The bark of the stately white willow tree (Salix alba) 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 similar purposes.
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 tree most 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 been 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.
Special tip: Choose supplements that are standardized to contain 40 mg salicin, the active ingredient in white willow bark.
For the majority of ailments: Take one or two pills three times a day, as needed, totaling a daily dose of 60 to 120 mg of salicin. Follow package directions.
Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for White Willow Bark, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.
White willow bark should not be taken with aspirin or NSAIDs (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.
Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealthMD Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.