The bark is obtained from a magnificent white willow tree, which can grow up to 23 meters. In China, healing properties of these plants have been used for centuries, but in the West it was only in the 18th century that people realized how beneficial it is against pain and fever. European settlers brought white willow to North America. They also saw that natives use some sorts of willow to alleviate the pain and lower the temperature.
In 1828, German and French scientists isolated the active ingredient – salicin. Ten years later, European chemists created salicylic acid from it, very similar to Aspirin. By the end of the 19th century, company Bayer started producing Aspirin and advertised it as a painkiller, more safely than those who had been used up until then (black willow and small pear oil).
All parts of white willow contain salicin, but most of it contained in the bark. It is harvested in spring from two to five years old trees. Salix alba or white willow is most commonly used, but other species, such as Salix fragilis, Salix purpurea and Salix daphnoides, are also rich in salicin.
How does it work?
In the body salicin is converted to salicylic acid, which reduces pain, fever and inflammation. Although the plant acts slower than Aspirin, its effect lasts longer and causes less undesirable reactions. The most important thing is that it does not cause bleeding from the stomach – one of the potentially most dangerous side effects of Aspirin.
MAIN USEFUL EFFECTS: white willow bark can be very helpful in alleviating headaches and acute muscular pain. It can also alleviate many types of chronic pain, such as those in the back and neck. In cases of arthritis, especially in back, hips and knees, this herbal preparation can reduce swelling and inflammation and increase the volume of movement of affected joints. In addition, it can help alleviate menstrual cramps. Salicin hampers the activity of prostaglandins, hormone-like substances, which increase inflammation and cause pain.
ADDITIONAL USEFUL EFFECTS: like Aspirin, white willow bark can alleviate fever.
How to take it?
DOSAGE: take one to two capsules or tablets, three times a day (or as needed), to relieve pain, reduce fever or calm the inflammation. Follow the instructions written on the product. Choose products that are standardized to contain 15% salicin; you will take 60 to 120 mg of this substance per day. Standardized extracts also come as powders or tinctures. White willow bark tea is not as effective as it contains small amounts of salicin.
USE GUIDELINES: long-term use of white willow bark is safe. The taste is bitter and the tablets or capsules are the most convenient forms for taking. Do not take these preparations with Aspirin because the side effects can be worsened.
Do not give willow bark or Aspirin to children under the age of 16 if they have cold, flu or chickenpox as it may cause potentially lethal brain and liver damage called Raye’s syndrome. Paracetamol is much better choice for children and adolescents than Aspirin or white willow bark.
Possible side effects
At recommended doses, this herbal preparation rarely causes side effects. Larger doses can cause stomach problems, nausea and tinnitus. If you experience these side effects, lower the dose or stop taking white willow bark. Also, you should inform your doctor about those side effects.
IMPORTANT: if you are allergic to Aspirin, avoid using white willow bark. Children and adolescents should not take these supplements against fever.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult their doctors before they start using white willow bark preparations.