The bark of the willow tree has been used for centuries as a pain reliever, the active ingredient being salicin. It was commonly used during the time of Hippocrates, when people were advised to chew on the bark to relieve pain and fever. The white willow and black willow are two of the most common willows that are used medicinally.
Willow bark acts a lot like aspirin, which is why it is used for pain, including headache, muscle pain, menstrual cramps, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis, gout, and a disease of the spine called ankylosing spondylitis.
It can also be used for fever, the common cold, flu, and weight loss.
There are no known negative side effects to using willow bark in moderation. Too much however, can cause stomach cramps and bleeding.
If you have an allergy to aspirin, it’s possible to have a reaction to willow bark as well so should be avoided. Willow bark can also interact with certain medications, like blood thinners and beta-blockers.
Children and young people up to the age of 16 are generally discouraged from taking willow bark for any reason. This is because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare condition that causes brain and liver damage.
Pregnant and breast-feeding women are also discouraged from taking any medication that contains salicylates.
People with gastric ulcers should be especially careful with willow bark, in the same way that they would be cautious with aspirin, because too much could cause stomach bleeding.
Harvesting Willow Bark
Strip the bark from the young branches of the willow in the Spring just before the sap begins to run, when the branches are rich with their new spring colour.
This is the easiest time to separate the bark from the branch. The bark will peel off in strips. You can recognize Salix alba varieties of willow by their brightly coloured bark in early spring — usually yellow, orange, or flaming red. Weeping willow trees and corkscrew willow are both varieties of Salix alba.
Although the bark of the willow can be used at any time of the year, it will be easier to remove in the Spring.
Make a Tea
To make your willow bark tea, do the following:
- Start by adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of white willow bark to 8 ounces of water.
- Bring to the boil for about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow it to steep for around 20-30 minutes. The tea will start to turn a beautiful red color.
- Strain the bark and enjoy your tea.