White Willow Tree Uses
Tree Healing Therapy
Botanical name Salix alba / Family Salicaceae
White willow is a deciduous tree that is native to much of Europe. It has ascending branches, deeply fissured grey bark and olive-green leaves covered with silvery-grey hairs. The male and female catkins appear with the leaves on separate trees, the female catkins becoming downy airborne seeds dispersed by wind and water. The fruit is a capsule.
History, mystery and spiritual healing The willow's ability to grow from coppiced or pollarded trees earned it the title 'tree of immortality'. For its spiritual, visionary and consciousness-altering affects, it was called the 'tree of enchantment and mysteries' by the ancient Celts.
The willow tree's leaves and bark were mentioned in ancient texts from Assyria, Sumer and Egypt for aches and fever. The use of its salicylic acid to reduce pain dates back at least to Hippocrates (440-377 BCE). It was also used by Dioscorides in the 1st century CE for lower back-pain. It was forgotten during the Middle Ages, but was used again as an internal styptic by the 17th-century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper for its pain-relieving effects.
The dried bark from three- to six-year-old willow contains many compounds, including the healing glycoside salicin, tannin and resin. It is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-neuralgic, anti-rheumatic, astringent, a febrifuge and styptic. It is used for arthritis, the common cold and other feverish conditions, cystitis, headache, neuralgia and rheumatism. A decoction is used externally for slow- healing abrasions, ulcers and burns.
Homeopathically, an essence of willow bark is used for the same complaints. Willow eases sorrow and the loss of love, and its Bach Flower Remedy restores the balance of optimism and a sense of humour to the disappointed.
Willow's yield of salicylic acid was reported by the Reverend Edward Stone to the Royal Society in England and published in 1763. In 1897 Felix Hoffmann created a synthetic version of salicin. The drug was named 'aspirin' by the company Bayer AG and initiated the class of drugs known as NSAIDs.
Recent research confirms that s. alba is not only useful for lower back pain, but - alone or combined with feverfew (see pages 94-95) - reduces the frequency of migraine attacks and their intensity and duration. Natural willow spring water has also been shown to aid skin and other conditions. Native Americans also relied upon various species of willow as the basis of their medicine.White-willow bark should not be taken with aspirin or NSAIDs, or if you have an ulcer, other gastrointestinal disorder or tinnitus. Consult your healthcare professional if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. As with aspirin, never give white willow bark to a child under the age of 16 who has cold, flu or chickenpox symptoms.