Wednesday, June 26, 2013

White Willow: Nature's Original Painkiller

“The word drug itself comes from the Dutch word “drug” (via the French word Drogue), 
which means dried plant” -(Absolute Astronomy, Herbalism).

            There are many herbs which make what our medical field what it is today, as “Many of the pharmaceutical currently available to physicians have a long history of use as herbal remedies, including opium, aspirin, digitalis and quinine” (Wikipedia, Herbalism). Though in this blog I will be covering White Willow, which from my research, is what I know to be the natural origins of aspirin. Aspirin either comes from spirea, being an ancient “name for the natural pain reliever meadowsweet” (Keville, 44), or it could be from “taking the “a” from the “acetyl” and “spirin” from “Spirea””, being named after the primary compound in white willow, acetylsalicylic acid (Sumner, 135). With American’s alone consuming over 80 million aspirin tablets a year, its amazing to find how few people know of its true origins.
me with what I believe is a Salix spp. specifically
a weeping willow, in Virginia
            Salix alba, or white willow, around 2,000 years ago the Greek physician Dioscorides recommended Salix spp. “willow leaves mashed with a littler pepper and drunk with wine” to treat lower back pain. Overall was used by the Greeks to treat pain and gout, and by native Americans for headaches (Sumner, 133-134). The bark is very bitter and astringent, also traditionally being used for: diarrhea, fever, pains, arthritis, rheumatism; the poultice was used for: corns, cuts, cancers, ulcers, poison ivy and rashes (Foster & 321-322).  In Europe, during the middle ages, infusions of willow were used as a folk remedy to treat fever and aches. In 1763, a sir Reverend Edmund Stone wrote to the president of the Royal Society, that there is a “bark of an English tree, which I have found by experience to be a powerful astringent, and very efficacious in curing aguish and intermitting disorders”. Stone creatively extirpated from the traditional Doctrines of Signatures; since feverish illnesses were common in the cod, moist English countryside, that plants grow in areas to provide cures. He contended that “many natural maladies carry their cures along with them, or their remedies lie not far from their causes”, stinging nettle’s juice, usually near yellowdock, burdock (Sumner, 133-134).  
            Native Americans used many types of willow, Salix alba, being the commonly known one. The Cherokee used it as a hair wash, to stimulate hair growth, and the bark as a poultice. The root was chewed for lost voice and hoarseness, and as an overall tonic. Coastal Plain willow, or Salix caroliniana, was used for thin blood; an infusion was an emetic for ‘rainbow sickness’, as well as: fever, stiff neck, backachache, dizziness, diarrhea, headaches; for menstrual problems, and for body soreness (as a bath) and stomache. Also used for: cleaning the insides, after a death of a patient, ‘ceremonial emetic’; bark infusion for hot feet, Lion sickness: tongue hanging out, panting (Moerman, 430-435).
            Willow active compound salacin, which converts in the stomach to salicylic acid (Keville, 44), was synthesized into what is know today as aspirin, being present in this herb and meadowsweet (Keville, 5). Bark extract of Salix alba was tested between “1821 and 1829 during which time salicin was identified”, in 1838 the compound of “salicylic acid was produced through the oxidation and hydrolysis of salicin” (Mowrey, 224). White willow though, was synthesized into what is now known as aspirin in 1875, being researched primarily by Felix Hoffman, an employee at the, “Bayer division of I.G. Farben, a Germany company” (Sumner, 134). Felix originally started doing so in hopes of treating his father’s bad rheumatoid arthritis, and after giving his father the “salicylate compound” which caused his dad too much “acute stomach pain” (Sumner, 134), so by 1893, and, “produced acetylsalicylic acid from salicylic acid” (Mowrey, 224)

            The analgesic effects of willow are slower, yet longer lasting than aspirin, and do not cause internal bleeding, especially of the stomach lining (Balch, 142). It has been noted in several of my herbal books, that with aspirin being such a “a powerful, concentrated synthetic extract of, “its herbal counterparts…that medical researchers say that if it were introduced today, instead of in the more lenient nineteenth century, the Food and Drug Administration…would demand that it be sold by prescription only” (Keville, 45).
Has many of the same uses currently, as historically: fevers, colds, infections, acute and chronic rheumatic disorders, headaches, inflammation related pain
            A study found that if you combined 100 mg of white willow it reduced pain and improved functioning in people with osteoarthritis (Balch, 142).  Ten studies have found that patients with radiation treatment found that Salix SST, a saliva-stimulating lozenges containing the active principles of willow bark, relieved symptoms of dry mouth and improved sleep and speech (Balch, 142). clinical testing on willow bark in England shows, from centre for complementary heath studies at the University of Exeter, 82 participants with chronic arthritis pain herbal drug containing willow bark, or placebo…after 2 months, those on the willow bark medication found to be superior (Balch, 142).

            Personally, I love taking white willow, Salix alba, tincture for headaches, cramps, general aches and fevers, and for me it works wonders!

 Works Cited:
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Herbal Heaing: an easy-to-use!-to-Z reference to hundreds of common disorders and their herbal remedies. Avery: a member of Penguin Putnam Inc, New York. 2002. Print.
Foster, Steven. Herbal Renaissance: growing, using & understanding herbs in the modern world. Gibbs Smith Publisher, Salt Lake City, Utah.1993. 87. Print. 
Keville, Kathi, and Peter Korn. Herbs for Health and Healing. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale, 1996. Print.
Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plant: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary-the medicinal uses of more than 3000 plants by 218 Native American tribes. Timber Press Inc, Portland, Oregon & London. 2009. Print.
Mowrey, Daniel. The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. McGraw Hill Publishing, 1st Edition. 1986. Print.  
Sumner, Judith. The Natural History of Medicinal Plants. Timber Press Inc. publishing, Portland, Oregon. 2000. Print.