White Willow

White Willow

In this genus there are about 300 species of deciduous trees and shrubs, which occur worldwide, except in Australia. Salix alba (white willow) is a common tree in wetlands and near watercourses. It is less often planted in gardens than its varieties. It is less often planted in gardens than its varieties, which have colorful bare stems in winter. Though sometimes labeled S. alba 'Tristis', the familiar golden weeping willow is a hybrid, more correctly known as S. x sepulchralis var. chrysocoma. The willow was also once regarded as a symbol of grief: garlands of the leaves were worn by those deserted by their loves. In parts of England, sprays of willow are woven into crosses at Easter. Willow bark was described by Dioscorides (first century CE), as a remedy for relieving pain and lowering fever, and long before this it is mentioned on clay tablets of the Sumerian period (4th millenium BCE) as an anti-rheumatic. It contains salicylic acid, which was first synthesized in 1838 and provides the basis for aspirin. Various other species, including S. cinerea (gray willow), S. fragilis (crack willow), the American S. nigra (black willow), S. pentandra (bay willow) and S. purpurea (purple osier), are used interchangeably with S. alba for medicinal purposes. Several other species were used by native N Americans, who drank strong willow-bark tea to induce sweating as a cure for fever. In S Africa, S. mucronata is similarly used to relieve fever and rheumatism.

Long before aspirin was found in every medicine chest, people with headaches or other painful conditions reached for the bark of the white willow tree. Known as nature's aspirin, white willow bark contains salicin, a chemical cousin of the popular pain reliever. Like aspirin, salicin quells pain, fever, and inflammation but does not keep the blood thin and help protect against heart attacts.

Large tree with deeply fissured, gray-brown bark, ascending branches, and lanceolate, tapering leaves, to 10cm (4in) long. Flowers appear as yellow male catkins, to 5cm (2in) long, and stalkless, yellow-green female catkins, 3cm (1¼in) long, with the new leaves in spring.

Common Name:
White Willow
Other Names:
Black Willow, Cartkin's Willow, European Willow, Pussywillow, Salicin Willow, Willow, Withe Withy, Yellow Willow
Botanical Name:
Salix alba, S. nigra
Europe, N Africa, and C Asia
Moist to wet, deep soil in sun. Willows are susceptible to aphids, caterpillars, scale insects, sawfly, leaf beetles, willow heart rot, rust, and watermark disease. Plants grown for winter color are cut back to ground level in spring at least once every three years.
By greenwood cuttings in early summer; by hardwood cuttings in winter.
Leaves are collected during the growing season and used fresh or dried for infusions. Bark is removed throughout the summer and dried for use in decoctions, liquid extracts, powders, tablets, and tinctures.
25m (80ft)
10m (30ft)
Subsp. vitellina
(Golden Willow)

Has yellow to orange young stems.
Subsp. vitellina 'Britzensis'
(Scarlet Willow)

Has bright orange-red young stems.
The first century CE Greek physician Dioscorides was among the first to praise white willow's superior effectiveness in treating fevers, inflammations, and pain. Two thousand years later, native healers, herbalists, and mainstream physicians still use white willow—albeit in different forms—to treat these same conditions. White willow is one of nature's "natural" aspirins—like meadowsweet and wintergreen—which are rich in salicylates from which commercial aspirin is made. Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) was the first of these herbs to contribute to the discovery and synthesis of salicyclic acid (aspirin), but it was the willow family that was named (Salix), specifically for its powerful pain-relieving ingredient. White willow, a native of Europe, has been naturalized in the United States for almost 400 years. It is a much prized, elegantly beautiful tree, and it may come as a surprise—given the joy and peace both its beauty and medicine provide—to learn that the willow tree has long been a symbol of deep mourning and despair. In earlier times, garlands made from the tree's leaves were worn by individuals who had been abandoned by their lovers.
Parts Used:
Leaves, Bark
Chemical Constituents:
  • Salicin
  • Salinigrin
  • Tannins
  • Properties:
    A bitter, astringent, cooling herb that relieves pain, lowers fever, and reduces inflammation.
    Known Effects:
  • Produces puckering
  • Reduces fever
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Possible Additional Effects:
  • Potential antiseptic for ulcerated surfaces on skin
  • May help reduce symptoms of gout, arthritis
  • May help treat headaches
  • May help heal open wounds because of tannins
  • Medicinal Uses:
    Internally for minor feverish illnesses and colic (leaves), rheumatism, arthritis, gout, inflammatory stages of auto-immune diseases, diarrhea and dysentery, feverish illnesses, neuralgia, and headache (bark). Combined with Actaea racemosa (See, Black Cohosh), Apium graveolens (See, Wild Celery), and Guaiacum officinale (See, Lignum Vitae) for rheumatoid arthritis; and with Hypericum perforatum (See, St. John's Wort) and Vibernum opulus (See, Guelder Rose) for muscular aches and pains.
    To treat rheumatism, gout, diarrhea, gastrointestinal distress, and diseases involving fever, headaches, and pain related to inflammation. Germany's Commission E has approved the use of white willow to treat pain and rheumatism.
    White willow has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, fever-reducing, pain-relieving, sweat-promoting, and tonic properties. It is taken internally for aches and pains, arthritis, diarrhea, fever, gout, headaches, inflammations, internal bleeding, menstrual cramps, muscle pain and strains, and rheumatoid arthritis. White willow is applied externally—in compresses and ointments—to treat burns, inflamed joints, skin infections, and sores.
    White willow is available as dried, powdered bark, and in capsules, ointments, teas, and tinctures. To make a tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of powdered bark and steep for 4 hours. Strain, and drink up to 3 cups a day. Add honey and lemon to improve taste.
    Typical Dose:
    A typical daily dose of white willow may range from 6 to 12 gm of the herb (corresponding to 60 to 120 mg total salicin).
    Warnings and Precautions:
    Do not give white willow to children under 16 if they have cold, flu, or other viral symptoms. The salicylate in the herb may cause Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal illness. Do not take white willow with other salicylates, such as aspirin, meadowsweet or wintergreen because of the risk of additive effects. Minor side effects may include nausea, stomach upset, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Consult your practitioner if these symptoms persist.

    Don't take if you:
    Are pregnant, think you may be pregnant, or plan pregnancy in the near future.
    Consult your doctor if you:
  • Take this herb for any medical problem that doesn't improve in 2 weeks (There may be safer, more effective treatments.)
  • Take any medicinal drugs or herbs including aspirin, laxatives, cold and cough remedies, antacids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, supplements, other prescription or non-prescription drugs.

  • Pregnancy:
    Don't use unless prescribed by your doctor.
    Don't use unless prescribed by your doctor.
    Infants and Children
    Treating infants and children under 2 with any herbal preparation is hazardous.
  • None are expected if you are beyond childhood, under 45, not pregnant, basically healthy, take it for only a short time and do not exceed manufacturer's recommended dose.
  • Salicylate poisoning is possible. Symptoms include dizziness, vomiting, ringing in ears.

  • Storage:
  • Store in cool dry area away from direct light, but don't freeze.
  • Store safely out of reach of children.
  • Don't store in bathroom medicine cabinet. Heat and moisture may change the action of the herb.

  • Safe dosage:
    Consult your doctor for the appropriate dose for your condition.
    Adverse Reactions, Side Effects, or Overdose Symptoms:
    White willow's side effects include gastrointestinal distress.

    Signs and Symptoms What to do

    Dizziness Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Nausea or vomiting Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Ringing in Ears Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Drug Interactions:
    Taking white willow with these drugs may increase the risk of bleeding or bruising:
    Abciximab, (ReoPro)
    Acemetacin, (Acemetacin Heumann, Acemetacin Sandoz)
    Alteplase, (Activase, Cathflo Activase)
    Aminosalicylic Acid, (Nemasol Sodium, Paser)
    Antithrombin III, (Thrombate III)
    Argatroban, (Argatroban)
    Aspirin, (Bufferin, Ecotrin)
    Aspirin and Dipyridamole, (Aggrenox)
    Bivalirudin, (Angiomax)
    Celecoxib, (Celebrex)
    Choline Magnesium Trisalicylate, (Trilisate)
    Choline Salicylate, (Teejel)
    Clopidogrel, (Plavix)
    Dalteparin, (Fragmin)
    Danaparoid, (Orgaran)
    Diclofenac, (Cataflam, Voltaren)
    Diflunisal, (Apo-Diflunisal, Dolobid)
    Dipyridamole, (Novo-Dipiradol, Persantine)
    Dipyrone, (Analgina, Dinador)
    Enoxaparin, (Lovenox)
    Eptifibatide, (Integrillin)
    Etodolac, (Lodine, Utradol)
    Etoricoxib, (Arcoxia)
    Fenoprofen, (Nalfon)
    Flurbiprofen, (Ansaid, Ocufen)
    Fondaparinux, (Arixtra)
    Heparin, (Hepalean, Hep-Lock)
    Ibuprofen, (Advil, Motrin)
    Indobufen, (Ibustrin)
    Indomethacin, (Indocin, Novo-Methacin)
    Ketoprofen, (Orudis, Rhodis)
    Ketorolac, (Acular, Toradol)
    Lepirudin, (Refludan)
    Magnesium Salicylate, (Doan's, Mobidin)
    Meclofenamate, (Meclomen)
    Mefenamic Acid, (Ponstan, Ponstel)
    Meloxicam, (MOBIC, Mobicox)
    Nabumetone, (Apo-Nabumetone, Relafen)
    Nadroparin, (Fraxiparine)
    Naproxen, (Aleve, Naprosyn)
    Niflumic Acid, (Niflam, Nifluril)
    Nimesulide, (Areuma, Aulin)
    Oxaprozin, (Apo-Oxaprozin, Daypro)
    Piroxicam, (Feldene, Nu-Pirox)
    Reteplase, (Retevase)
    Rofecoxib, (Vioxx)
    Salsalate, (Amgesic, Salflex)
    Streptokinase, (Streptase)
    Sulindac, (Clinoril, Nu-Sundac)
    Tenecteplase, (TNKase)
    Tenoxicam, (Dolmen, Mobiflex)
    Tiaprofenic Acid, (DomTiaprofenic, Surgam)
    Ticlopidine, (Alti-Ticlopidine, Ticlid)
    Tinzaparin, (Innohep)
    Tirofiban, (Aggrastat)
    Tometin, (Tolectin)
    Urokinase, (Abbokinase)
    Valdecoxib, (Bextra)
    Warfarin, (Coumadin, Jantoven)
    Taking white willow with this drug may be harmful:
    Benazepril, (Lotensin)—may increase risk of hypertension (high blood pressure).
    Disease Effects:
    • May trigger allergic reactions in those allergic to aspirin or salicylates.
    • May worsen ulcers, asthma, diabetes, and hemophilia.
    Supplement Interactions:
    • Increased risk of bleeding when used with herbs and supplements that might affect platelet aggregation.
    • May increase beneficial and/or adverse effects of salicylate-containing herbs, such as Aspen Bark, Sweet Birch, and Poplar.
    • The tannins in white willow may cause the alkaloids in certain other herbs to separate and settle, increasing the risk of toxic reactions.
    Not given to patients hypersensitive to salicylates (aspirin).
    Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pp.352-353
    The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide by Geo. T. Grossberg,MD and Barry Fox,PhD Copyright©2007 Barry Fox,PhD. Pp.481-483
    The Modern Herbal Primer by Nancy Burke Copyright©2000 Yankee Publishing, Inc. pg. 149
    Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals & Supplements The Complete Guide by H. Winter Griffith, MD Copyright©1998 Fisher Books pp. 460-461