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Common Name: White Willow | Scientific Name: Salix Alba

Family Name: Salicaceae


The white willow is a long used medicinal plant, rich in aspirin like compounds. It was formerly used in many of the ways we use aspirin today, to reduce inflammation and to reduce fever. But, in addition to these simple actions, white willow inspires the body to heal itself.


Chapter from My PhD Thesis
White Willow Chapter from My PhD Thesis
Notes from the Eclectic Physician’s

Part Used: Bark

Chemical Constituents: Significant phytochemicals include catechin-tannin, cyanidin, salicase, salicin salicortin, salicyl alcohol, salicylic acid, salidroside, salireposide, and tannin. (7)

Salix alba was known to the Ancient European writer’s medical writers and appears in many of the older medical works. According to Gerard, willow was used as an astringent and refrigerant and was useful in haemorrhages, in both men and women. (8) Prior to the age of colonialism, Salix alba was a European treatment for malaria. During the early years of colonialism, it was still used to treat malaria and was considered a reasonable substitute for Cinchona rubra. During the colonial period, Salix alba became naturalised in North America . The tree was first planted along the East Coast and in time spread throughout North America . The colonials used the drug as it had been used in Europe , to quell fever and aches and pains.

Eclectic Use (1–6)
Tonic, astringent, stomachic, antiperiodic, antiseptic, energetic tonic, substitute for cinchona, febrifuge, antiferment, destroys bacteria.

“Atonic conditions of the gastro-intestinal tract, especially where there is increased mucous secretion and a tendency to fetor or fermentation; passive hemorrhage; chronic diarrhea and dysentery. Diarrheas of children, typhoid conditions and intermittent fever are among the diseases most likely to present indications for this remedy. Salix alba is tonic, antiperiodic, and astringent.” (5)

General debility, chronic mucous discharge, impaired condition of the mucous membranes, excessive catarrhal discharges from mucous membranes, passive hemorrhages, convalescence from acute diseases, low forms of fever, malaria, intermittent fevers, typhoid conditions, debility caused by malaria, conditions built upon debilitating malaria.

Passive haemorrhage.

Chronic diarrhoea, dysentery, dyspeptic conditions when accompanied with or dependent upon debility of the digestive organs, worms, atonic conditions of the gastro-intestinal tract, especially where there is increased mucous secretion and a tendency to fetor or fermentation, diarrhoea of children, typhoid conditions, poor tone of the gastrointestinal tract and glandular organs, gastric catarrh, catarrhal diarrhoea.


Acute rheumatism.

Local application in indolent and foul ulcers, fetor of wounds, foul discharges.

The drug from Selye’s perspective

State of Resistance
The drug was used to raise resistance to malaria, typhoid fever, and acute rheumatism.

State of Exhaustion
The drug was used when resistance failed and State of Exhaustion set in. Conditions causing State of Exhaustion included malaria and typhoid fever. The signs of State of Exhaustion , treated by this drug, included temperature abnormalities, atonic gastro-intestinal tract, general debility, passive haemorrhages, abnormal mucous discharges, chronic diarrhoea/dysentery, joint abnormalities, indolent and foul ulcers and wounds. In addition, the drug was used to treat childhood diarrhoea.

Adaptation Energy
From Selye’s perspective, the drug increased adaptation energy. Evidence to this effect includes the following. The drug was used to speed convalescence by increasing the recuperative capacity. It was used to increase resistance to infectious disease. It was used to bolster patients in State of Exhaustion . Lastly, it was used topically to inspire old, foul, and cold ulcers to normal healing.

Brekhman’s Adaptogen Citerion
An adaptogen should be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism.

The drug is reported to be innocuous in Eclectic and contemporary literature. (1–7)

The action of an adaptogen should be non-specific i.e. it should increase resistance to adverse influences of a wide range of factors of physical, chemical, and biological nature.

Clinically, the drug was used to increase resistance to both acute and chronic infections. It was used to raise resistance to the endotoxins produced by infecting organisms (typhus). (1–6)

Experimentally, the drug contains compounds that have been shown to increase resistance to free radical damage, bacterial infection (Strep), cancer (bladder, breast, colon, lung, ovary), tumour formation, malaria, metastasis, viral infection (polio), fungal infection (Candida),
and sepsis. (7)

An adaptogen may possess normalising action irrespective of the direction of the foregoing pathological changes.

Clinically, the drug was used to normalise the physiological abnormalities associated with State of Exhaustion . This included temperature abnormalities, abnormal mucous secretions, diarrhoea/dysentery, passive haemorrhages, joint abnormalities, and ulceration of the skin and mucous membrane. The drug was also used to normalise immune function, which had become perverted through autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis). (1–6)

Experimentally, the drug contains compounds that have been shown to normalise immune suppression, poor phagocyte counts, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, capillary abnormalities, platelet stickiness, atherosclerosis, inflammation, ulceration, temperature abnormalities, rheumatic processes, and arthritis. (7)

The drug exhibits properties consistent with Brekhman’s definition of an adaptogen. The drug is innocuous; it raises resistance to a wide assortment of biological threats, and normalises physiological function.

.Salix alba is an old European drug used to raise resistance to infectious disease. Since the beginning of recorded history the drug has been used to treat feverish conditions. Indeed, the use of Salix alba as a febrifuge lead to the discovery of salicylic acid, or aspirin. Though the drug was well known and well understood prior to the commencement of the Eclectic movement, the Eclectics did contribute to the knowledge of this drug.

Firstly, they confirmed the uses established in Europe . Secondly, they noted that when constitutional collapse (State of Exhaustion ) had occurred, the drug could be used to normalise the many physiological abnormalities associated with that state. Rather than being simply a treatment for fever, it was a treatment for State of Exhaustion , of which temperature abnormalities were a symptom. Rather than a simple anti-inflammatory in joint complaints, it was a treatment for the joint abnormalities associated with State of Exhaustion . From Selye’s perspective, the drug was used to increase resistance to stress, and also to State of Exhaustion .
Potential clinical applications

The drug was used to treat the signs associated with State of Exhaustion . There is experimental data supporting this usage. The drug may have a role in normalising abnormal physiological function associated with State of Exhaustion .

Future Research
• Salix alba and its effects on the GAS. The drug should be tested in the animal model to determine its specific effects on the GAS.
• Salix alba and Malaria. The drug was used extensively to increase resistance to malaria, in simple and protracted cases. Its role in increasing resistance to malaria should be examined.
• Salix alba as a CO-drug in Malaria. The drug was used in combination with Cinchona rubra with better success than when either drug was used alone. Its ability to raise resistance to malaria, when used in combination with Cinchona rubra, should be examined.

The drug is widely available in the wild and is readily grown.

• King, John. The American Eclectic Dispensatory. Moore , Wilstach, and Keys. Cincinnati . 1854.P. 836.
• Scudder, J. M. The American Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics. Published by the Author. Cincinnati . 1883. P. 441.
• Felter, Harvey Wickes and Lloyd, John Uri. Kings’ American Dispensatory. Volume one and Volume two. Ohio Valley Company. Cincinnati . 1898. P. 1701.
• Felter, Harvey. Syllabus of Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics. Compiled from notes taken from the lectures of F.J.Locke. Edited with pharmacological additions by H.W.Felter. Second edition, with appendix. Scudder Brothers Company. Cincinnati.1901. P. 163.
• Fyfe, John William. Pocket Essentials of Modern Materia Medica and Therapeutics. The Scudder Brothers Company. 1903. P. 259.
• Ellingwood, Finley. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Pharmacognosy. Ellingwood’s Therapeutist. Chicago . 1919. P. 457.
• Dr. Dukes Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Agricultural Research Service. USDA.
• Gerard, Johnson. The Herbal or General History of Plants. London . 1633. P. 1389.

Notes from the Eclectic Physician’s

1854; King J; (Materia Medica) – SALIX ALBA
Properties and Uses. – Willow-bark is tonic and astringent, and has been employed as a substitute for Peruvian bark in intermittent fever, to which, however, it is inferior. In chronic diarrhea and dysentery, the tonic and astringent combination of the willow, renders it very eligible. It may be given in substance, in doses of one drachm of the powder, repeated as indicated; or of the decoction, one or two fluidounces, four or five times a day. The decoction has also proved efficacious as a local application to foul and indolent ulcers.

(The Bark of Salix Alba)

Preparation – Tincture of Salix.

Dose – From five drops to one drachm.

Therapeutic Action – The willow bark is tonic, stomachic, antiperiodic, astringent, and antiseptic. It possesses very energetic tonic properties, associated with astringency. It has been resorted to as a substitute fro Cinchona in the treatment of intermittents – its action upon the system being similar but feebler, and like that of Cornus florida . It has been exhibited with advantage in dyspeptic affections, when accompanied with or dependent on debility of the digestive organs.


Dose – As a tonic in general debility, one or two grains four or five times daily; as an antiperiodic, five to ten grains five or six times daily; or from forty to sixty during the intermission, to be given in substance.

Therapeutic Action – Salicine is tonic and antiperiodic. Much discrepancy of opinion obtains among medical men relative to the efficacy of Salicin or Salieine is diseases of periodicity. While some have regarded it not only as equal but superiod to the suphate of quinine as an antiperiodic, others have ascribed to it but feeble antiperiodic powers. There can be no doubt that is is possessed of valuable tonic properties, as as such may be prescribed in cases of general debility, in dyspepsia, intermittents, remittents, and in rheumatism showing evidences of periodicity. It has been claimed to exert the same influence over theumatism as salicylic acid, and in some cases to be better.

1898: Felter and Lloyd – SALIX – WILLOW
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage – Willow bark is tonic, antiperiodic, and an astringent bitter. It has been given in intermittents, dyspepsia, connected with debility of the digestive organs, passive hemorrhage, chronic mucous discharges, in convalescence from acute diseases, and in worms. Although occasionally substituted for the cinchona bark, it is inferior in activity. In chronic diarrhoea and dysentery, the tonic an dastringent combination of the willow renders it very eligible. It may be given in substance, in doses of 1 drachm of the powder, repeated as indicated; or of the decoction, 1 to 2 fluid ounces, 4 or 5 times a day. The decoction has also proved efficient as a local application to foul and indolent ulcers.

1901: Locke
The bark is bitter and its properties tonic,antiperiodic, astringent, and antiseptic. As an antiseptic it is used in low forms of fever. It is an antiferment and destroys bacteria. If may be employed in large doses with safety. if it is very good in the acute forms of rheumatism where salicylic acid fails to cure. fiven in sufficient doses of from five to thirty grains. both salix and salicin are good gastric tonics.

1911: Fyfe
Atonic conditions of the gastro-intestinal tract, expescially where there is increased mucous secretion and a tendency to fetor or fermentation;passive hemorrhage;chronic diarrhea and dysentery. Diarrheas of children, typhoid conditions and intermittent fever are among the diseases most likely to present indications for this remedy. Salix alba is tonic, antiperiodic, and astringent.

1919: Ellingwood – SALIX, SALIX ALBA
Synonym – White Willow .

Constituents – Salicin, wax, fat, gum.

Specific Symptomatology – Sexual irritability with lascivious dreams, sexual erethrism, libidinous thoughts, extreme sexual excitability with uncontrollable desire; erotomania, nymphomania, and satyriasis, prostatitis, with cystic irritation; acute prostatic enlargement, with cystitis, ovaritis, orchitis and other sexual disorders resulting from excess and abuse.

Therapy – This to an extent is antimalarial and like the other agents of this class it improves the tone of the gastro-intestinal tract and the glandular organs. It corrects impaired conditions of all mucous membranes and is thus of value in excessive catarrhal discharges from these membranes, being freely given in bronchorrhoea, gastric catarrh, catarrhal diarrhoea and in leucorrhoea, in all cases acting more promptly if malarial conditions have caused the existing debility. It has antiseptic properties, of course, if anti-malarial, and is a good remedy in protracted fevers.

It has a mild influence in controlling passive hemorrhages, but cannot be depended upon if they are severe.

Its antiseptic properties are apparent in its ability to correct the fetor of wounds and offensive discharges when locally applied.

Felter and Lloyd, in the American Dispensatory, make the following statement concerning the action of this remedy, which is important. Its field of action in those functional wrongs of the reproductive organs is due most largely to undue irritability of the parts and thought to be less due to mental or emotional causes. However, sexual passion from any functional cause is moderated by it, and it is especially adapted to the disorders of the sexually intemperate male or female and of the youth, subject day or night to libidinous suggestions and lascivious dreams terminating in pollutions, while for those extreme forms of sexual perversion, satyriasis, erotomania and nymphomania, it is more nearly specific than any other agent. Not only does salix nigra act as a check to sexual passion and misuse, but it proves a useful tonic and sedative to many conditions following in the wake of sexual intemperance, among which may be mentioned spermatorrhoea, in its varied forms, prostatitis, cystitis and ovaritis.

1919: Ellingwood: SALICIN
Formula – C13 H18 O7.

Description – A crystalline body, occurring in white or colorless, shiny, silky needles, or in crystalline powder having a bitter taste but odorless. It is soluble in water which contains an equal part of alcohol, at sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Dose, from two to ten grains.

Specific Symptomatology – Periodicity in fevers, with prostration. Intermittent or remittent fevers, accompanied by rheumatic manifestations. It is a sedative to fevers, where intermittency or rheumatism are present. Some physicians use it indiscriminately in fevers.

Therapy – Physicians who are in the habit of prescribing this remedy and have had experience with it, claim for it a wider field than is exercised by other remedies of this class. They claim that it will control fever, even when malaria is not present. While some class it with quinine, they claim that it has a much milder, and less irritating effect than quinine, which is exercised with equal positiveness. It is especially advantageous where there is periodical neuralgia with feebleness, cold skin, and feebleness of the circulation. In sciatica, lumbago and in the various forms of rheumatic neuralgia, or myalgia, it is a valuable remedy. As a restorative tonic, during convalescence from prostrating disease, it has been favorably used, and is highly spoken of. There is no doubt that the rmedy better known will be found to be an important one. It should have more extended investigation. While not in common use, this agent is a reliable one, and important and deserves further investigation.

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