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White willow (Salix alba) belongs to the Salicaceae family. There are over 300 species of willow, but only several species are used medicinally: white willow (S. alba), purple willow (S. purpurea), violet willow (S. daphnoides), and crack willow (S. fragilis).

General Use

White willow is the oldest recorded analgesic, or painkiller, in human history. In 1828, chemists extracted the constituent salicin from white willow bark and converted it to salicylic acid. At the end of the nineteenth century, acetylsalicylic acid was synthetically produced and aspirin was born. Due to the cheap and easy production of aspirin, white willow eventually lost its popularity as a pain and fever reliever.
In modern times, however, white willow is being recalled as nature's aspirin and gaining popularity around the world as an alternative treatment for fevers and inflammatory and painful conditions such as bursitis, tendinitis, headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, osteoarthritis, menstrual cramps and muscle aches.

How White Willow Works

The inner bark contains tannins, flavonoids, phenolic glycosides, and anti-inflammatory and fever-reducing salicylates. The high concentration of tannins may be responsible for relieving gastrointestinal disturbances and reducing tumours of the oesophagus, stomach, colon and rectum.
White willow's analgesic effect works to inhibit the production of prostaglandins, a hormone-like chemical that is produced by the body in response to injury and causes aches, pains, and inflammation. Thus, white willow is beneficial in treating acute and chronic pain and inflammation in conditions such as painful menstruation, arthritis and neuralgia. White willow is best when used over long periods of time and can take days to improve conditions.

The active ingredient in white willow is salicin. Salicin is gradually converted along with other compounds in white willow into salicylic acid in the intestine and liver. Because of this conversion process, white willow generally takes longer to act than aspirin, but the effects may last for an extended period of time. As a result, white willow is mild on the stomach and usually does not cause bleeding or other gastrointestinal discomfort that often occurs with aspirin usage.


Persons with tinnitus should not take white willow.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult their healthcare practitioner before taking white willow.

Persons who are sensitive to aspirin should use caution when taking white willow as it may irritate their stomachs.

Persons who are allergic to aspirin should not use white willow.

Persons with a bleeding disorder, ulcer, colitis, Crohn's disease, kidney or liver disease or diabetes should not take this herb.

Children over 12 and persons over 65 should take white willow in low initial doses. Children under the age of 12 should not use white willow at all.


Excessive doses of white willow may cause stomach upset, diarrhoea, nausea or ringing in the ears. If this occurs, ingestion of white willow should be stopped.


In general, persons considering taking white willow preparations should first consult a physician or registered pharmacist, as white willow interacts with a number of non-prescription as well as prescription medications.

White willow should not be taken in combination with aspirin or such nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as ibuprofen or naproxen, alcohol or blood-thinning medications.

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