Common Names: The Aspirin Plant, Tree of enchantment, Witches Aspirin, Sough tree, Withy
Botanical Name: Salix spp. (s. alba and S. nigra)
Plant Family: Salicaceae, Willow Family
Parts Used: Bark (sometimes leaves)
Actions: febrifuge, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, digestive, diuretic, astringent, vermifuge
Habitat: Willow is a riparian plant. It grows near streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, fresh water environments. Since Washington is so wet, you will find willow growing along hedges and in fields, yet it is a telling sign that there is significant water in that area. Willow can be known as a “promiscuous” plant, there are over 400 different species and the tree easily cross pollinates. You can find these trees in most northern latitudes. There are about 90 species in the Pacific Northwest.
Collection: Willow bark is gathered in the spring and fall. You will know by testing a small bit of branch to see if the outer bark is “slipping” (you’ll know when you try to peel the outer bark off…it’s quite easy when its ready). Its best to harvest the properly pruned branches or the canes.
The Song of the Willow Fairy
By the peaceful stream or the shady pool
I dip my leaves in the water cool.
Over the water I lean all day,
Where the sticklebacks and minnows play.
I dance, I dance, when the breezes blow,
And dip my toes in the stream below.
“The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies”
Cicely Mary Barker
A Substitute for Aspirin?
Willow has been used for thousands of years. Various species (containing similar properties) have been used in China, Europe and by the native peoples of North America.
In 1900 the extract of the sacilic acid found in Willow was combined with acetyl chloride to become Aspirin; a top selling western pharmaceutical drug.
Willow’s main ingredients are glycosides salicin and salicorton. According to herbalist, Paul Bergner these two active ingredients combine and convert into salicylic acid once it reaches the intestines and liver. Hence, Willow passes the digestive tract (avoiding acidic induced ulcerations) and slowly releases salicylic acid. It may not be as strong as Aspirin due to this slow going time-release taking place beyond the digestive tract, but over the course of time you will feel the longer effect of this different metabolism of Willow.
Willow helps with musculoskeletal pain (muscle spasms, back pain, strains, rheumatory arthritis and gout) as well as digestive and urinary tract pain (chronic diarrhea, worms, U.T. I’s). The fresh bark is bitter and astringent (filled with Tannins), hence it tones the body, reducing swelling in areas of inflammation. Sore mouth or gums? Sore throat? Willow can help reduce inflammation by taking it internally as a tincture, tea/gargle or honey (no more than one ounce/ day) or taking a bath with the bark.
A cool and drying herb, Willow can help reduce the pain that arises from a “damp & heat” headache associated with the gastrointestinal tract. If you are one to get constant migraines, Willow might not have the immediate effects that you are looking for. However, if headaches are uncommon for you and you get struck with a lightly painful headache, consider taking Willow tincture instead of Aspirin.
Traditionally Willow is an herbal ally for fevers. When a person has a high fever and feels hot, Willow is antipyretic and can be a relaxing diaphoretic (helping a person sweat and cool down). Leaves of Willow have been used as a tea for fever.
Plant Preparations: Tincture, Tea/Decoction, Honey, Elixr, Oil
Featured Herb: Willow by Rosalee de la Forêt
300 Herbs; Their Indications & Contraindications by Matthew Alfs
Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon
Herbalpedia: White Willow by The Herb Growing & Marketing Network (Maureen Rogers)
Cedar Mountain Herb School with Susan
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore