White willow bark vs. aspirin

Written by julie segraves
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White willow bark vs. aspirin
Weeping Willow tree (weeping willow image by Edsweb from Fotolia.com)

The ancient Greeks used white willow bark to cure headaches and fevers as early as 400 B.C. It didn't come into widespread use until scientists learnt to buffer the active substance and put it into a marketable form. Aspirin was born.

White Willow Bark

White willow bark produces a substance called salicin. When it's metabolised, it converts to a substance called salicylate. This is the chemical that is the active ingredient of white willow bark tea.

White willow bark vs. aspirin
Willow tree (pussy willow image by Ruta Saulyte from Fotolia.com)


Aspirin is made of the salicylate derived from the willow bark with a chemical tag called acetyl. The acetyl is combined with the salicylate to form the active ingredient in aspirin, which is acetylsalicylate.

White willow bark vs. aspirin
Aspirin (wall of pills image by Margaret M Stewart from Fotolia.com)


Salicylate blocks the messenger molecules called prostaglandin. Prostaglandin is what causes you to have a fever when you've contacted bacteria and triggers inflammation in response to sunburn, arthritis, insect stings or injuries. White willow bark has the same properties.

Side Effects

White willow bark causes severe gastric distress. Hippocrates knew this in 400 B.C. when it was used by the ancient Greeks. Aspirin is a blood thinner and should be used with caution if you are on other medication.


The main difference between aspirin and white willow bark is acetyl. In the late 1800s, scientists discovered that combining acetyl with salicylate prevented the gastric distress caused by salicylate. This allowed aspirin to become a viable and marketable product.

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