There are numerous species of willow tree, but the most commonly used in botanic medicine is the white willow or Salix alba, also known as the European or Salicin willow – not to be confused with the small flowered willow herb (Epilobium parviflorum) used for prostate disorders.
Old herbal books tell us that the American Indians were very familiar with the therapeutic power of the willow. Many tribes prepared decoctions of the bark and used the brew to reduce fever and to relieve the aches and pains of rheumatism. In the eighteenth century, Reverend Stone heard of the success the Indians were having with the use of willow bark tea. He tried it on the local settlers who were suffering from rheumatism and found that the tea effectively relieved pain.
In herbal medicine, the bark of the willow is used and has often been named one of nature’s greatest gifts to man, as it contains salicin, an effective painkiller. To this day, it is still used in the manufacture of some aspirin preparations.
Salicin is converted in the body into salicylic acid which has anti-inflammatory properties. In spite of cortisone and other modern medications, salicylic acid is still the most important remedy for rheumatoid arthritis and other connective tissue disorders characterised by inflammatory changes. Besides its anti-inflammatory action, salicylic acid contains antipyretic (fever-reducing), analgesic, antiseptic and astringent properties.
Willow bark tea is specially indicated in the treatment of muscular and arthrodial rheumatism, and is also used for influenza, fevers, respiratory catarrh, gouty arthritis and spondylitis. Beneficial both internally and externally, it is good for bleeding wounds, nosebleeds or spitting of blood, as an anti-emetic (prevents vomiting) and to increase the flow of urine.
A tea is prepared by slowly boiling 3 teaspoons of willow bark in ¼ litre of water for about 15 minutes or by soaking the bark in cold water for 8 to 10 hours (e.g. overnight). The liquid is then strained and one cupful is sipped, three to four times a day.