Forget Me Not Herbs
A series extolling the virtues of valuable
but often overlooked herbs
By Jacqueline Spencer, health consultant at Optimum Health Vitamins
White Willow Bark
White Willow bark's chemical profile boasts nine phenol glycosides (salicin, salicortin, 2-aceylsalicortin, populin, tremulacin, salidroside, triandrin, picein and helicon) AND esters resulting in salicylic acid. Also part of the chemical constituents of Salix Alba's are flavonoids; tannins (procyanidin); B1, B2, B5, B6. Unique to Salix Alba is the 2-acetylsalicortin found only in this species of willow. This "herb" additionally possesses sisymbrifolin, a lignin normally present only in the Litchi Tomato.
Salicylic acid can also be found in Wintergreen, Peppermint, Spearmint, Meadow sweet, Birch, Devil's Claw, Chamomile, Yarrow, Arnica and Feverfew and many other foods.
Prior to the 1890s White Willow bark was commonly used to combat fever, inflammation and pain. In the 1890s science made way for the synthesizing of salicylic acid, a component of Salix Alba (White Willow). The synthesized product is acetylsalicylic acid.
Use of Salix Alba as a treatment for gout and inflammatory joint disorders is attributed to Hippocrates and Dioscorides of ancient times. The North American Indigenous people made use of Willow bark as an analgesic. Throughout history White Willow bark has been used in various parts of the world to subdue fevers of all types, including rheumatic fever and to alleviate pain, inflammation and gout. In ancient practice, the powdered root was decocted (a fancy way of saying extracted by boiling) and used in the management of chronic diarrhea, dysentery, to assist recovery from prolonged illness and as an antiparasitic. The bark was similarly used.
Today many herbalists continue to use White Willow bark as an analgesic, to prevent bacterial proliferation, as an anti-emetic, to reduce inflammation, to alleviate fever, as an antiseptic and astringent, to clean injuries to tissue, to encourage sweating and as a diuretic. It also possesses mild blood thinning properties, stops headaches, eases menstrual cramps and can be useful to interrupt or prevent recurrence of disease symptoms (for example malaria).
It is considered a tonic herb (meaning it is used to restore normal tone and function), which may be why our ancestors found it useful for recuperation.
Science now recognises that White Willow bark eases pain and reduces in-flammation very effectively. Recent research indicates that Salix Alba demonstrates antioxidant activity and seems to exert a positive effect on immune function.
Medicinenet.com advises, "Before using this product, tell your doctor or pharmacist of all prescription and non-prescription medications you may use, especially of: "blood thinners" (e.g., warfarin), drugs for high blood pressure, "water pills" (diuretics such as furosemide or hydrochlorothiazide), aspirin or NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen). Check all medicine labels carefully, since many contain pain relievers/fever reducers (NSAIDs/aspirin/salicylates) which are similar to this product. Consult your pharmacist regarding safe use of similar products." http://www.medicinenet.com We are advised by the University of Maryland Medical Center as follows, "Because of the danger of developing Reye syndrome (a rare but serious illness associated with the use of aspirin in children), children under the age of 16 should not be given willow bark." Naturally those who are allergic or sensitive to salicylates (Aspirin) should not use White Willow bark. The University of Maryland Medical Center further suggests that sufferers of "asthma, diabetes, gout, gastritis, hemophilia, and stomach ulcers" are not good candidates for the use of White Willow bark.
For further information and a list of possible side effects and potential conflicts with medications you are encouraged to visit the University of Maryland Medical Center website at http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/willow-bark-000281.htm#ixzz2JV7Jibjr
It is important to note that much of the information on contraindications and interactions is based on research involving the synthetic acetylsalicylic acid. Natural salicin is not linked to digestive upset or the bleeding associated with the synthetic, single component, version (aspirin). White Willow bark is a complex therapeutic "food", comprised of many constituents, as are all food substances. Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is a single constituent, which has been synthesized. It has been scientifically observed that although White Willow bark may take a bit longer to reduce pain, its results last longer. Many medical physicians in Germany find that by using the natural White Willow bark along with the synthetic single component, Aspirin, they are able to reduce or avoid common side effects. Perhaps next time you find yourself suffering with a headache or inflammation, you may decide to try White Willow bark.
The above information is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your physician.
J Sep Sci. 2007 Nov;30(17):2958-66.
Chromatographic analysis of salicylic compounds in different species of the genus Salix.
Pobłocka-Olech L, van Nederkassel AM, Vander Heyden Y, Krauze-Baranowska M, Glód D, Baczek T.
Department of Pharmacognosy, Medical University of Gdańsk, Gdańsk, Poland.
PMID: 17880029 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Nat Prod Res. 2007 May;21(5):451-4.
Isolation and structure determination of a lignan from the bark of Salix alba.
Du Q, Jerz G, Shen L, Xiu L, Winterhalter P.
Research Center for Bioactive Food, Zhejiang Gongshang University, Hangzhou 310035, China. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine; Mowery, Daniel B. PhD; 1986, Cormorant Books, Keats Publishing, Lincolnwood, Illinois, USA