The Willow's Bark

Welcome to the Herbwoman's Arts blog!


Let's dive right in and start as we intend to continue - with the portrait of a medicinal plant that is quite famous for its healing qualities: The willow.


Whether it's a regency romance or a fantacy novel - the willow tree's bark is often found in the pages of a novel. It alleviates fevers and head colds, it cures a headache, and eases rheumatic complaints. In fantasy novels it also serves as a pain killer for superficial battle wounds.


It does all those things in real life, too. 


Willow bark contains salicin, which the body breaks down into salicylic acid when ingested. Salicylic acid in turn is a close relative  of acetylsalicylic acid, the main ingredient of aspirin, and has a very similar effect on the human body.  

In addition to salicin, willow bark contains other, less well-researched substances. The whole cocktail of ingredients combines to an herbal remedy which has most of the positive effects of aspirin without the undesirable side effects its chemically processed sibling causes.


Modern phytotherapy uses willow bark extract to treat rheumatic complaints, arthritis, and gout, in addition to its traditional use as a pain killer and for fever reduction.

Here's what the University of Maryland Medical School has to say about willow bark:

Some studies show willow is as effective as aspirin for reducing pain and inflammation (but not fever), and at a much lower dose. Scientists think that may be due to other compounds in the herb. More research is needed.


In other words, willow bark tea (or willow bark tincture) is a very effective headache potion. It also works as an anti-inflammatory agent and has some antipyretic (fever-reducing) effect - for example when treating wounds in the aftermath of a battle, as a human physician in the following snippet is called on to do for an injured Fae lady.


Snippet: Patricia Briggs, "Silver" (in the short story collection "Shifting Shadows"):

 "I can't do much," I told the creature. "I don't have the supplies. I can clean the wounds and stop the bleeding and give her the chance to heal. She needs to be somewhere out of the weather. There is snow coming."
"There is shelter." She bobbed her head. "And we have needles and thread. What else do you need?"
"Honey," I told her. "Willow bark. Water. How far away is the shelter?"



Willow bark also works as a general painkiller, for example to keep a backache under control:


Snippet from "The Black Gryphon" by Mercedes Lackey,:

"Well, my back had been bothering me for a while," she replied with obvious reluctance, "but I never really thought about it. [..]"
She grunted, and the skin of her neck reddened a little. "I don't like to whine about things," she said. "Especially not things I can't change. So I kept my mouth shut and drank a lot of willow. [..]"



The willow's bark is collected in spring when the tree is in growth. Branches between two and four years old yield the best bark, which is stripped off and then dried in a warm room. Any willow tree will do, since salicin occurs in all subspecies.


The bark can be brewed up as a tea, or preserved in alcohol and consumed as a tincture.




 *** Please note: This blog is not intended as medical advice. ***

Do not try this at home.
(Or at least, don't use any of the remedies described here this without consulting your physician first.)