The bark of the stately white willow tree (Salix
has been used in China for centuries as a medicine because of its
ability to relieve pain and lower fever. Early settlers to America
found Native Americans gathering bark from indigenous willow trees for
The active ingredient in white willow is salicin,
which the body
converts into salicylic acid. The first aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid)
was made from a different salicin-containing herb--meadowsweet--but
works in essentially the same way. All aspirin is now chemically
synthesized. It's not surprising, then, that white willow bark is often
called "herbal aspirin."
Although white willow is the species of willow
commonly used for medicinal purposes, other salicin-rich species are
employed as well, including crack willow (Salix fragilis),
purple willow (Salix purpurea), and violet willow (Salix
daphnoides). These all may be sold under the label of willow bark.
The salicylic acid in white willow bark lowers the
body's levels of
prostaglandins, hormonelike compounds that can cause aches, pain, and
inflammation. While white willow bark takes longer to begin acting than
aspirin, its effect may last longer. And, unlike aspirin, it doesn't
cause stomach bleeding or other known adverse effects.
Specifically, white willow bark may help to:
Relieve acute and chronic pain, including
headache, back and neck pain, muscle aches, and menstrual cramps.
The effectiveness of white willow bark for easing these and other types
of discomforts results from its power to lower prostaglandin levels.
Control arthritis discomforts Some arthritis
sufferers taking white willow bark have experienced reduced swelling
and inflammation, and eventually increased mobility, in the back,
knees, hips, and other joints.
Note: White willow bark has also
found to be useful for a
number of other disorders. For information on these additional
ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for White Willow Bark.
White willow bark should not be taken with aspirin
(nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen;
in combination, the herb and these drugs increase the chance of side
effects such as stomach bleeding.