White willow bark (Salix alba)

The white willow tree (Salix alba) bark has been used in China as medicine due to its capacity to alleviate pain and treat fever. The potent ingredient found in white willow bark is salicin, which is converted by the body into salicylic acid. The very first aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) was from various herbs that contain salicin but works the same way. White willow bark was often referred to as ‘herbal aspirin’. White willow is the most commonly used willow species. There are other members of the species that contain salicin as well. These include crack willow (Salix fragilis), purple willow (Salix purpurea) and violet willow (Salix daphnoides). These are all sold under willow bark label.

There are a number of health benefits derived from using white willow bark, among them are:

It relieves acute and chronic pain such as headache, back and neck pain, muscle aches and menstrual cramps. The salicylic acid found in white willow bark lowers the levels of prostaglandins which are compounds similar to hormones that causes pain, aches and inflammation.

It controls discomforts associated with arthritis. Arthritis sufferers have reported reduced swelling and inflammation while taking white willow bark. Consequently, increased mobility in back, knees, hips and other joints were noticed.

Image courtesy of Megan Hansen

It may take a while before you can see the effects of white willow bark compared to aspirin but the effects last longer. It does not have harmful side effects associated with aspirin too such as stomach bleeding and other adverse effects.

White willow bark comes in different formulations such as: tincture, tablet, powder, dried herb/tea and capsule. In choosing white willow bark supplements, use the following special tips:

Choose supplements that contain 40 mg. salicin

Most ailments require one or two pills three times a day for a total dose of 60 to 120 mg of salicin. Follow the directions in the label. Capsules, tablets and other formulations are more reliable source of salicin than white willow bark teas because the unrefined bark used in teas used only small amounts of salicin. Tea might be more soothing but you need to consume huge amount to get the therapeutic dose.

Pills are better choice in treatment because they also do not have the bitter taste of the bark.

White willow bark interacts with aspirin. So, it should be taken with aspirin or NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibruprofen and naproxen. If combined with these drugs, there is an increased risk of stomach bleeding. White willow bark can used for extended periods without any side effects if taken at recommended doses. If taken beyond the required dosages it may result to stomach upset, nausea or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). If you notice any of these reactions, stop taking the herb immediately.

You should refrain from taking white willow bark if you are sensitive to aspirin or if you have ulcer or other gastrointestinal condition. Do not take the herb supplement if you have tinnitus. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should refer to the doctor first before taking the herb supplement. Do not give white willow bark to children below 16 years old.

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