White willow is a deciduous tree, widespread in Asia, Europe and North America. The bark of the tree is blessed with numerous medicinal properties. For centuries, white willow bark is used as an anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic agent. Before the discovery of synthetic acetylsalicylic acid or aspirin, white willow bark was the most prominent herbal medication for pain, inflammation and fever.
What is White Willow Bark?
There are more than 300 willow species. The botanical name of white willow is Salix alba. It is also known as European willow, catkins willow, withe withy and salicin willow. White willow trees are from 6 to 18 metres in height. Its bark has a smooth surface. The outer surface of the bark is brownish-grey to yellowish-green in color, whereas the interior is brown, pale yellow or white. During the early spring, the barks of the young branches of white willow tree are harvested. They are dried and used for preparing supplements, liquids, capsules and tablets.
The major active constituents in white willow bark are salicylates. Salicin and salicortin are the key salicylates in white willow bark. Both these compounds are metabolized into salicyclic acid in the liver. Almost 80 percent salicylates in white willow bark are absorbed in the intestine.
Benefits of White Willow Bark
The therapeutic properties of white willow bark are primarily attributed to the salicylates, especially salicin.
White willow bark can be used as an alternative to common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen for treating headache. Salicin, the prominent anti-inflammatory compound in white willow bark, can be used for treating mild to moderate headache. There is a small risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders following intake of standardized white willow bark extract.
Alleviates Joint Pain
The anti-inflammatory property of white willow bark helps to reduce joint pain and inflammation. Osteoarthritis patients may experience significant reduction in pain in the knees and joint following ingestion of white willow bark extract.
It is also effective in easing mild rheumatoid pain. Sometimes, white willow bark extract is combined with aspirin to increase the effectiveness of the pain relief treatment while diminishing the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.
Decreases Low Back Pain
White willow bark extract can attenuate low back pain. According to a study, treatment with willow bark extract containing 240 mg of salicin causes significant improvement in low back pain.
Helps to Treat Warts
European herbalists recommend removing warts and corns with topical application of white willow bark.
Herbalists use white willow bark also for treating fever, bursitis, tendonitis, and menstrual pain.
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Standardized white willow bark extract containing 120 to 240 mg of salicin can be used for a limited period for treating pain and inflammation. Willow bark is not recommended for children. It should not be used by people allergic to salicylates. It is unsuitable for people with diabetes, stomach ulcer, gout, asthma, gastritis and blood disorders.
There is minimal risk of adverse effect when white willow bark extract is used according to instruction for a short time.
Common side effects of white willow bark include stomach ulcer, diarrhea and stomach bleeding. Mega doses are associated with kidney inflammation, stomach irritation, tinnitus, nausea, vomiting and skin rash.
White willow bark can effectively treat mild to moderate headache, osteoarthritis, rheumatic arthritis and back pain. It can be used as a safer alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). However, given the risk of gastrointestinal problems following prolonged use, therapeutic use of white willow bark should be limited to treating pain for a specified period.