Herbal Meds

White Willow Bark, the herbal aspirin

Where does White Willow Bark come from?

White willow bark comes from the white willow tree, which can grow up to 23 meters tall.  This tree is native to Europe and Asia and the name "white willow" comes from the leaves, which are covered with fine white hairs.

Chinese herbalists used this natural pain killer for centuries and in the 18th century Western medicine recognized white willow as a pain reliever and fever reducer.  European settlers brought the white willow tree to North America, where they discovered that the local people were already using some of the native willow species to alleviate pain and fight fevers.

German and French scientists isolated the plant"s active ingredient - salicin - in 1828.  A decade later, European chemists manufactured salicylic acid, a chemical related to aspirin, from salicin.  Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, was later created from another herb containing salicin.  At the end of the 19th century, the Bayer company had started to commercially produce aspirin.

Concentrations of salicin are highest in the bark of the white willow and Salix alba is the most popular species used for medicinal purposes.

How can White Willow Bark help me?

The salicin that comes from white willow bark is metabolized in your body to form salicylic acid, which reduces inflammation, pain and fever.  Even though this herb is slower acting than aspiring, the beneficial effects of white willow bark last longer and has fewer side effects than aspirin.  The most important fact is that white willow bark does not cause stomach bleeding like commercially available aspirin.

White willow bark is most effective at relieving headaches and severe muscle pain.  The symptoms that are commonly associated with flu (fever, muscle aches, headache) are also greatly relieved when you use white willow bark.

White willow bark is also very effective in alleviating toothache.

Research conducted proved that people who suffer from osteoarthritis benefit from using low doses of white willow bark daily to relieve chronic pain associated with this debilitating condition.  White willow bark reduces the swelling and inflammation associated with rheumatic conditions and increases joint mobility.

Women will also benefit by taking white willow bark as it eases the pain of menstrual cramps.  Hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins cause the pain associated with the menstrual cycle and the salicin in white willow bark helps to regulate these hormones.

Recently, white willow bark has become popular as a weight loss herbal supplement.  On its own, white willow bark extract offers little benefits, but combined with other dietary supplements it is thought to increase the thermogenic activity of several other fat burning products by increasing energy expenditure and promoting fat metabolism.

If I am already on medicine, what are the interactions or side effects I need to know about when using White willow bark?

Please consult your medical practitioner prior to using any herbal medications should you be under their care.

High doses of white willow bark can cause stomach upsets, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and nausea.  If any of these side effects occur, lower the dosage or stop taking the herb.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take willow bark.

White willow bark has an anti-coagulant effect and people using blood-thinning medication such as Warfarin should not take this herbal remedy.

People who are using beta-blockers for high blood pressure should not take white willow bark as it may make the drugs less effective.

Do not use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen with white willow bark as it might increase the risk of stomach bleeding.

Do not give white willow bark to children under the age of 16 as it can cause a potentially fatal brain and liver condition known as Reye"s syndrome.

How do I use White willow bark?

Make sure that you purchase white willow bark extract standardized to contain 15% salicin.  Do not purchase white willow bark tea, as you would need to consume several liters to get an effective dose.

To reduce pain and inflammation and lower a fever take one or two pills three times a day, or as needed.  Follow the instructions given by your health care practitioner.

White willow bark is safe to use over the long term.  It has a very bitter taste, so the most convenient way to take it is in pill form.

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