White willow or Salix alba is a species of willow tree, which is indigenous to Central and Southern Europe, and Central and Western Asia. It is a medium to large deciduous tree, that can grow up to a height of about 75 feet. The name white willow is given to the tree, as the undersides of its leaves appear white or silvery-white due to the presence of silky white hair. The leaves, as well as the bark of this tree are used for medicinal purposes. White willow bark is known to work like aspirin.
White Willow Bark Benefits
The bark of this tree was used by the ancient Egyptians for reducing inflammation. The Greek physician Hippocrates also mentioned the effectiveness of the bitter powder extracted from willow bark, in reducing pain and fever. The main active compound found in the bark is 'salicin', which was first isolated in 1828 by Henri Leroux (a French pharmacist), and Raffaele Piria (an Italian chemist).
Salicin can be converted to salicylic acid, which can be used to treat pain and fever. Our body can also convert 'salicin' to salicylic acid. The bark of the white willow tree works just like aspirin. In fact, it has been observed in some research that it can be more effective than aspirin, due to the presence of certain other compounds besides salicin. It is mainly used for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-rheumatic, and febrifuge properties.
White willow bark is more commonly used for treating fever, headaches, flu, back pain, and the pain caused by conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also be used for reducing the inflammation of the joints and tendons. Like aspirin, it can thin blood, and thereby prevent the formation of blood clots inside the arteries. This in turn, can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
White Willow Bark Dangers
This herbal extract can be used in place of aspirin, in order to avoid some serious side effects associated with aspirin, such as the irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. However, this herbal extract should be used with appropriate care, just like aspirin. Compared to aspirin, it is much gentler on the stomach. But still, the long-term use of this bark can produce many of the side effects that are usually caused by aspirin.
People allergic to aspirin or sensitive to salicylates should particularly avoid this herbal extract. Some of the most common side effects associated with the extract prepared from the bark of white willows are, an upset stomach, stomach ulcers, and stomach bleeding. If taken excessively, it can also cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain or cramps. Like aspirin, it can cause tinnitus or a ringing sensation in the ear. This side effect resolves once the use of this herbal extract is discontinued.
Some other possible side effects of white willow bark are irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, headaches, dizziness, liver toxicity, and renal or kidney damage (rare). Kidney failure or damage can cause fever, excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, pain in the back or the flank region, difficulty in urinating, abdominal pain, and increased heart rate. In addition to these, an allergic reaction can occur in certain individuals, which can manifest in itching, swelling, and breathing difficulty.
Children under the age of 16 years should not be given the herbal extract prepared from the bark of the white willow tree. Like aspirin, this herbal medicine can increase the risk of Reye's syndrome. This herbal extract is a blood thinner, and so, individuals taking anticoagulant drugs like warfarin should not use it without consulting a health care provider.
The same goes for people with diabetes, asthma, hemophilia, stomach ulcers, gastritis, and liver and kidney diseases, as well as those taking anti-seizure drugs and potassium-sparing diuretics. The safety of white willow bark for pregnant and nursing women has not been established, and so, they should not take this herbal extract without consulting their physicians.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.