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Herbal Monograph

Herb:  White Willow Bark  (Salix alba; Salicaceae)

Note: White Willow Bark and Black Willow Bark have virtually the same properties. 

See Black Willow Bark Monograph for further data.

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

White willow, salicin willow, withe withy.   (13)

European Willow.    (57)

Character/Energetics: bitter, cold   (6–includes salix alba and salix nigra) cool, dry, slightly bitter  (15)                  

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: liver, kidneys, heart (6–includes salix alba and salix nigra) stomach, kidneys, bowel, intestines and head    (14)

Part(s) used:  the bark     (6–includes salix alba and salix nigra) the bark (8) 

Identification & Harvesting:    A 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)

White willow is a deciduous tree found in moist places in North Africa, central Asia, and in Europe, from where it was introduced into the northeastern U.S. 

Covered with rough, gray bark, the tree grows up to 75 feet high; in some parts of the world it grows also as a shrub. Its alternate, lanceolate, serrate leaves are ashy-gray in color and silky on both sides. Male and female flowers occur on similar trees, appearing in catkins on leafy stalks at the same time as the leaves.  Bark is collected in the springtime. (13)

Bark is somewhat glossy, brownish, striated longitudinally, with ellipsoid leaf scars.  Inner surface is cinnamon brown, finely striated.  Fracture short, slightly laminated.  Tastes bitter.  Inodorous.    (57)

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 tlmerican variety but contains more tannins. (6–includes salix alba and salix nigra)

salicin, tannin (8)

salicin, tannins, flavonoids, glycosides   (15)

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 precurso 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)

  anodyne, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, tonic   (13) 

  anodyne, antispasmodic, tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge  (14)

  antirheumatic, anti-inflammatory, reduces heat, antihydrotic, analgesic, antiseptic,           astringent, bitter digestive tonic  (15)

Tonic, antiperiodic, astringent.    (57)

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)

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

It 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  rheumatismand 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 ability of willow bark to alleviate pain and reduce fever has been known for at least two thousand years. It contains salicin, a glucoside that is probably converted to salicylic acid in the body. Salicylic acid is closely related to aspirin, the synthetic drug that has displaced willow bark from popular use. Willow bark reduces inflammation and makes an effective treatment for articular rheumatism. As an astringent, it has been recommended for internal bleeding, and as a diuretic for gouty and rheumatic problems. It is even said to be good for heartburn and stomach ailments. (13)

White willow has the ability to alleviate pain and reduce fevers. White willow is our natural alternative to aspirin. The principle active ingredient in white willow is salicin. It’s uses are many: headaches, fevers, neuralgia and pains in the joints. The glucoside salicin is excreted in the urine as salicylic acid and related compounds which render the tea useful for kidney, urethra and bladder irritabilities and acts as an analgesic to those tissues. Willow bark is a strong antiseptic and is a good poultice and fomentation for infected wounds, ulcerations, eczema and all other skin inflammations. A decoction is an excellent gargle for throat and tonsil infections.

Taken internally it is good for gout, rheumatism and arthritic pains. The tea is also a good eyewash and a snuff to stop nose bleeds and other surface bleeding.   (14)


Alleviate Pain:  Powder, Tincture, Fluid Extract  

            Dyspepsia: Powder, Tincture, Fluid Extract, Decoction

            Enlarged prostate:  Powder, Tincture, Fluid Extract

            Headache:  Tincture, Fluid Extract, Powder

            Internal Bleeding:  Tincture, Fluid Extract, Powder, Decoction  

            Kidney Infections:  Tincture*, Fluid Extract*, Powder*, Decoction*

            Mouth (sores):  Tincture, Fluid Extract, Decoction

            Spermatorrhea:  Powder, Tincture, Fluid Extract

            Tonsillitis:  Tincture, Fluid Extract, Decoction

            Urine Retention:  Tincture, Fluid Extract,  Decoction  


             Mouth (sores):  Gargle

Tonsillitis: Gargle      (14)

* Usually used in combination with other herbs for these conditions  

The Bark–In  modern herbalism only the bark is generally used. It is prescribed for many inflammatory conditions, including rheumatism and arthritis; it helps control fevers, and relieves neuralgia, headaches, and pain in general. As a gentle bitter, it also acts as a mild digestive stimulant and is used for gastroenteritis and diarrhea related to heat and inflammation.

The Leaves–In the past, the leaves were a popular home remedy, used much as the bark today. Willow leaf tea was taken for fevers or colicky pains, and the infusion was recommended for dandruff.   

For arthritis and rheumatism: White willow bark is rich in salicylates (anti-inflammatories that cool hot joints); useful in acute phases and for muscle pains. Take up to 5 ml fluid extract 3x daily, or use in combination with other tinctures. Add tinctures of other antirheumatics or cleansing herbs, such as angelica, black cohosh, lignum vitae, or yellow dock.  (15) 

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)

Has been used with benefit in febrile diseases of rheumatic or gouty origin, as well as diarrhea and dysentery.    (57)

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)

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

See “Uses” * for conditions where white willow bark is used in               combination with other herbs  (14) 

For arthritis and rheumatism: White willow bark is rich in salicylates (anti-inflammatories that cool hot joints); useful in acute phases and for muscle pains. Take up to 5 ml fluid extract 3x daily, or use in combination with other tinctures. Add tinctures of other antirheumatics or cleansing herbs, such as angelica, black cohosh, lignum vitae, or yellow dock.   

Tincture:  Take up to 15 ml  per dose for fever, or combine with boneset, elder, and bitter remedies like gentian. Use with soothing herbs such as marshmallow root or plantain for gastric inflammations and infections.  (15)                                                                                                                                                          

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 tried 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.    (1)

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

Tincturing Process:

Applications:   Bark: 

                         Fluid Extract: Stronger than the tincture; take for rheumatic conditions, headaches, and neuralgia.

  Tincture:  Take up to 15 ml  per dose for fever, or combine with boneset, elder, and bitter remedies like gentian. Use with soothing herbs such as marshmallow root or plantain for gastric inflammations and infections.    

  Powder: Take in doses up to 10 g for fevers and headaches, or as part of arthritic treatments.

  Decoction: Take for feverish chills and headaches, or as part of arthritic treatments.


              Infusion:  Drink after meals for digestive problems.     (15)     

            Decoction: soak 1-3 tsp. bark in 1 cup cold water for 2-5 hours, then bring to a boil. Take 1 cup a day, unsweetened, a mouthful at a time. A decoction can be used as a gargle for gum and tonsil inflammations; as an external wash for eruptions, sores, burns and wounds; and as a foot bath for sweaty feet. A deodorizing washing liquid can be made from a solution of willow bark mixed with borax. 

  Cold Extract: Soak 1 tbsp. bark in cold water for 8-10 hours  and strain.

  Powder: take 1 to 11/2  tsp., 3x daily.  (13)


Dosage: 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)

    Infusion:  steep 5 to 15 minutes. 1 cup during the day.

    Decoction (bark):  simmer 5 to 15 minutes. 1 cup during the day.

                Tincture:  15 to 60 drops as needed                                                                                                                                     

                Powder:  6 to 10  #0  capsules (30 to 50 grains) as needed     (14)

The usual form of administration is the decoction, given in 4 oz. doses four to five x daily.    (57)

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)

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, “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

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, pg. 402

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 189-190

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

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 372

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


PHOTO: Wikipedia