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Willow as an Herb

Willow as an Herb

Salix spp.

The Willow-herbs (Epilobium), nine species of which are natives of Great Britain, belong to the order Onagraceae, to which belong also the familiar garden flowers the Fuchsia, Clarkia and Godetia, and the Evening Primrose.

Willow is the inner bark of several species of Salix, trees in the willow family including white willow (S. alba). Four other European species recognized as sources are crack willow (S. fragilis), purple willow (S. purpurea), violet willow (S. daphnoides), and bay willow (S. pentandra). All except bay willow are naturalized in North America.

Willow as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

For more than 2,000 years, people of the Northern Hemisphere used willow bark as a wash for external ulcers and internally to reduce fevers and relieve aches, pains, rheumatism, arthritis, and headaches.

Native Americans used it: Black willow root bark was used by the Houma as a blood thinner; the Creek used the root tea to relieve inflammation in rheumatism and to reduce fever. In American folk traditions, the bark was used as a blood thinner (like aspirin) and to treat fever. The tea was also given for dyspepsia. In 1763, a Dr. Stone of London first recommended willow bark to the medical profession for the treatment of fevers.

In 1758, the Reverend Edward Stone was suffering from another bout of rheumatism when he accidentally discovered that by chewing a twig of the white willow tree, his pain was relieved (Duin and Sutcliffe 1992). Since this early discovery, over the centuries the compounds found in the white willow would be refined into what we now know as aspirin. For centuries, white willow has been used as a safe pain reliever and fever reducer.

In the 1890s the Bayer Company was looking for a substitute for wintergreen and black birch oil, then used to relieve pain, because they were simply too toxic. Their researchers studied experiments from 1853 in which salicylic acid was first synthesized from carbolic acid. They rediscovered a derivative of the acids developed in the 1853 studies-"acetylsalicylic acid", commonly known today as aspirin. No other drug is as well-known for its analgesic, fever-reducing or antiinflammatory qualities. Willow bark has been considered a "natural aspirin".

Used much in America as an intestinal astringent.

Modern herbalists use willow bark for inflammation (Maiscott 2000). German health authorities endorse the use of willow for fevers, headaches, and rheumatic complaints (Peirce 1999).

Culinary Uses of Willow

Rose bay willow The leaves of the Rose Bay Willow herb have been used as a substitute and adulterant of Tea. Though no longer so employed in England, the leaves of both this species and of the Great Hairy Willow-herb (E. hirsutum, Linn.) are largely used in Russia, under the name of Kaporie Tea.

Folklore

The willow tree is associated with the moon. Its wood is frequently used to make magick wands, and willow branches are used to bind a witch's besom. Use willow leaves in love mixtures, and carry them to guard against evil.

Cautions

Willow bark is high in tannins, which can damage the liver. Because willow bark produces salicin, it is suggested to be contraindicated in the same instances as aspirin for stomach ulcers and, in children, for high fevers. However, salicin does not metabolize the same as aspirin, so the contraindications may not apply.

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