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Herbal Monograph

Herb: Black Willow Bark (Salix nigra, Salicaceae)

Note: Black Willow Bark and White Willow Bark have virtually the same  properties. See White Willow Bark Monograph for further data.

Other Names:  Silver willow, catkins willow, pussywillow    (2)

Black willow, catkins willow, pussywillow  (13)

Pussy Willow.    (57)

Character/Energetics:   bitter, cold     (6–includes salix alba and salix nigra)  

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:   liver, kidneys, heart  (6–includes salix alba and salix nigra)                

Parts used: the bark   (6–includes salix alba and salix nigra) (8); bark, buds (catkins)  (13);

Bark, berries (57)

Identification & Harvesting: 20-60′ high tree or bush with fissured grey bark and tough yellow supple branches.  Leaves are short-stemmed, lanceolate, serrate, blue-green matte.  Flowers are yellow or green and appear on leafy stems in erect catkins.  Seeds are tufted.  Indigenous to central and southern Europe.  Harvest bark from 2-3 year old branches, during early spring.    (2)

Collect in spring when new growth starts.    (8)

Black willow is a native of North America. It grows up to 20 feet high and has a very rough bark and narrow-lanceolate, pointed leaves which often curve at the tip. Varieties of this tree are found in both the eastern and western U.S.   (13)

Naturalized in North America.    (61)

Active Constituents: Glycosides and esters yielding salicylic acid 1.5-12%:  salicin .1-2%, salicortin .01-11% and salicin derivatives acylated to the glucose residue, up to 6%, incl. fragilin and populin;  tannins 8-20%;  flavonoids.    (2)

the glycosides salicine (salicoside) and salicortine and tannin. The European white willow is very similar in properties to the North American variety but contains more tannins. (6–includes salix alba and salix nigra);   salicin, tannin (8)               

Actions: After splitting the acyl residue away, the salicin glucosides convert to salicin, the precursor of salicylic acid, which is an antipyretic, antiphlogistic, and analgesic.  The phytotherapeutic precursor to acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin).    (2)

alterative, anodyne, febrifuge, astringent, antiperiodic and vermifuge (6–includes salix alba and             salix nigra)                                                                                                       

anti-inflammatory, anti-pyretic, analgesic, antiseptic, astringent   (8)

Compounds are oxidized in the liver and blood to produce salicylic acid.  It has pain-relieving effects like aspirin, but with fewer side effects, and also less of the primary effect.    (61)

Anaphrodisiac, sexual sedative, tonic.    (57)

Conditions and Uses: Black willow bark has a reputation in the treatment of rheumatism and arthritis where there is much associated pain and inflammation.  (1)

Used for rheumatism, and most kinds of pain, as well as inflammation, fever.    (2)

Black willow is used to treat headache caused by dampness and heat in the gastrointestinal tract, rheumatic aches and pains, recurring fevers, gonorrhea, ovarian pains, dyspepsia, dysentery, chronic diarrhea, worms and edema. It also may be taken as a bitter tonic in sm doses before meals, to hasten convalescence from acute disease. (6–includes salix alba and salix nigra)

It is a safe natural source of aspirin-like chemicals, which helps explain its reputation in the treatment of  rheumatism and arthritis where there is much associated pain and inflammation. It may be used as part of a wider treatment for any connective tissue inflammation anywhere in the body, but it is especially useful in rheumatoid arthritis. It may also be used in fevers such as influenza  (italics in original).  (8)        

(The properties and uses of Black willow) same as white willow. In addition to the uses listed under white willow, the bark and catkins of black willow have seen service as anti-aphrodisiacs and sexual sedatives. An infusion of bark and catkins or a fluid extract of the bark was used.  (13)  

S. cinera (gray willow), S. fragilis (crack willow), the American S. nigra (black willow),

S. pentandra (bay willow), and S. purpurea (purple osier), are all used interchangeably with S. alba.   (38)

Used for millennia as a wash for ulcers and internally to reduce fever and relieve aches, pains, rheumatism, arthritis, headache.  The Houma used black willow root bark as a blood thinner;  the Creek used the root tea to relieve inflammation in rheumatism and reduce fever.  The tea was also taken for dyspepsia.    (61)

Highly recommended and largely used in treatment of spermatorrhea, nocturnal emissions, etc.  Also relieves ovarian pain.  A poultice made by simmering the powdered bark in cream is unrivalled in gangrene and indolent ulcers, etc.    (57)

Combinations: (Black Willow bark) may be used with Black Cohosh, Celery Seed, Guaiacum and Bogbean in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. (8)

Tincturing Process:    Vita Mix— 3.7 gr herb: 1 oz alcohol

Fill  just above blades level in VM container Process: 90 seconds (1)

35-50% alcohol (for white willow bark)   (10)

Dosage & Applications: 1-3 tsp. of bark in 1 cup of water, soak for 2-5 hours, 1 cup daily, a mouthful at a time; standard decoction in formulas, 3-9 gms; (6–includes salix  alba and salix nigra)          

BLACK WILLOW BARK (Salix nigra, Salicaceae)

Dosage & Applications: (cont)

    Decoction–pour a cup of water onto 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the bark, bring     to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. This should be drunk 3x daily.     Tincture–take 2-4 ml of the tincture 3x daily.  (8)   

    Infusion — For use as an anti-aphrodisiac or sexual sedatives:  An     infusion of bark and catkins or a fluid extract of the bark was used.  

Tincture — take 10-20 drops, as needed.  (13)  

Up to 2.4 g. capsules daily.  Steep 1/4-1/2 tsp powdered bark in a cup of hot water for 10-15 min;  take 3 x daily, but realize it delivers far less than a dose of aspirin.    (61)

Infusion:  1 oz. bark to a pint of boiling water, taken in 4 oz. doses.  Bark grows in quilled pieces, 2-6 or more inches long and about 3/4 inch broad, blackish grey externally, with numerous dark brown, round lenticels, inner surface pale buff.  Transverse section pale buff, rough, with flat pointed fibers.  Tastes bitter and astringent.  Inodorous.    (57)

Precautions: Occasional sensitivities to salicylates.  Possible stomach upset due to the tannin content.  Cayuga Botanicals R.D. Note — [The herb is a Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug, or NSAID, all of which are inadvisable for long-term use, due to their across-the-board suppression of prostaglandin action.  There are two functions for prostaglandins:  one kind causes swelling, and the other has a role in collagen synthesis and healing.  Relief of swelling is critical to pain relief, but suppression of healing processes is obviously undesirable.  There are other substances, non-herbal, such as methyl sulfonyl methane, or MSM, that suppress the former and do not affect the latter;  these should be used in chronic rheumatic cases before long-term use of NSAID’s.]    (2)

Like its synthetic cousin, aspirin, can lead to deadly Reye’s syndrome when taken by children suffering from chicken pox or flu.    (1b)

High in tannins, which can damage the liver.  Because it contains salicin, it is contraindicated in the same conditions as aspirin.    (61)


General Notes: “The leaves…stay the heat of lust in man or woman, and quite extinguishes it, if it be long used; the seed also has the same effect.”  Nicholas Culpepper, 1653. 

In traditional herbal medicine, white willow was widely used for fevers and other “hot” conditions. It was one of the first herbs to be scientifically investigated, and in the 19th century, a French chemist, Leroux, extracted the active constituent and named it “salicine.” By 1852 this chemical was being produced synthetically, and by 1899 a less irritant and unpleasant-tasting variant of the substance (acetylsalicylic acid) was manufactured and marketed as aspirin, the first of the modern generation of plant-derived drugs.    (15)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, “Willow bark” file  (The Herbal Handbook/Penn Herbs)

(1b)  ibid Research Data, “Are Natural Cures a Prescription for Danger?” by Mark Teich and Pamela Weintraub, Redbook, Jun. ’95, p. 111

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 1111-12

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 202-203

(8) The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 182

(10) Herbal Preparations and Natural Therapies by Debra Nuzzi St. Claire, M.H., pg. 128

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, pg. 403

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 94, 130-131

(38) Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown, pg. 345

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 370

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 210-11


PHOTO: Wikipedia