« back to list of herbs

White willow

Reduces fever, relieves pain and inflammation, wards off heart attack and stroke, combats certain cancers, prevents migraine headaches

Mention "willow," and most people say "weeping." But the graceful tree should actually be seen as a source of joy. White willow is Nature's aspirin. In fact, pharmaceutical aspirin was originally created from a chemical very similar to one found in white willow bark.

Today there are more reasons than ever to use this herb. Medical research shows that this chemical in white willow (called salicin) not only reduces fever and relieves pain and inflammation but also may help prevent heart attack, stroke, digestive tract cancers and migraine headaches.

Chinese physicians have used willow to relieve pain since ancient times, but it took 2,000 years for this use to catch on in the West — an event that occurred almost by accident. During the mid-1700s, British minister/physician Edmund Stone was trying to find a cheap substitute for cinchona bark, the rare, costly South American herb used to treat malaria (and later shown to contain the antimalarial drug, quinine). Cinchona was a bitter-tasting bark, and near Stone's Oxfordshire home, he found another bark that looked and tasted similar-white willow. As an experiment, he gave willow bark tea to people with fevers. Their fevers and pain subsided.

Never mind that by today's scientific standards, Stone's experiment left a great deal to be desired. The thermometers of his day were so crude that he couldn't be sure if his subjects really had fevers to begin with. Nonetheless, the herb quickly became the treatment of choice for fever and subsequently for pain and inflammation as well.

During the early 19th century, European chemists created aspirin from white willow bark's active chemical, salicin. Aspirin hit the market for the first time in 1899, and within a few years, it was one of the most popular drugs on earth.

Bark still packs a punch

Herbal experts say that white willow bark will work on almost anything you take aspirin for-most likely, fever, pain and inflammation. It will stand in for aspirin, but perhaps not quite as well.

"The salicylate content of willow bark varies considerably," says Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D., professor of pharmacognosy at Purdue University School of Pharmacy in West Lafayette, Indiana, and author of The Honest Herbal. "You may need several cups of white willow bark tea to approach the effectiveness of two standard aspirin tablets."

Recent studies show that taking about half an aspirin a day can significantly reduce risk of heart attack and stroke by reducing the likelihood of the internal blood clots that trigger these medical emergencies. Studies of aspirin's effectiveness have not been duplicated for willow bark, but Dr. Tyler says that in the body, "they become the same thing, salicylic acid."

The problem with using willow bark to prevent heart attack and stroke is uncertainty about the herb's salicin content. "But the preventive dose is quite low," Dr. Tyler says. "Many willow bark samples should contain enough. If you have a willow bark sample that helps reduce pain, it probably contains enough salicin to produce aspirin's preventive benefits."

James A. Duke, Ph.D., a botanist retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and author of The CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, agrees: "I have used willow bark for toothache pain, and if I were at risk, I would drink willow bark tea for heart attack prevention." How much is enough? Given adequate salicin content, a cup or two a day should be enough, says Dr. Duke.

According to American Cancer Society researchers, the same low aspirin dose that helps prevent heart attack and stroke also significantly reduces deaths from four digestive tract cancers: tumors of the esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. According to Dr. Tyler, if willow bark contains enough salicin, it should produce the same effects.

The herb may also help people who suffer from migraine headaches, since use of low-dose aspirin has been shown to significantly reduce attacks.

Putting the herb to work

To take advantage of the healing powers of white willow bark, soak one teaspoon of powdered bark per cup of cold water for eight hours. Strain it and drink up to three cups a day. White willow tastes bitter and astringent. To improve the taste, you can add sugar or honey and lemon. You can also mix it into an herbal beverage tea.

Aspirin upsets some people's stomachs, but most herbalists say white willow bark rarely causes this problem. If stomach upset, nausea or ringing in the ears develops, reduce your dose or discontinue use. Pregnant women and those with chronic gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcers, colitis or Crohn's disease should not use this herb.

When children under 18 who have colds, flu or chicken pox take aspirin, they are at risk for Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal condition. White willow has never been linked to Reye's syndrome, but because of its aspirin-like action, do not give it to children with fevers from those conditions. For complaints not involving fever, start children over 2 on low-strength preparations and increase strength if necessary. People over 65 should also begin with low-strength preparations.

Heart attack, stroke, cancer and migraines are serious conditions requiring professional care. If you'd like to use white willow bark in addition to standard therapies, discuss it with your doctor.

Like this page? Please link to us and let the world know!

^ back to top

© 2014 OrganicFoodee.com All Rights Reserved. Website by: Get Lucas