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  • Salix alba L.
  • Salix caprea L.
  • Salix daphnoides L.
  • Salix fagilis L.
  • Salix nigra L.
  • Salix purpurea L.
  • Salicaceae
  • Willow family

Common Names

herbsLiu (Chinese name for S. alba)
herbsSalacin willow
herbsWillow bark

Parts Usually Used

Inner bark

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 ripe.

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.

Where Found

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 Europe.

Found in moist places in North Africa, central Asia, and in Europe (from where it was introduced to the United States).

Medicinal Properties

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).

Biochemical Information

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 for laxative.

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 smallpox ulcers.

Used in treating feverish diseases, chills, ague, pain, inflammations, neuralgia, headaches, gout, and rheumatic ailments, arthritic joints. Native Americans used for diarrhea, to staunch bleeding, and for dandruff. Taken for worms, gonorrhea, dyspepsia, dysentery, 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, ulcers, poison-ivy 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 per day.

Cold extract: soak 1 tbsp. bark in cold water for 8-10 hours and strain.

Powder: take 1 to 1 1/2 tsp. 3 times per day.

How Sold

Aspirin tablets

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.

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