Willow bark is a natural pain reliever with proven effects. An infusion or herbal tea of willow bark is similar to a mild aspirin tablet. However, a willow bark tea does not affect the stomach as much as aspirin. In addition, willow bark can also be used for rheumatic complaints and to lower fever. Its use is also suitable for animals.
Willow bark contains salicylic acid which is also found in aspirin. Salicylic acid has antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. Extracts of willow bark are nowadays used additionally for back pain, inflammatory rheumatism and osteoarthritis. The positive effects do not appear immediately, but only after long-term use.
What is willow bark?
Willow bark is the bark of the willow tree. The bark is the living part of the trunk, just below the bark. Willows are a genus of plants that mark the transition from shrub to tree. Some species of willow grow into bushes of about 5 feet, while other species of willow, for example weeping willow, grow into large trees with characteristic branches and leaves.
In 1828, one of the active ingredients – salicin – was isolated from the bark. Ten years later, chemists used salicin to produce salicylic acid, which was already being used as a painkiller or analgesic. The pharmacist Felix Hoffmann experimented with salicylic acid and finally developed the drug acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) in 1897. He therefore stands as the discoverer of aspirin.
Active Ingredient and Use
Salicylic acid to combat fever and pain
Unlike many natural remedies, there is no doubt about the effectiveness of willow bark: the active ingredient in willow bark is salicylic acid. This substance is found not only in willow bark, but also in certain fruits, meadowsweet and some cacti.
Salicylic acid is the basis of aspirin, the most famous medicine in the world. Willow bark is therefore also called nature’s aspirin. Therefore, willow bark can be used to fight pain and fever.
The usual dosage form of willow bark is a brew or a tea. Such a tea has the advantage over aspirin in that it is much better tolerated by the stomach. What is also interesting about the effect of willow bark as a pain reliever is that it exceeds the effect of the same amount of salicylic acid. Therefore, it is believed that other ingredients of willow bark support and enhance the effect.
However, this is not always desirable. Interactions with willow bark and other medications are not excluded and should therefore always be considered before taking them. If necessary, consult with your doctor or pharmacist first.
Salicylic acid is primarily responsible for the analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects of willow bark. Willow bark is used for:febrile (fever associated) illnesses rheumatic complaints and mild pain in osteoarthritis, headaches.
In folk medicine, willow bark is generally used for mild pain, toothache and muscle pain in flu, as well as externally for foot ulcers and poorly healing wounds. The medicinal plant is also used to make cosmetic products such as willow bark shampoo.
Applications of willow bark
Salicylic acid is primarily responsible for the analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects of willow bark. Willow bark is used for:
- Febrile (fever associated) illnesses
- Rheumatic complaints and mild pain in osteoarthritis
In folk medicine, willow bark is generally used for mild pain, toothache, and muscle aches with flu, as well as externally for foot ulcers and poorly healing wounds. The medicinal plant is also used to make cosmetic products such as willow bark shampoo.
Making willow bark tea
Willow bark tea is not simply poured on like mint tea or black tea. The grated, dried willow bark pieces are boiled in water for about five minutes instead.
The tea is then strained and sweetened to taste. Depending on the type of user, willow bark tea can be a very good remedy for migraine attacks. Willow bark tea can also be drunk cold without any problems.
Dosage, intake and storage
The recommended daily dose of willow bark (in powder form) is up to 3 grams per day. Always read the package insert first and if in doubt consult your doctor or pharmacist. Willow bark is very powerful, so dosage recommendations should always be followed.
Storage recommendations primarily concern powdered and cut willow bark products and tinctures. These should be stored airtight in a dark and dry place. A shelf life of around 2 years is then guaranteed. Once opened, the willow bark should be smelled and examined when used to rule out rot and mold.
Possible Side Effects of Willow Bark
If willow bark is hypersensitive or overused, a tea of willow bark can cause nausea. This sensitivity is known in advance by the affected individuals: they usually tolerate aspirin very poorly. As with any natural product, allergic reactions to willow bark can occur.
This then manifests itself by a slight rash and some itching. An allergy test will then reveal where these symptoms may be coming from.
Interaction With Other Medications
However, interactions with medications and willow bark are much more problematic. Willow bark, despite its aspirin-like active ingredient salicylic acid, has hardly any anticoagulant or blood-thinning properties.
However, it may increase the effects of anticoagulants. The same is true of drugs for diabetes. Conversely, drugs that promote uric acid excretion (called gout drugs) may be inhibited.
Under no circumstances should willow bark tea be taken with ibuprofen or aspirin. It greatly increases the risk of stomach bleeding. Many people choose willow bark tea instead of aspirin or ibuprofen. It can have the same effect, but at the same time it is much gentler on the stomach than the traditional painkillers.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Pregnant women are not advised to take willow bark tea, especially in the last third of pregnancy. You should never ignore this warning. You should also avoid willow bark tea while breastfeeding.
Children and teenagers
Children and teens should not use willow bark because of a rare but potentially fatal condition known as Reye’s syndrome, often associated with aspirin. This is a potentially fatal syndrome that can cause damage to several organs, particularly the brain and liver. The same is true for breastfeeding mothers, who can inadvertently transmit the substance salicin to their nursing babies.