Willow bark is a form of alternative medicine used to treat pain and inflammation. Unlike some forms of alternative medicine, willow bark has a good deal of evidence supporting its benefits. A chemical found in willow bark is very similar to aspirin, though this medicine is slower acting and has a longer effect. However, because the chemical found in willow bark is so similar to aspirin that many of the harmful side effects found in aspirin also come with willow bark
Willow bark is a part of the deciduous trees and shrubs known as willows. Willow is mostly found in arctic and temperate zones. In addition to having bark that provides an anti-inflammatory effect, willow trees are useful in preventing soil erosion. Willows have various names, such as crack willow, Liu-zhi, purple willow, pussy willow, salix alba, weeping willow and salix nigra.
The types of trees from which willow bark is taken are the white willow, black willow, pussy willow, crack willow, purple willow and weeping willow. The bark that is sold as an anti-inflammatory is usually a combination of bark from several different types of willow tree.
Archeologists have excavated tablets that demonstrate that willow bark might have been used medicinally in ancient Egypt and ancient China. Willow bark was advocated by Hippocrates in 400 B.C. as a way to reduce fever and inflammation.
Salicin, a substance found in willow bark, is chemically similar to aspirin. Willow bark can be used to treat low back pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, bursitis, tendonitis and other conditions that involve inflammation. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, willow bark has the advantage of working longer than aspirin, though willow bark takes longer to affect the patient. It also has antiseptic, antioxidant, fever reducing and pro immunity benefits. Willow bark is less likely to cause gastrointestinal problems than aspirin. It is also known to be useful in treating menstrual cramps.
Those with very sensitive stomachs can feel sick after taking willow bark. Children who take willow bark can develop the very dangerous Reye syndrom, also associated with aspirin. Those who have an allergic reaction to aspirin will also have an allergic reaction to willow bark. Those with asthma, hemophilia, diabetes, gout and gastritis might want to avoid willow bark, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Side effects do exist with willow bark, including stomach ulcers and stomach bleeding. Overdoses can lead to rashes, nausea, vomiting, kidney inflammation and ear ringing. Those who are taking blood thinners, beta blockers, diuretics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and dilatin, or who are pregnant should not take willow bark.