A perennial tree, the Salix Alba is a member of the Salicaceae family, also known as the Willow family. It grows well in most types of soil, including fine, medium, and coarse grades. However, it does not grow well in extremely shady locations, preferring sunshine for optimal growth. The tree requires a good, steady supply of water, and its roots will stretch out in search of it. The Salix Alba grows up to 100 feet in height if its growing environment provides everything it needs. Common names for the Salix Alba include White Willow, European Willow, Catkins Willow, and Salicin Willow.
The leaves of the Salix Alba are slender and green in color on the upper side, but they are whitish or light underneath, giving rise to the tree’s name. The flowers are yellow (male) or green (female) in color. The outside of the bark can appear brownish-gray or yellowish-green in color, while the inside is white, yellow, or brown. It is a fast growing tree that is native to western Asia, central Asia, and Europe.The Salix Alba contains flavonoids, glycosides, tannins, salicin, salicyl alcohol, and aromatic acids and aldehydes. White Willow bark has a high concentration of tannins in it, but a lower concentration of salicin, an active ingredient, than other varieties of the Salix species of trees. While the tannins perform as an astringent, the ingestion of salicin at high levels produces toxicity in the gastrointestinal track leading to vomiting and mitigating the therapeutic value. It is also possible that an interaction may occur between blood thinners and salicin if it is ingested through Willow Bark tea. Individuals suffering from peptic ulcers should consult their physician first before ingesting any product made from the bark of the Salix Alba.Harvesting of the White Willow bark generally takes place during the early spring months. In general, only branches that are two or three years old are harvested. The bark is dried and prepared for use as an ingredient in one of the following formulations: capsules, tablets, tea-infusions, ointments, creams, or lotions.
The ancient Egyptians and Greeks made use of the White Willow’s inner bark to treat inflammation and pain. The ancient Chinese used it in traditional medicinal remedies, including as a tea-like infusion that was used in moderation to treat aches, pains, and fevers. Native Americans also found it helpful in treating pain and relied on it for its analgesic properties. In ancient Europe, it was used to treat joint problems, back pain, headache, leg pain, and gout. However, during the Middle Ages, its popularity as a remedy dissipated. Today, its popularity has revived, and it is commonly found in a number of skin care formulations.
Salicin is often used to chemically produce salicylic acid for use in topical treatments. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved salicylic acid (one of the components of Salix Alba) for use in the treatment of both calluses and warts. Since the Salix Alba bark contains this ingredient, it has been used topically to treat warts, bunions, corns, and acne. It is also included in a number of skin care products designed for topical use. The botanical form of salicin taken from the White Willow tree is typically labeled as “Salix Alba extract” or “Willow bark extract.”
A chemical action is necessary in order to convert salicin to salicylic acid. Therefore, it depends on the type of skin care formula as to whether it is actually transformed. When used in treatments designed for acne, sunburn, and rosacea, this ingredient performs with anti-inflammatory capabilities that soothe reddened skin and the itchiness that can accompany these conditions. It helps to minimize swelling, alleviating the discomfort that is produced when sunburn, rosacea, or acne breakouts occur. When used in face masks, cleansing products, creams, and lotions, the salicin offers soothing relief as well as a reduction in any inflammation experienced by the body’s tissues. The ingredient is also very effective at clearing blocked pores and thus reducing breakouts.
A number of herbalists still recommend the use of Willow bark extract medicinally as an analgesic to alleviate pain, replacing the use of aspirin with this natural substitute. In some countries, this extract is taken in conjunction with aspirin to enhance the therapeutic value of both forms of pain relief.