Salix alba S fr

Willow bark contains salicin and other aspirin-like compounds. It is used to treat pain and inflammation, but does not have the stomach-irritating or blood-thinning effects of aspirin.

Willow helps to lower fevers, and can be used as a gentle pain reliever for headaches, arthritis, gout, rheumatism, muscle aches, and lower back pain.

Salicaceae Willow family

Description: Tall deciduous trees that frequently hybridize with each other.

Habitat: Mainly riverbanks and other wet areas.

Distribution: Willows are found all around the world, in a wide variety of habitats.

Species used: Crack willow (S.fragilis) usually has higher levels of salicin than white willow (S. alba), which is the species mentioned in most herbals.

In North America, the black willow (S. nigra) is the main species used. Many species are used medicinally worldwide.

Parts used: Bark, collected in spring, and leaves.

It is a fine cool tree, the boughs of which are very convenient to be placed in the chamber of one sick of a fever.

- Culpeper (1653)

The branch tips and leaves, known as willow/tips... are traditionally used in many parts of South Africa to treat rheumatism and fever.

Willows are graceful trees often found growing by water. White willow is particularly elegant, with its silvery leaves swaying in the wind. Crack willow is so named because the fast-growing trunk often cracks and splits under its own weight. The familiar silver catkins, "pussy willow," are from the sallows, a group of willows with broader leaves.

Willows are highly adaptable trees, and will usually root readily from a stick put in the ground. Willow leaves, mashed up and soaked in water, can be used as a natural rooting hormone to help root cuttings of other plants.

Willows have many uses. The flexible shoots, mainly of osier (Salix viminalis), make excellent wicker baskets, and the wood of a variety of white willow is used commercially for clogs and cricket bats. Willow wood is burnt to make charcoal for drawing, and willow charcoal was once used in producing gunpowder.

Willow contains high levels of pain-relieving salicin. The modern use of aspirin is said to begin in 1763 when Rev. Edmund Stone extracted salicylic acid from willow bark for his parishioners' use. During the nineteenth century various scientists produced salicylic acid in the laboratory, and in 1853 the French chemist Charles

Gerhardt made a primitive form of aspirin. Later a German chemist discovered a better method for synthesizing the drug, and it started being marketed by Bayer in 1899. Aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, is one of the most widely used drugs in the world today.

Interestingly, the early herbals do not focus on willow for relieving pain but more on its astringent action in stopping bleeding, diarrhea, and other "fluxes." The leaves, boiled in wine and drunk over an extended period of time, were considered an effective treatment to reduce lust in both sexes.

It is possible that willow was used for pain as a folk remedy that didn't make it into the books. Willow bark was chewed by country folk to relieve headaches and toothache, and to treat the ague, a type of malarial fever.

Today herbalists use willow mainly for pain, inflammation, and fever. Our son, who suffered from ME for several years as a young teenager, always asked for it for his headaches and muscle aches and pains. Like meadowsweet, it is effective for arthritis and rheumatism, and can help with the pain of polymyalgia rheumatica and fibromyalgia, for which it combines well with Guelder rose.

Pussy willow, Shropshire, in April.

Note that if you are taking aspirin as a blood thinner, you cannot replace it with willow, which lacks this effect. But for long-term pain relief willow may be better for the stomach than aspirin.

Cautions: Do not take willow if you are allergic to aspirin or while breastfeeding.

Willow bark tincture

• rheumatism

• sports injuries

Willow bark tincture

Harvest the bark in the spring, from branches where it isn't too thick. Use a sharp knife to strip thin slices of bark lengthwise off the branch on one side, taking care not to take too much from any one place.

Put the willow bark in a jar, and pour in enough vodka to cover it. Leave it in a cool dark place for a month, shaking regularly every few days. Strain off the liquid, bottle, and label it.

Dose: 1 teapsoon three times a day, taken in a little water when needed for relief of pain and inflammation.

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