White willow is a member of the Salicaceae tree and shrub family that naturally grows across the temperate and colder arctic climates around the world. While white willow is commonly known for its extensive pain relief and anti-inflammatory health benefits, however black or pussy willow, purple willow and crack willow also have similar medical uses. 1,4,5
White willow bark has been used by herbalist and natural healers since the time of Hippocrates and was widely used by indigenous peoples when the first Europeans settled in North America. The standard form of pain and fever relief, as well as reducing inflammation, was to chew on willow bark. By the 1800s, ingredients from willow bark were used to make the first known form of aspirin. 1,2,5
Today, white willow bark is available in raw form, however the medicinal effect from chewing the natural product is not as effective as consuming it in supplement forms by way of capsules, tablets, powder or tincture. Many refer to white willow as “nature’s aspirin” due to its similarities in acting like acetylsalicylic acid. There is a difference in active release time as white willow takes longer to act. In return, white willow health benefits have a longer lasting effect than regular aspirin. 1,3,5
White Willow Health Uses and Health Benefits
White willow health benefits are well-documented to work as a pain reliever, blood thinner, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and an analgesic. The active ingredient in white willow bark, salicin, is converted by the body into salicylic acid. This lowers the body’s levels of prostaglandins which are hormone-like compounds that can cause pain, aches and inflammation. Lowering prostaglandin levels directly results in pain ease and swelling reduction. 4,5
Other white willow bark uses and health benefits include treatment for:
- Angina - Angina is the chest pain symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease. The analgesic and blood thinning capabilities in white willow bark help to improve circulation and relieve angina discomfort.
- Bursitis - Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion joints. White willow bark works as an anti-inflammatory and relieves swelling in bursae that is the cause of bursitis.
- Sciatica - Pain radiating from the sciatic nerve that travels from the lower back and down the legs is called sciatica. Taking white willow for pain relief can work to relieve sciatica. It also works as an anti-inflammatory that relieves muscle tension.
- Sprains, Strains, and Sprained Ankle - The immediate effect from experiencing a muscle or joint sprain or strain is swelling of the surrounding area. The anti-inflammatory and pain relief qualities in white willow bark are effective natural treatments for sprains, strains and sprained ankle.
- Chronic Childhood Arthritis - Juvenile arthritis is a chronic or long-term autoimmune disease affecting children under 16. White willow for pain relief and reducing inflammation can help treat chronic childhood arthritis, however, due to the potential risk of Reye’s syndrome in children taking products containing salicin, a doctor should be consulted.
- Endometriosis - Endometriosis is the painful, unnatural growth of uterine or endometrium cell tissue outside of the uterus. White willow bark uses include relieving pain and tissue inflammation associated with endometriosis.
White Willow Side Effects and Precautions
White willow side effects are very similar to that of aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid. The active ingredient, salicin, works as a blood thinner and helps to prevent blood clotting however people already taking blood-thinning medication like Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Plavix or Warfarin must be careful with consuming white willow bark for fear of excessive bleeding. 1,3,5
As with any aspiring product, giving white willow bark to children can be dangerous especially if they have colds, the flu or chickenpox. Healthy children taking white willow bark are also at risk of developing Reye’s syndrome that, in remote cases, is known to be fatal. 1,3,5
White willow side effects can cause excessive vaginal bleeding while menstruating. As well, pregnant women should consult their doctor before ingesting white willow bark. 1,3,5