The white willow bark, a species of willow native to Europe and western and central Asia, has uses that date back thousands of years to the time of Hippocrates (400 BC). Since then, it has been used to treat fevers and pain, and was used in ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, and Greek medicine. Native American healers in North America also used it to treat fevers and pain.
The willow can grow fast to approximately 10 to 30 meters tall. Despite their fast growth, they are relatively short-lived. They are susceptible to diseases like watermark disease and willow anthracnose. Both of these diseases are serious problems for willows. Its leaves are paler than most other willows due to a covering of silky white hairs on its underside.
It is known for other names such as Basket Willow, Crack Willow, and Daphne Willow. Other common names for this tree are Bay, Black, and Brittle Willow; Corteza de Sauce; Écorce de Saule; and Écorce de Saule Blanc.
Among the many claimed benefits of the plant include the following:
- Eases pain and reduces inflammation
- Helps lose weight
- Relieves headaches
- Treats low back pain
- Treats osteoarthritis
- Treats other conditions like inflammations, menstrual cramps, fever, flu, tendonitis, bursitis and skin conditions like sores, burns and cuts
Although a lot of people have experienced these benefits, more research needs to be conducted to validate some of these benefits. Individuals with gastrointestinal and liver problems or diabetes are also advised to take the willow with caution.
The key component of white willow bark is salicin, a chemical similar to aspirin. Salicin is the one responsible for the plant’s pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. Although its effects are slower, studies say it may last longer and cause less gastronomic side effects compared to aspirin. However, since salicin is similar to aspirin, individuals who are hypersensitive to aspirin are advised to avoid taking any willow-containing product.
There should also be extra precaution when taking anticoagulants as well as acetazolamide and anti-hypertensives. These and other anti-inflammatory drugs do not interact well with white willow bark.
When ingested, the salicin is converted to salicylic acid by the body. Like aspirin, herbalists commonly use the plant to treat conditions like painful menstruation, arthritis and neuralgia. Recently, the plant is also used for skin and beauty treatments.
With the plant’s commonly known ability to treat fevers and pain, it may be of good use to you. Studies particularly point to benefits for those who often experience back pain.