Willow, white willow, common European willow, duck-willow, Huntington willow
Bark, leaves, roots
Europe, central Asia, and northern Africa
Willow bark is best harvested in the spring when the tree's sap is flowing and leaf buds are forming. While willows typically grow near water, those in drier environments have higher levels of salicin. To harvest willow cuttings without harming the tree, use healthy branches that are 1-3 inches in diameter and practice coppicing.
Willow bark has been used in herbalism for centuries, with white willow being the most commonly used species. However, other species such as purple willow and brittle willow are also used commercially. All species of willow contain salicin, tannins, and flavonoids, which are the key constituents that provide the medicinal benefits. As long as the bark of a willow tree contains at least 1.5% salicin, it is considered to have herbal value. (1)
Willow has a long history of use in herbal medicine. As early as 500 BCE, Chinese practitioners recognized its analgesic properties. Dioscorides, a Greek physician, recommended a mixture of mashed willow leaves and black pepper to alleviate lower back pain when consumed with wine. The ancient Greeks also infused willow bark and leaves in olive oil, which was then used to soothe joint pain and inflammation caused by arthritis. Today, willow is still used in various forms for its medicinal benefits. (2)
Willow has been a staple in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, with a wide range of uses for various health issues. It has been traditionally used to treat fevers, menstrual problems, heart palpitations, internal bleeding, diarrhea, rheumatism, gout, headaches, and even obesity. Its versatility and effectiveness have made it a popular choice in natural medicine. (3)
The willow tree has a complex history of symbolism. While it has been associated with duality, as both a symbol of protection and a keeper of secrets, it has also been believed to ward off evil. In fact, the act of knocking on a willow tree's trunk was thought to avert bad luck, and may have even given rise to the popular phrase "knock on wood." (4)
Willow has been used for its medicinal properties by various cultures throughout history. However, it wasn't until 1828 that its active ingredient, salicin, was isolated. By the end of the 19th century, a synthetic version of salicin called salicylic acid was created in a lab, leading to the development of modern-day aspirin. As a result, willow bark fell out of widespread use as more people turned to synthetic aspirin as their preferred pain reliever. (5)
Willow bark has been used for centuries as a natural pain reliever, but much of the research in recent years has focused on its active ingredient, salicin, which is also found in aspirin. While aspirin has become the more popular choice for pain relief, studies have shown that willow bark can still be effective. In a 2010 study, patients with osteoarthritis who were given salicin reported a significant reduction in pain compared to those who received a placebo. Despite the overshadowing of aspirin, willow bark remains a viable option for those seeking natural pain relief. (6)
Adult Dose (7)
Dried bark/decoction: 3-9 g/day 1-2 tsp dried bark in 8 fl oz water, 3x/day
Tincture: 15-24 mL (1:5) per day 3-6 mL (1:5, 25%) 3x/day
Willow bark, a natural remedy used for pain relief, has been found to cause allergic skin reactions in up to 3% of study participants during clinical trials. It is important to note that those with known allergies or sensitivities to salicylates, individuals taking anticoagulants, and pregnant or nursing mothers should avoid using willow bark. As willow bark has similar effects to aspirin, it should be used with the same precautions. Children with symptoms of a viral infection, particularly a fever or chickenpox, should not use willow bark as it can lead to Reye's syndrome. Additionally, due to its high tannin content, long-term use of willow bark is not recommended as it can cause gastrointestinal problems and mouth irritation. Individuals with diarrhea, constipation, or anemia should also avoid using willow bark.
(1) Foster, S., & Johnson, R.L. (2006). Desk reference to nature’s medicine. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
(2) Foster, S., & Johnson, R.L. (2006). Desk reference to nature’s medicine. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
(3) Khare, C.P. (Ed.). (2004). Indian herbal remedies: Rational Western therapy, ayurvedic, and other traditional usage, botany. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag.
(4) Foster, S., & Johnson, R.L. (2006). Desk reference to nature’s medicine. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
(5) Spinella, M. (2012). Concise handbook of psychoactive herbs: Medicinal herbs for treating psychological and neurological problems. New York, NY: Routledge.
(6) Schmid, B., Tschirdewahn, B., Kötter, I., Guenaydin, I., Luedtke, R., Selbman, H.K., … Heide, L. (2010). Analgesic effects of willow bark extract in osteoarthritis: Results of a clinical double-blind trial. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 3, 186. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2042-7166.1998.tb00927.x
(7) Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Scientific Research: Herbal medicines for the treatment of osteoarthritis: A systematic review