Using Willow Bark as Natural Aspirin

Willow bark is a natural substance which has been used as an herbal remedy in western medicine for centuries. However, many people are not aware that it can also be used to make aspirin. This article explores the use of willow bark as a natural alternative to painkillers and other medications with adverse side effects.

Willow bark is a natural source of salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin. Willow bark can be used to make aspirin as well as other medicines.

Willow bark as aspirin.

Editor’s note: This is a guest article by Creek Stewart, a wilderness survival expert and teacher. 

My grandpa taught me how to make my own natural pain medication when I was a kid in Kentucky. It began with a headache and a lengthy stroll down the hill in front of his home to the pond’s edge, where a huge, showy white willow (Salix alba) flourished. He sliced a few slivers of smooth bark off one of the new growth branches with his pocketknife. He put them in his mouth to “simmer for a moment,” as he put it, and then handed me a little piece to try. It was quite bitter and had a medicinal flavor.

Though I continued to use willow bark as a pain reliever after that, it wasn’t until nearly 15 years later that I began to research and experiment with it. If you enjoy the thought of understanding how to get pain relief in an emergency or collecting medication from your own garden or adjacent greenspace, you’ll love the following information on how to utilize willow bark as Mother Nature’s aspirin.

The Willow Tree: An Introduction

Willow tree at the pond’s edge.

At the pond’s side, lovely weeping willows (Salix sepulcralis).

Willows come in hundreds of different species all over the globe. They are members of the genus Salix, and are often referred to as such. They adore water and can be found in practically any temperate area of the planet with access to it. I’ve spotted them in the Sonoran Desert along arroyo banks and in Maine’s swampy bogs. They may be found growing in practically every roadside ditch, along rivers, and along pond borders. Cutting a live willow twig (called a cutting) from the tree and planting it in the ground will most likely root and develop into its own tree. I’ve used this method to plant hundreds of willow trees on my own property, and I’ve put them to good use, using them not only for medicine (which I’ll go over), but also in my survival training classes to make baskets, natural fiber cordage, bow and arrow, fish spears, bow drill kits, and various traps, including the funnel fish trap.

Willow leaves.

Willow leaves are long and thin in shape. They have the most width in the centre and taper to a point on both ends.

Willow leaves stem near lake.

The leaf edges have a delicate toothed texture. Many willows (such as the white willow, Salix alba) have a silvery look from a distance because the top side of the leaf is brilliant green and the underside is frequently light green.

Array of bark colors on these young willow cuttings.

These young willow cuttings have a variety of bark hues.

The bark of young trees and branches is quite smooth, but as they get older, it becomes darker and wrinkled. Many willow types, particularly those related to Salix alba, have brilliantly colored bark that ranges from yellow to red in early spring.

Willow’s Medicinal Properties 

Salicin is a naturally occurring chemical substance found in the bark of willow plants. Salicin is converted to salicylic acid in the body, which serves as an anti-inflammatory to treat mild aches and pains, migraines, arthritis, and muscular soreness. Willow bark also includes plant components called flavonoids, which fight inflammation in addition to salicin.


Almost every archive literature that addresses medicine and herbal treatments has a medical record of utilizing willow bark for pain alleviation. It was even mentioned by Hippocrates. It was also widely utilized by Native Americans and a variety of other indigenous societies throughout the globe.

Willow bark was so helpful for pain relief that early modern medicine pioneers attempted to develop a synthetic equivalent in the lab. In 1853, chemist Charles Frederic Gerhardt found the product, which he named acetylsalicylic acid. BAYER, a German pharmaceutical firm, called it aspirin in 1899.

How to Gather Willow Bark for Medical Purposes 

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and before taking willow bark as a medication, you should see your family practitioner. One thing is certain: if you’re sensitive to aspirin or other salicylates, you’ll probably react to willow bark as well. Before taking willow bark, pay attention to any warnings on the back of an aspirin container.

Most natural food and medicine shops, as well as online, sell medicinal willow bark in the form of pills or extract. You may, however, gather your own from nature.

While the white willow (Salix alba) and black willow (Salix nigra) seem to be the most often utilized species for the commercial manufacturing of willow bark medicine, I have used the bark from many other species of willow with comparable success in the field. Weeping willow, a variety of white willow that is easily accessible in my region, is the one I’ve utilized the most.

A man holding willow.

There are three levels to a willow tree that you should be aware of:

  • The bark on the outside of the tree is known as exterior bark. On young saplings and fresh growth shoots, it is quite thin and smooth, while on older trees, it is thick and wrinkled. Only bark from young shoots or branches that are less than two years old should be harvested (about the diameter of your thumb or less). The external bark becomes too thick and hard to deal with as the tree grows older.
  • Inner Bark: The inner bark is a layer of fibers that lies just under the outside bark and is white, cream, or slightly green in color. It’s incredibly thin, perhaps about 1/8 of an inch thick or less. This is where you’ll find the medication.
  • The heartwood of a branch or tree is located directly under the inner bark layer. This is the wood layer, which may be discarded or reused in other crafts like basketry.

Peeling away the outer bark of the willow.

In early April, easily peeling away the inner (and outer) bark of a willow seedling.

Willow bark may be harvested at any time of year, although it’s best to do it in the spring for two reasons. The first is that the inner bark of a branch or small tree is flush with sap and fluids in the spring, making it simple to peel the bark away from the branch or tree. Willow bark may be easily removed in central Indiana, where I reside, from April through early July.


Second, study shows that the content of salicin in willow bark peaks in the spring, reaching up to 12.5 percent, compared to.08 percent in the autumn.

Young new-growth willow shoots harvested.

For medicinal, young new-growth willow shoots are gathered.

It’s usually ideal to cut from fresh growth shoots or branches for an ethical harvest. Cutting straight from the trunk of an established willow tree should never be required. This leaves the tree vulnerable to infection and disease. Always harvest in a responsible manner.

Scraping away exterior bark using a pocketknife.

Using a pocketknife, scrape away the external bark. This is something I seldom do.

I seldom scrape away the external bark layer when I’m peeling bark off a young tree with extremely thin exterior bark. I usually just incorporate the inner bark fibers in that layer. If you want to get rid of the thin layer of external bark, scrape it away with a knife blade at a 90-degree angle to the branch.

Fresh and dried willow barks with pocket knife.

Willow bark may be utilized fresh or dried, as I’ll explain next. Cut your salicin-rich inner bark into tiny strips less than 3 inches long to dry and store it. These may be dehydrated or just dried on a baking sheet on the counter for a few days. Make careful to flip them over every time you pass by so that both sides can breathe. Within a few days, they should be dry and ready to store in a paper bag or sealed jar.

Strips of inner bark into little pieces in pot and spoon.

I sometimes trim the inner bark strips into little bits that resemble sawdust.

How to Use Willow Bark for Medical Purposes

Dried Willow bark.

Willow bark shavings to be dried and used as medication.

When you create and swallow your own therapeutic willow bark, it’s hard to know the precise quantity you’re receiving, unlike willow bark bought from natural food/medicine shops, which has a defined measure of salicin. The quantity of salicin you obtain depends on your method of preparation, the amount of bark you use, not just the time of year you collect the bark, but also the kind of tree it originates from and even how much sun or water the tree gets each year. Having said that, the quantities and dosages listed below have all shown to be effective for me.

Willow bark may be used in a number of ways for medication, including tinctures and handmade capsules. Willow bark tea and what I call a “willow bark field dosage” are the two techniques I like since they are simple and quick.

Dose of Willow Bark in the Field

Pieces of Willow bark.

This is the most simple (and fastest) approach for reaping the salicylic benefits of willow bark, and it’s the same one my grandpa taught me as a child. Simply locate a willow, pull 3-4 little 2-inch strips of bark off a young branch or shoot, chew the strips, and consume the fluids (but not the bark itself, which should be spit out afterwards). I’m not going to lie: it tastes awful (picture chewing up a few aspirins), but it’s quick and easy to make. By chewing the bark, the therapeutic salicin and flavonoids are released and mixed with your saliva. After 30 minutes or so after ingesting, you’ll notice the advantages. Although the taste is quite bitter, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that you are harvesting medication with your own hands, mouth, and spit. When required, I repeat this a couple of times a day.


Willow Bark Tea is a herbal tea made from the bark of

Freshly brewed cup of willow bark tea.

A cup of freshly made willow bark tea. While the tea was boiling, I fashioned the coaster out of scrap willow. Willow is an excellent material for basketry and weaving.

Making a tea with your willow bark is another easy and fast approach to relieve pain (and it tastes a lot better than the “field dosage”!).

Teaspoon of willow bark.

To create 1 cup of medicinal tea, use 1-2 tablespoons of willow bark.

For every 16 ounces of water, I use 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried willow bark (makes about 8-10 ounces of tea after boiling and simmering).

Boiled willow bark in a dark burgundy color.

Willow bark gives water a rich maroon hue when boiled.

I bring the bark to a boil for 5 minutes before simmering it for another 10 minutes.

Bark particles in a coffee filter.

Before drinking, strain the tea through a coffee filter to remove any remaining bark particles.

To remove the bark particles, I strain the tea using a coffee filter. I usually use white willow, which brews to a lovely crimson hue. This, I believe, has a lot to do with the tannins in the bark. I take two cups of this tea every day when I’m ill or painful, and it gives me a lot of comfort.

The tea is not harsh at all, unlike chewing on raw willow bark. It has a woody, medicinal taste to it, and it numbs my lips somewhat. Any bitterness that manages to make its way through is bitter in a positive manner. After all, most individuals need to work on appreciating harsh tastes in the first place. Having said that, I only take willow bark tea when I’m in need of it. It’s not a tea I’d like to drink on a regular basis.

Remarks at the End 

Willow bark and sticks.

Willow bark is basically the forerunner of one of the world’s biggest and most widely used classes of pain relievers: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) (NSAIDs for short). I’m quite sure my grandfather had never heard of NSAIDs, and he didn’t seem to mind. He just knew that chewing willow bark, like his own grandfather had taught him, would relieve his headache and arthritic pain. This is why I’m chewing on willow bark today – because it works.

It’s important to remember that the question isn’t IF, but WHEN.

It’s important to remember that the question isn’t IF, but WHEN.

This willow bark for medicinal discussion is only for educational purposes. The Food and Drug Administration has not reviewed this material. This data is not meant to be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness.

Creek Stewart is a television broadcaster, author, and wilderness survival instructor. Visit to discover more about Creek or to enroll in lessons.



Willow bark is a plant that grows in North America. It is used as natural aspirin, and it has been proven to be effective in treating pain. Reference: willow bark uses.

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