The herb white willow (Salix alba) has been a major component in herbal remedies for thousands of years. While you may be more likely to think of this herb in terms of its counterpart, the weeping willow, many people actually grow white willow in small amounts in their herb gardens so that they can take advantage of its healing and medicinal properties.
The white willow was used by the Chinese more than 2,000 years ago to relieve pain. However, Western societies have been slow to catch up. Today, herbalists recommend white willow for pain and it is also a component in a number of natural medicines and remedies.
White willow contains a chemical compound called salicin, from which aspirin is derived. The salicin lessens pain and inflammation in the body, relieves discomfort from headaches and minor injuries and gives the body a chance to heal itself without the added stress caused by pain that can slow healing down.
White willow can relieve headaches, fever and arthritis. Some herbalists even recommend it to ward off heart disease, much as people take a daily aspirin for the same purpose. It is also popularly used for lower back pain and tendinitis, which can heal on their own if the source of inflammation is removed.
While salicin becomes salicylic acid in the body the same way that aspirin does, you cannot simply substitute one for the other because it is much more difficult to calculate the concentration of salicin in white willow than it is to calculate a dose of aspirin. If you are taking white willow for issues like heart disease, then you must work with your physician and an herbalist to make sure that the white willow will do the job.
White willow can interact with a number of medicines and herbal treatments. Never start taking it without consulting your physician. Side effects of white willow may include bleeding and ulcers. An overdose could cause nausea, ringing in the ears, skin rash, vomiting and kidney inflammation. If you are pregnant or younger than 16, you must not take white willow.