- Salix alba L.
- Salix caprea L.
- Salix daphnoides L.
- Salix fagilis L.
- Salix nigra L.
- Salix purpurea L.
- Willow family
(Chinese name for S. alba)
Parts Usually Used
Description of Plant(s) and Culture
The bark of the willow tree is the source of one of our most potent
drugs, acetylsalicylic acid, known as the aspirin. Grows to 90 feet
tall. Branchlets pliable, not brittle at the base; silky. Leaves lance-shaped,
mostly without stipules; ashy-gray in color and silky or hairy above
and beneath (use lens). Covered with rough, gray bark, in some parts
of the world it grows also as a shrub. Male and female flowers occur
on separate trees, appearing in catkins on leafy stalks at the same
time as the leaves. The willows grow easily from cuttings and may
also be grown from seed, which should be planted as soon as it is
S. nigra or pussywillow or black willow, S. purpurea, S. caprea,
S. daphnoides, S. fagilis, are varieties of the willow. All have the
same medical properties or closely to the same properties are found
in all the varieties named here.
Unless your property is extensive, raising willow in your garden
is not recommended. Thrive in moist locations, along stream edges,
but will grow and naturalize readily in most situations. Native of
Found in moist places in North Africa, central Asia, and in Europe
(from where it was introduced to the United States).
Alterative (gradually restores health), anodyne (relieves pain),
febrifuge (reduces fever), astringent (stops capillary bleeding),
antiperiodic (prevents periodic return of fever), anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory,
analgesic, antiseptic, tonic, and vermifuge (kills worms).
Glucosides, salicin (salicoside), salicum, salicortine, flavonoids,
and tannin. The European white willow is very similar in properties
to the North American variety but contains more tannins.
Legends, Myths and Stories
Native Americans used several varieties of the willow; they wove
baskets with willow, used willow for pain and reducing fever; the
gray willow (S. exigua) was called "Kosi tsube" by the Paiutes and
the Shoshones. They used willow twigs with salt, steeped and drank
Willow was one of the first herbs to be scientifically investigated.
In the 19th century, the French chemist, Leroux, extracted the active
ingredient "salicine." By 1852 it was being synthetically produced,
and by 1899 a less irritating acetyl salicylic acid was manufactured
and marketed as aspirin. This was the first plant-derived drug of
the modern generation.
The white willow bark was used to reduce fevers, relieve headache.
Unlike the synthetic drug, acetyl salicylic acid, called aspirin which
can cause stomach irritation, white willow bark contains tannins,
which are actually good for the digestion.
The tea drug is peeled in spring from moderately large branches and
dried. The bark comes from various willow species, including the white
willow (Salix alba L.), basket willow or osier (Salix daphnoides L.),
and brittle willow, or withy (Salix fagilis L.).
A strong tea made from the inner bark of the willow tree was once
thought to be a "perfect cure" for venereal disease.
The framework of the vapor bath lodge of the Native Americans was
made of willow poles, bent and tied with their bark. The willow was
mystically connected with the departure of the spirit from the body
at death. Willow twigs had certain uses in funeral rites.
The Chinese use S. purpurea which they call Shui-yang. Used for chronic
dysentery, cancerous sores,
and dressing wounds, and
Used in treating feverish diseases,
chills, ague, pain, inflammations,
gout, and rheumatic
ailments, arthritic joints.
Native Americans used for diarrhea,
to staunch bleeding, and for dandruff.
Taken for worms, gonorrhea,
chronic diarrhea and edema.
It may also be taken as a bitter tonic in small doses before meals,
to hasten convalescence from acute diseases.
The tea made from the leaves or buds is good in gangrene,
cancer, and eczema.
Wash is used for corns, cuts,
rash. Experimentally, delays cataract formation and risk of heart
disease in males.
Formulas or Dosages
Decoction: soak 1 to 3 tsp. of bark in a cup of cold water
for 3-4 hours and then bring the water to a boil. Take a mouthful
at a time of the unsweetened decoction, to a total of about 1 cup
Cold extract: soak 1 tbsp. bark in cold water for 8-10 hours
Powder: take 1 to 1 1/2 tsp. 3 times per day.
White willow bark in capsules: take 2 every 2 to 3 hours as needed.
This is an excellent aspirin substitute.
The active substances may irritate the mucous membranes of the stomach,
and for this reason people with sensitive stomachs should refrain
from drinking willow bark tea. This is quite uncommon due to the tannins,
which are actually good for digestion, unlike the irritant of aspirin.
No other side effects are noted. Aspirin has been known to reduce
clotting time if taken often or on a regular basis.