europe)
History: Chinese physicians have used white willow bark to relieve pain since 500 B.C., but it took five centuries for that use to work its way to Europe. By the 18th century, white willow bark was widely used to treat all sorts of fevers, and as a pain reliever. Early colonists introduced the tree to North America and found many Indian tribes using the bark of native willows to treat pain, chills, and fever.
Around 1828, French and German chemists extracted white willow’s active chemical, salicin. Ten years later, an Italian chemist purified the aspirin precursor, salicylic acid. Although this potent pain reliever was first discovered in white willow, chemists made the first aspirin from another herb that contains this same chemical—
meadowsweet. Salicin was discovered in meadowsweet in1839. During the mid-nineteenth century, researchers showed both salicin and salicylic acid reduce fever and relieve pain and inflammation. Unfortunately, they also have unpleasant—
and potentially hazardous—side effects: nausea, diarrhea, bleeding, stomach ulceration, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and at high doses, respiratory paralysis and death.
Chemists created acetylsalicylic acid—aspirin—from salicylic acid obtained from meadowsweet. The idea was to preserve the benefits of salicylic acid while minimizing its side effects.
Aspirin eventually became the household drug of choice for a broad range of everyday ailments.
Contemporary herbalists recommend white willow bark for headache, fever, arthritis, other pain, and inflammations.
Constituents: Salicylic glycosides (including salicin) and tannins.
Properties: Anodyne, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, and tonic.Main Uses: White willow is indeed “herbal aspirin”. It contains more salicylates than meadowsweet, making it a more potent natural healer.Try white willow any time you have pain, fever, or inflammation.
Preparations and Dosages:
Bark is collected in the springtime.
Decoction: Soak 1 to 3 teaspoons bark in 1 cup cold water for 2 to 5 hours, then bring to a boil. Take 1 cup a day.
Infusion: Soak 1 teaspoon of powdered bark per cup of cold water for 8 hours. Strain. Drink up to 3 cups a day. White willow tastes bitter and astringent. Add honey and lemon, or mix it with an herbal beverage tea.
White Willow (Salix alba)