White Willow Bark Extracts

A bundle of white willow bark.
White willow bark medical, used in herbal medicine. Salix alba. Copyright: kalcutta / 123RF Stock Photo

The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about white willow bark extracts. Back in the day of Hippocrates who famously directed medics in his oath, the Greeks would chew the bark of the willow to remedy inflammation and fever.

Willow bark has been employed throughout the ancient world and into the present as a way of treating pain. In fact, treatment for joint pain, osteoarthritis and lower back pain have often been the most popular uses for this bark extract. Popular medicines using aspirin are taken form treating headaches, cold and flu, tendinitis and bursitis.

The active component in willow bark is salicin which is similar in structure to aspirin, otherwise known as acetylsalicylic acid. Salicin is able to relive painful conditions and in the management of fevers. It became the basic component for the formation of salicylic acid in a process of manufacture developed in the early 1800s. Whit willow extracts provide greater relief but only more slowly than aspirin.

Plant Description

The willow family includes a number of different species of trees and shrubs native to Europe, Asia, and some parts of North America. Some of the more commonly known species are white willow/European willow (Salix alba), black willow/pussy willow (Salix nigra), crack willow (Salix fragilis), purple willow (Salix purpurea), and weeping willow (Salix babylonica). Not all willow species accumulate a therapeutically sufficient amount of salicin.

In one study, the amount of salicin after 1 and 2 year’s growth in autumn and spring ranged from 0.08 to 12.6 per cent. The willow bark sold in Europe and the United States usually includes a combination of the bark from white, purple, and crack willows.

Medicinal Uses and Indications

Willow bark contains a number of components other than salicin. However, it is thought that salicin is the major active in reducing inflammation and easing pain and general suffering. The other plant chemicals are flavonoids, polyphenols and a host of other rarer compounds which may have active capabilities. All these have been claimed to have antioxidant, fever-reducing, antiseptic, and immune-boosting properties.

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