White willow bark (Salix alba) is the bark of the White Willow tree, also known as the European Willow or ‘weeping willow’, well known for its beautiful long leafy branches that hang over rivers and gently sway in the breeze. The tree can grow up to 30 metres tall, and while it is well known in folklore it also has some wonderful medicinal and cosmoceutical benefits.
The White Willow has a long and illustrious history. It has been used for over 5000 years by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks as a pain relief remedy and anti-inflammatory. During the time of Hippocrates, people would chew on the bark to relieve pain. The active ingredient behind its pain relieving properties, salicin, was only discovered in 1829 however. It was used to develop the modern drug aspirin.
Salicin, from which salicylic acid is made, is found in white willow bark. It exhibits a range of benefits, including anti inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, immune boosting and fever-reducing properties. It acts by reducing the production of pain-inducing chemicals (prostaglandins) in nerves.
Studies have shown that white willow bark is as effective as aspirin at reducing pain, which has led it to be called the original aspirin.
It is well known that taking aspirin can help reduce the risk of blood clots and acts as a preventative for heart attacks. Since the salicylates in aspirin are derived from the salicin found in white willow bark, it stands to reason that the bark could have similar health benefits.
It is believed that taking white willow bark can help suppress the onset and progression of arthritis. White willow bark can help ease discomfort in nerves and reduce inflammation in joints.
White willow bark is known for relief of rheumatism and gout, headaches, cystitis, inflammation, backaches, nerve pain, joint inflammation, arthritis and menstrual cramps.
Salicin, from which salicylic acid is produced, is a natural chemical exfoliant, sloughing off dead skin to reveal a more radiant complexion. It is gentle and suitable for all skin types. It is not the same as salicylic acid, which is the metabolised product of salicin.
Salicin is an anti irritant that helps soothe skin and assists with acne. It is highly anti-inflammatory and has been shown to reduce wrinkles, even skin tone and minimise pore appearance. Its properties include being anti bacterial, anti inflammatory, increasing circulation, pore cleansing and helping with acne and irritation
In addition to salicin, white willow bark also contains phenolic acids, minerals, tannins, flavonoids and other components, which are all beneficial for the skin.
Polyphenols and flavonoids are phytonutrients that have strong antioxidant properties and fight free radicals. They are anti agers and help protect the skin.
Tannins are natural astringents and have a toning action on the skin.
White willow bark has been scientifically found to reduce the visible signs of aging when applied topically to the skin. It is now a fairly common ingredient in high end anti aging skincare products.
A tea can be made from the bark, and drunk to gain all the medicinal benefits. To make a tea, steep 1-2 teaspoons of bark in 1 cup boiling water. Brew for 10-15 minutes then drink up to three times daily.
Warnings: white willow bark may interfere with iron and other mineral absorption if taken internally. Consult your naturopath if you have any concerns.
Don’t take if you are allergic to aspirin or salicylates, or are on platelet inhibitors, anticoagulants or any medication that contains bismuth subsalicylates, nonsteroidal anti - inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), metoclopramide, or carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. Don’t take if pregnant or breastfeeding.
White willow bark extract can often be found in more high-end anti aging skincare products, but you can easily use it in various ways to also benefit your skin without spending a fortune on fancy products. An extract can be made from the bark for use in skincare products, or use the powdered bark in a facial mask.
You can make a botanical infusion by steeping a ¼ cup of white willow bark in freshly boiled and slightly cooled water, straining and then preserving. This water based botanical extract can then be used in the water phase of any formula.
Similarly, a glycerite could also be made from the white willow bark.
Want to learn how to make different kinds of extracts? Read here: The Botanical Extracts Series.
1 tsp white willow bark powder
1 tsp chamomile powder
1 tsp calendula powder
1 tsp pink kaolin clay
Blend all the powders together, as well as the clay powder, then add the liquid slowly to create paste. Spread over your face, avoiding the eye area. Leave on for 15 minutes then rinse off with warm water and apply a moisturiser or argan oil.
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