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Herb of the Month – Willow Bark

Willow Bark (Salix spp.) is an interesting herb and one that has been used for centuries! History suggests that it may have been an ancient Greek herbal medicine, as it was first reported by Dioscorides in his herbal De Materia Medica written in the first century C.E. It is also documented to have been used by Hippocrates in 400BC and in ancient China around 500 BC. What’s interesting is its uses then are not that much different from what it is used for today.

As its name suggests, it is the Bark of the Willow Tree which is used for its medicinal benefits. The shrub is native to several locations including Britain and southern Europe. Traditionally people chewed on the bark to reduce pain and inflammation. While this isn’t common practice today, willow bark is still just as relevant.

Willow Bark is recognised and used for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, commonly used to support short term pain relief in conditions such as lower back pain, muscle pain and headaches. It is often given to help provide temporary relief of pain associated with mild osteoarthritis.

What is wonderful about Willow Bark is that not only has this herb been used traditionally, more recently it has been shown to benefit pain relief, which continues to demonstrated traditional pain relieving benefits, making it clinically relevant today. 

While you may not be familiar with Willow Bark, you may be familiar with its strong therapeutic compound Salicin. Salicin is chemically similar to acetylsalicylic acid – A lot of people believe acetylsalicylic acid was derived from Willow Bark but in fact it was actually derived from another herb called meadowseet. Because of this, Willow bark should be avoided with blood thinning and anti-coagulation medications. Willow bark is also Salicylate-containing and should be avoided in known allergies.