What is Willow Bark?
Willow Bark is the outer shell of the Willow tree. It has been consumed medicinally by ancient Greek and Egyptian physicians for centuries. It was not until 1829 when scientists discovered its active ingredient salicin which has similar health effects as acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), that the medicinal use of Willow Bark in ancient times was substantiated. It also contains tannins, glycosides, catechins and flavonoids. There are many types of Willow barks such as Crack Willow, Purple Willow (Salix purpurea), Violet Willow (Salix daphnoides), Black Willow (Salix nigra), Wheeping Willow, and European Willow or White Willow (Salix alba). However, among all these species of Willow, most commonly, bark of White Willow tree and occasionally Purple Willow and Crack Willow is used for therapeutic purposes. Studies suggest that analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity of Willow Bark shows its effects slowly but the effectiveness may last longer than aspirin. The salicin in Willow bark is converted into salicylic acid after it is absorbed by the stomach, therefore, it may not cause stomach irritation like aspirin and can be a great option for treating minor to severe ailments.
What are the Benefits of Willow Bark?
Studies and researches identify that Willow Bark has anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, antiseptic, anti-oxidant, analgesic, and immune boosting capability. Therefore, it has been used in the treatment of a number of minor to severe ailments such as headache, toothache, backache, osteoarthritis, PMS, menstrual cramps, muscular pains and strains, cardiovascular disorders, cuts, wounds, burns, colds, flu, fever, and rheumatory and inflammatory disorders, i.e. bursitis, arthritis, painful articular (joint) conditions, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis. Due to its nutritional and healing properties many European countries (Germany, France, England) have approved Willow Bark for pain and rheumatic conditions. Also its extract has been approved by the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) to be used in the treatment of mild rheumatic disorders, pain and fever.
Uses of Willow Bark
A study designed to examine the anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity of Willow Bark found that patients suffering from Back Ache who took willow bark capsules with 225mg to 240mg of salicin were relieved from back ache within 3 weeks of its regular consumption. Therefore, regular consumption of Willow Bark extract that contains 225mg to 240mg of salicin may be beneficial for back, neck and muscle pains.
White Willow Bark has long been used in the treatment of fever associated with cold and flu. Taking one capsule of Willow Bark twice daily may help with mild fevers related to cold and flu. Or drinking one cup of Willow Bark tea 2-3 times daily may be beneficial.
Studies suggest that taking small amount of aspirin may reduce the risk of internal clotting and hence can play a significant role in reducing the stroke and heart attack risks. Therefore, by drinking one cup of White Willow Bark tea once or twice daily, aspirin like activity of the bark may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people high at risk.
Studies have shown that low dose aspirin may help reduce the migraine headache attacks. Simply drinking one cup of Willow Bark tea regularly may be beneficial for Migraine headaches.
Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
A German study shows that people with osteoarthritis who took Willow Bark extract providing 240mg of salicin for two weeks had 14% reduced pain levels. Therefore, for people who have mild to medium rheumatic disorders and are at risk of Osteoarthritis, taking 240mg of White Willow Bark extract regularly can suppress the progression and onset of the disease.
PMS and Menstrual Cramps
Menstrual Cramps are usually caused by the inflammation of uterine lining and contractions induced by a hormone like chemical prostaglandins. Studies suggest that natural components of Willow Bark may help with Menstrual Cramps and PMS symptoms by regulating the production of prostaglandins and reducing the inflammation. Simply drink one cup of Willow Bark tea two to three times daily starting a couple of days before the start of menstrual cycle. It may also help alleviate back ache, headache and legs pain associated with menses. To make Willow Bark tea simply soak one teaspoon of ground White Willow Bark in a cold cup of water for eight hours. Strain out the tea and add honey or sugar to minimize the bitter taste. Willow Bark can be refrigerated for no more than 48 hours since it loses its effectiveness when kept for longer hours.
The anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity of Willow Bark may help with toothache. Simply, chew on a small piece of White Willow Bark or rub its powder on to the affected area. Drinking Willow Bark tea may add to the effectiveness of the herb. For inflamed gums gargling with Willow Bark tea every night before going to bed may be beneficial.
What are the Side Effects of Willow Bark?
Willow Bark should be avoided if you are allergic to aspirin since both of them share the same key ingredient- salicin. It is not recommended for nursing and pregnant mothers, people with chronic ulcers, Crohn's disease, colitis, kidney disease, and asthma as well as for children under 16 since it may cause Rye's Syndrome in them. The over dose of Willow Bark may cause similar problems as the overdose of Aspirin does, however, its effects seem to be milder than the Aspirin. Willow Bark's over dose may cause skin rash, stomach irritation, kidney inflammation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tinnitus/ringing in the ears. If you are taking herbs such as Ginkgo and Garlic, or any Diuretics, Platelet Inhibitors, Anticoagulants or are on any medication that contains Bismuth Subsalicylates, Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS), Metoclopramide, and Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, you should not take Willow Bark in any form.
Where and How to Buy Willow Bark
Willow Bark is available in herbal food stores in the form of dry bark pieces, extracts, pills, capsules, powders, tinctures and teas. When buying Willow Bark, make sure that it is produced by a reliable and well reputed company. Most commonly, White Willow Bark is used for therapeutic purposes. In order to regulate daily dosage of the herb, usually Willow Bark extracts or capsules are suggested.