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Medicinal Trees: Willow or Osier (Salix)

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Posts: 1120
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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Sixty-two varieties of Salix have been found useful in Herbal Medicine: Salix acutifolia - Sharp-Leaf Willow, Salix aegyptiaca, Salix alaxensis - Feltleaf Wiillow, Salix alba - White WillowSalix alb, a caerulea - Cricket Bat Willow, Salix alba vitellina - Golden Willow, Salix 'Americana', Salix amygdaloides - Peach Leaved Willow, Salix appendiculata, Salix arenaria, Salix atrocinerea - Rusty Sallow, Salix aurita - Eared Sallow, Salix babylonica - Weeping Willow, Salix bakko, Salix bebbiana - Beak Willow, Salix 'Bowles hybrid', Salix brachycarpa, Salix caprea - Goat Willow, Salix cinerea - Grey Willow, Salix commutate, Salix daphnoides - Violet Willow, Salix decipiens, Salix eriocephala - Missouri Willow, Salix exigua - Coyote Willow, Salix fluviatilis - River Willow, Salix 'Forbiana', Salix fragilis - Crack Willow, Salix gilgiana, Salix gooddingii - Goodding's Willow, Salix gracilistyla - Rosegold Pussy Willow, Salix hastata - Halberd-Leaved Willow, Salix hookeriana - Dune Willow, Salix chaenomeloides, Salix japonica, Salix koriyanagi, Salix lanata - Woolly Willow, Salix lasiandra - Yellow Willow, Salix lasiolepis - Pacific Willow, Salix lucida - Shining Willow, Salix matsudana, Salix miyabeana, Salix nigra - Black Willow, Salix nipponica, Salix pentandra - Bay Willow, Salix petiolaris - Slender Willow, Salix piperi - Dune Willow, Salix pulchra - Tealeaf Willow, Salix purpurea - Purple Osier, Salix purpurea lambertiana - Purple Osier, Salix repens - Creeping Willow, Salix scouleriana - Scouler's Willow, Salix schwerinii, Salix sitchensis - Sitka Willow, Salix sungkianica, Salix taxifolia - Yew-Leaf Willow, Salix triandra - Almond-Leaved Willow, Salix viminalis – Osier, Salix wallichiana, Salix x mollisima hippophaeifolia, Salix x mollisima undulata, Salix x rubra, Salix x smithiana

Fortunately, I need not get into the specific virtues of all sixty-two trees, as only one variety of Salix is native to my region, the Black Willow (Salix Nigra). Naturalized are: Salix alba (White Willow), Salix atrocinerea (Grey Willow, Common Sallow, Rusty Sallow, Olive-leaf Willow), Salix babylonica (Weeping Willow), Salix caprea (Goat Willow), Salix cinerea (Grey Willow), Salix pentandra (Laurel Willow, Bay Willow)

The Willows are widely used in Herbal Medicine. Their chief value is salic acid. Willows, and a few other plants, are nature’s aspirin. They reduce pain and inflammation, thin the blood and lower fevers.

Dioscorides referred to Willow as Itea:

Itea is a tree known to all whose fruit, leaves, bark and juice are astringent. The leaves pounded into small pieces and taken in a drink with a little pepper and wine help those troubled with iliaca passio [painful intestinal obstruction]. Taken by themselves with water they cause inconception [birth control]. The fruit (taken in a drink) is good for those who spit blood, and the bark does the same. Burnt and steeped in vinegar it takes away calluses and corns, rubbed on them. The juice from the leaves and bark warmed with rosaceum in a cup of malum punicum [pomegranate] helps sores in the ears, and a decoction of them is an excellent warm pack for gout. It also cleans away scurf [eczema]. A juice is taken from it at the time of its flowering, the bark being cut, for it is found coalesced within. It has the ability to clean away things that darken the pupils.

Oddly, Saint Hildegard von Bingen did not approve of Willow. She wrote:

The willow is cold, and it designates vices, since it seems to be beautiful. It is not useful for people, except in serving external uses, and is not good for medicine. Its fruit and juice is bitter and not good for human use. If one wishes to eat it, it stirs up and augments melancholy in him, makes him bitter inside, and diminishes his health and happiness.

Gerard wrote of eight varieties of Willow, listing their virtues as:

A. The leaves and bark of Withy or Willows do stay the spitting of blood, and all other fluxes of blood whatsoever in man or woman, if the said leaves and bark be boiled in wine and drunk.

B. The green boughs with the leaves may very well be brought into chambers and set about the beds of those that be sick of fevers, for they do mightily cool the heat of the air, which thing is a wonderful refreshing to the sick patients.

C. The bark hath like virtues: Dioscorides writeth, that this being burnt to ashes, and steeped in vinegar, takes away corns and other like risings in the feet and toes: divers, saith Galen, do slit the bark whilst the Withy is in flowering, and gather a certain juice, with which they use to take away things that hinder the sight, and this is when they are constrained to use a cleansing medicine of thin and subtle parts.

Culpepper wrote of Willow:

The Moon owns it. Both the leaves, bark, and the seed, are used to stanch bleeding of wounds, and at mouth and nose, spitting of blood, and other fluxes of blood in man or woman, and to stay vomiting, and provocation thereunto, if the decoction of them in wine be drank. It helps also to stay thin, hot, sharp, salt distillations from the head upon the lungs, causing a consumption. The leaves bruised with some pepper, and drank in wine, helps much the wind cholic. The leaves bruised and boiled in wine, and drank, stays the heat of lust in man or woman, and quite extinguishes it, if it be long used. The seed also is of the same effect. Water that is gathered from the Willow, when it flowers, the bark being slit, and a vessel fitting to receive it, is very good for redness and dimness of sight, or films that grow over the eyes, and stay the rheums that fall into them; to provoke urine, being stopped, if it be drank; to clear the face and skin from spots and discolourings. Galen says, the flowers have an admirable faculty in drying up humours, being a medicine without any sharpness or corrosion; you may boil them in white wine, and drink as much as you will, so you drink not yourself drunk. The bark works the same effect, if used in the same manner, and the tree hath always a bark upon it, though not always flowers; the burnt ashes of the bark being mixed with vinegar, takes away warts, corns, and superfluous flesh, being applied to the place. The decoction of the leaves or bark in wine, takes away scurff and dandrif by washing the place with it. It is a fine cool tree, the boughs of which are very convenient to be placed in the chamber of one sick of a fever.

In the fifty-third volume of the Philosophical Transactions, page 195, we have an account given by Mr. Stone, of the great efficacy of the bark of this tree, in the cure of intermitting fevers. He gathered the bark in summer, when it was full of sap, and having dried it by a gentle heat, gave a drachm of it in powder every four hours between the fits.

While the Peruvian bark remained at its usual moderate price, it was hardly worth while to seek for a substitute, but since the consumption of that article is become nearly as equal to the supply of it, from South America, we must expect to find it dearer, and very much adulterated every year, and consequently the white Willow bark is likely to become an object worthy the attention of the faculty; and should its success, upon a more enlarged scale of practice, prove equal to Mr. Stone's experiments, the world will be much indebted to that gentleman for his communication.

Mrs. Grieve wrote of both Black and White Willow:

Willow, Black American

Botanical: Salyx nigra

Medicinal Action and Uses---An aphrodisiac sedative, tonic. The bark has been prescribed in gonorrhoea and to relieve ovarian pain; a liquid extract is prepared and used in mixture with other sedatives. Largely used in the treatment of nocturnal emissions.

Willow, White

Botanical: Salix alba

Medicinal Action and Uses---Tonic, antiperiodic and astringent. It has been used in dyspepsia connected with debility of the digestive organs. In convalescence from acute diseases, in worms, in chronic diarrhoea and dysentery, its tonic and astringent combination renders it very useful


An Irish Herbal states:

A decoction of the leaves, bark, seed and flower in wine, taken internally, stops vomiting, spitting of blood, excessive menstrual flow and all other flows of the blood. The ashes of the bark, mixed with vinegar, causes warts to fall off and soothes hard skin. The sap that flows from the bark is good for inflammations of the eye.

Brother Aloysius wrote of White Willow:

Before the flowering period in April, the bark of two to three year old branches should be gathered and left to dry. The decoction of this very bitter astringent can be fruitfully used for the treatment of fever. It is, indeed, one of the best febrifuge remedies, especially for intermittent fever. It is also highly recommended for blood-spitting , and is a very potent tonic. Boil 3 to 4 tablespoons in 2 cups water until reduced by half; add a little sugar or honey, as it has a rather bitter taste. Take 1 tablespoon every 2 hours; 1 tablespoon ever hour in case of fever. It is a most efficacious remedy for heavy bleeding, also for chronic diarrhea, leukorrhea, excessive mucus, stomach cramps, nervous complaints, spleen and liver disorders, foul or mucus stomach.

Powder from the dried bark of willow can also be used for the same complaints; take 2 to 2 ½ tablespoons as necessary, per day, with a little honey or syrup, in wine. When taken in wine, ½ to ¾ cup should be steeped in 1 quart of wine for 14 days. Dosage, 1 tablespoon 3 times a day. Boil 3 handfuls of willow leaves in ½ cups wine until reduced by two thirds. This is a beneficial remedy for blood-spitting, heavy menstruation and leukorrhea. Dosage: a liqueur glassful, three times a day. A tincture of willow bark can also be prepared by letting 3 parts powdered willow bark steep for 10 days in 10 parts alcohol; it should then be filtered. The dose is 5 drops in a spoon of water one to four times a day.

Fr. Johannes Künzle wrote of Willow:

Old people whose legs are weak, because of old age or because of an illness could strengthen their legs in frequent foot baths in boiled willow bark. The basket weavers sell bark cheaply

Jolanta Wittib writes of Willow:

Willow bark together with Meadowsweet is part of Bayer Aspirin. As I am always careful to have enough willow bark and Meadowsweet at home, I use only my homemade “Aspirin”.

In spring, just before the buds start opening I cut a few two or three year old twigs from a willow. The twigs are thinner than the thickness of a finger. I peel the bark, cut it into 1 cm pieces, dry it well and store it in tightly closed dark jars or in a dark place.

Whenever I have fever, flu, pains in joints or muscles or a headache, I make a decoction/infusion: I soak 1 spoon of powdered willow bark in 1 Liter of cold water for half an hour, then heat it on a very low heat for another 20-30 minutes, but do not bring it to a boil. I add a spoon of dried meadowsweet and I might add some lemon verbena or lemon balm or lavender for a better taste and a better sleep. I let the infusion soak for 10 minutes, strain it, pour into thermos and drink half a cup or a cup every three, four hours. I know, I have to wait for the soothing effect of the remedy, as it has to pass through the “chemical factory” of my body before the healing substances of the plants start to work, but then the healing powers start working.

A quicker version is making an infusion: pour 500 ml of very hot, but not boiling water onto 1 teaspoon of powdered willow bark and 1 teaspoon of powdered meadow sweet, leave 15 minutes to draw and drink many times a day.

Well, this is my way of getting rid of infections with fever without ruining my stomach.

Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests states:

SALICACEAE. {The Willow Tribe.)

Bark generally astringent, tonic and stomachic.

BLACK OE SWAMP WILLOW, {Salix nigra, L.) Grows along streams; Eichland ; vicinity of Charleston ; collected in St. John's; Newbern. Fl. May. Bell's Pract. Diet. 403; U. S. Disp. 622. See work of younger Michaux, Ball, and Gar. Mat. Med. 337; Mer. and de L. Diet, de M. Med. vi, 185; Griffith, Med. Bot. 583 ; Schcepf, Mat. Med. 43; Ell. Bot. Med. Notes, ii, 671. The willow is supposed to furnish us with one of the best substitutes for Peruvian bark ; the S. alba, which may be included among the many varieties found in the Southern States, and which are not yet accurately distinguished, seems to be held in high estimation. But this species, also, is considered valuable; the bark possessing some power as a purgative, anti-intermittent and vermifuge. It also furnishes the principle called salicin, which, from the results of late experiments, is found to be much less valuable than quinia, but is a good bitter tonic. See Journal Phil. Coll. Pharm. for the mode of preparation. The bark of the root and branches is officinal It is tonic and somewhat astringent. The decoction made with one ounce of bark to one pint of boiling water, of which the dose is two fluid ounces, should be boiled ten minutes, and strained while hot. Dose of salicin from two to eight grains and increased. It might well attract attention as a substitute for quinine. The large stems of this tree are light and durable, and are used for the timbers of boats. There are several other species in the Southern States. The willow—osier willow, (see article in Farmer and Planter, Sept., 1861,) is cultivated extensively in Germany, France and Belgium for making baskets, hats, screens, etc., etc. After most careful experiment it has been found that the best species to introduce into the Southern States for the purpose, are the Salix forbeyana, Salix purpurea, purple willow and Salix triandra, long-leaved willow. Forbes' willow is very productive and hardy, one of the most valuable species for common work, where unpeeled rods are used. It does not whiten well.

King's American Dispensatory, 1898 tells us:

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Willow bark is tonic, antiperiodic, and an astringent bitter. It has been given in intermittents, dyspepsia, connected with debility of the digestive organs, passive hemorrhages, chronic mucous discharges, in convalescence from acute diseases, and in worms. Although occasionally substituted for the cinchona bark, it is inferior in activity. In chronic diarrhoea and dysentery, the tonic and astringent combination of the willow renders it very eligible. It may be given in substance, in doses of 1 drachm of the powder, repeated as indicated; or of the decoction, 1 or 2 fluid ounces, 4 or 5 times a day. The decoction has also proved efficient as a local application to foul and indolent ulcers.

Plants for A Future states:

Medicinal use of Black Willow: The bark is anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiperiodic, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, hypnotic, sedative, tonic. It has been used in the treatment of gonorrhoea, ovarian pains and nocturnal emissions. The bark of this species is used interchangeably with S. alba. It is taken internally in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, gout, inflammatory stages of auto-immune diseases, diarrhoea, dysentery, feverish illnesses, neuralgia and headache. The bark can be used as a poultice on cuts, wounds, sprains, bruises, swellings etc. The bark is removed during the summer and dried for later use. The leaves are used internally in the treatment of minor feverish illnesses and colic. The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season and are used fresh or dried. The fresh bark contains salicin, which probably decomposes into salicylic acid (closely related to aspirin) in the human body. This is used as an anodyne and febrifuge and as an ingredient of spring tonics.

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs states:

Willow bark is used by herbalists as an anodyne, antipyretic, astringent, detergent, tonic, antiperiodic and antiseptic. It is useful for headache, neuralgia, hay fever, fever, pain and inflammation of joints (like aspirin).

In Weiner’s Herbal, herbalist Michael Weiner recommended a decoction of 1 teaspoon of white willow bark slowly boiled in 1 ½ pints of water in a covered container for 30 minutes. After slowly cooling, it should be drunk a mouthful or tablespoonful at a time, “As needed to promote sweating in chills and fever.”

Peterson Field Guides Eastern and Central Medicinal Plants tells us:

White Willow: the bark of this Willow and other willows with very bitter and astringent bark has traditionally been used for diarrhea, fevers, pain, arthritis, rheumatism; poultice or wash used for corns, cuts, cancers, ulcers, Poison Ivy rash, etc. Salicylic acid, derived from salicin found in the bark, is a precursor to the most widely used semi synthetic drug, acetyl salicylic acid aspirin, which reduces pain, inflammation, and fever. Aspirin reduce reduces risk of heart disease in males; Experimentally, delays cataract formation.

Botany In a Day states:

Willow is a commonly known wilderness medicine due to its aspirin like qualities. It is used for headaches, fevers, hay fever, neuralgia, and inflammation of the joints. Some of the salicylic acid is excreted in urine, making it useful as an analgesic to the urethra and bladder.

The Physicians’ Desk Reference for Herbal Medicine tells us:

The efficacy of the drug is due mainly to the proportion of salicin present. After splitting of the acyl residue, the salicin glycosides converted to salicin, the precursor of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is antipyretic, antiphlogistic come in analgesic. White Willow bark is the phototherapeutic precursor to salicylic acid aspirin. The salicin component is responsible for the anti-inflammatory an antipyretic affects the tannin content has astringent property on mucous membranes. Indications and usage approved by Commission E: rheumatism and pain. Salicin is useful in diseases accompanied by fever, rheumatic elements, headache and pain caused by inflammation. Unproven uses: folk medicine uses include toothache, gout, gastrointestinal disorders, diarrhea and wound healing. Contra indications: Willow bark is contraindicated in patients that have a hypersensitivity to salicylate. Salicylate should not be used in children with flu like symptoms due to the association of salicylates with Reye’s syndrome. Patients with active gastric or duodenal ulcer, hemophilia, asthma, or diabetes should avoid willow bark preparations. Salicylate should be avoided during pregnancy. Salicylate's have been associated with rashes and breast-fed infants; Use is not recommended. General: no health hazards are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages. Stomach complaints could occur as a side effect due to the tanning content.

This article is an excerpt from The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: by Judson Carroll

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Author: Judson Carroll. Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.

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