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Willow bark has been used as a treatment for pain and fever in China since 500 BC. In Europe, it was primarily used for altogether different purposes, such as stopping vomiting, removing warts, and suppressing sexual desire. However, in 1828, European chemists made a discovery that would bring together some of these different uses. They extracted the substance salicin from white willow, which was soon purified to salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is an effective treatment for pain and fever, but it is also sufficiently irritating to do a good job of burning off warts.
Chemists later modified salicylic acid (this time from the herb meadowsweet) to create acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin.
As interest in natural medicine has grown, many people have begun to turn back to white willow as an alternative to aspirin. One double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found it effective for back pain , and another found it helpful for osteoarthritis . It is also used for such conditions as bursitis , dysmenorrhea , tension headaches , migraine headaches , rheumatoid arthritis , and tendonitis . However, two recent studies failed to find it effective for rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.
Aspirin and related anti-inflammatory drugs are notorious for irritating or damaging the stomach. However, when taken in typical doses, willow does not appear to produce this side effect to the same extent. 1 This may be partly due to the fact that most of the salicylic acid provided by...
Evidence suggests that willow, taken at standard doses, is the equivalent of 50 mg of aspirin, a very small dose. 2 Willow doesn't impair blood coagulation to the same extent as aspirin, 3 and also doesn't appear to significantly irritate the stomach. 4 Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to suppose that, if it is used over the long term or in high doses, willow could still cause the side effects associated with aspirin. All the risks of aspirin therapy potentially apply.
For this reason, white willow should not be given to children, due to the risk of Reye's syndrome. It should also not be used by people with aspirin allergies, bleeding disorders, or kidney disease. In addition, it may interact adversely with "blood thinners," other anti-inflammatory...