Updated 18 February 2013

White willow bark

White willow bark was used by herbalists for fevers, headaches, arthritis and general pain problems.

atural health benefits of white willow (check the evidence rating *)

*** Good evidence of a health benefit.
** Some evidence of a health benefit.
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence.

  • Low back pain **
  • Osteoarthritis **
  • Rheumatoid arthritis *
  • General pain *
  • Headache *


White willow has been used in Europe as a medicine since ancient times.

White willow bark was used by herbalists for fevers, headaches, arthritis and general pain problems.
In the late 19th century, salicylic acid a constituent of willow bark was isolated and went on to become the model for the development of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Aspirin is the common pain reliever used by millions around the world.
In recent times, willow has been found to be effective for osteoarthritis and low back pain.

Health benefits

White willow bark contains the glycoside salicin, from which the body can split off salicylic acid. Salicin is thought to be the primary active constituent and the source of its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving actions.
The analgesic actions of white willow bark are slower to develop but may last longer than the effects of standard aspirin products.
One trial found that when a combination herbal product including 100mg willow bark was taken for two months, subjects experienced relief of pain symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.
Another trial found that over two weeks a dose of 1360mg of white willow bark extract per day (delivering 240mg of salicin) improved pain relief associated with knee and/or hip osteoarthritis.
One trial of four-weeks using a white willow bark extract that provided 240mg of salicin was effective in reducing low back pain.

Side effects

White willow does have possible side effects and should only be used under a doctor's supervision.
Side effects may include stomach upset and nausea, although these effects are rare.
White willow is not recommended for people with ulcers or gastritis.
As with aspirin, willow should not be used to treat fevers in children since it may cause Reye’s syndrome.

Herb-drug interactions

White willow should only be combined with other medications under the supervision of a doctor.
Metoclopramide: supportive interaction Taking metoclopramide (a drug used for heartburn, reflux and nausea) before willow bark results in higher concentrations of salicylic acid and greater pain relief in people suffering from an acute migraine headache. Further research is necessary to determine the significance of this finding.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories: adverse reaction White willow bark contains salicin, which is similar to aspirin. Both salicin and aspirin produce anti-inflammatory effects after they have been converted to salicylic acid in the body. The administration of salicylates like aspirin to individuals taking oral NSAIDs may result in reduced blood levels of NSAIDs. Although no studies have investigated these interactions, people taking NSAIDs should avoid the herb until more information is available.

Where does White willow come from and what parts are used?

White willow grows in central and southern Europe, although it is also found in North America.
The bark is used for medicinal purposes.

How much is usually taken?

White willow should be used under the supervision of a doctor.
A normal safe dose of salicin from White willow bark has been 60–120mg per day.
However, some studies suggest a higher salicin intake of 240mg per day may be more effective for treating pain.
Traditionally, a tincture of the bark, 1 – 1.5 teaspoons (5–8ml) is used three times per day.

(Zaakirah Rossier,Health24, updated October 2010)


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