Tuesday, March 8, 2011
A reader asked a question in the comments about what I was going to use my willow tincture for. After the internet ate my response, which I had spent some time crafting, I decided if I was going to put the time in again, I might as well make a post of it!
The short answer is that I will use the tincture for pain relief.
Willow contains salicylic acid, which is anti-inflammatory and analgesic. Willow has been used since ancient times to treat fevers and ease aches and pains in muscles and joints. In the 1800's salicin was extracted from willow bark, which led to the development of aspirin.
Traditionally the dried, inner bark of the tree was used, but many contemporary herbalists now use the twigs, buds and leaves of fresh, spring growth. This is much less damaging to the tree and sounds like a good practice to me.
Much of the literature references white willow or Salix alba as the tree of choice in herbal medicine, but I plan to experiment with different types of willows. I'll let taste be my guide here. The bitter flavour of salicylates are easy to recognise so if the twig or leaf I'm nibbling on is strongly bitter, it is likely that the species has the active constituents from which to make medicine.
This article mentions crack and purple willow being used, and I've seen references for the use of black willow as well, though for different indications:
"To moderate sexual erethism, irritability, and passion; lascivious dreams; libidinous thoughts; nocturnal emissions; nymphomania and satyriasis; cystitis, urethral irritation, prostatitis, cystitis, ovaritis, and other sexual disorders arising from sexual abuse or excesses."
In fact many other trees like the poplar family and plants contain salicylates, although with varying uses, some more specific than others.
Research has shown willow to be effective for treating fevers, headache, back pain, neuralgia, joint pain and reducing pain and inflammation in conditions like arthritis, tendonitis and bursitis.
A few precautions to keep in mind: Some people are allergic to salicylic acid. Also, avoid use if you have ulcers. The general belief is that willow is safer than aspirin because it contains other plant constituents that protect the gut from the damaging effects of salicylic acid, however it is still best to use it in moderation. Do not take willow if you are on blood thinners or taking NSAIDs. Willow may reduce the effectiveness of diuretics and beta blockers.
I plan to use the dried twigs, buds and leaves for tea as well as tincture, though how water soluble the salicylates are, I'm not sure. I think a decoction may be most appropriate, simmering the plant material for some time.*
*Please note that I am not a trained professional. I'm just a crazy lady who really, really likes to play with plants and learn about their medicinal uses, both historical and contemporary. I am in no way qualified to diagnose or treat anyone (except for friends and family willing to be my guinea pigs. ;)) So be smart, do your own research and don't believe everything you read on the internet! :)