White willow bark and herb side effects, benefits compared to aspirin - Salix Alba plant - by Ray Sahelian, M.D.
March 15 2016


The bark of white willow contains salicin, which is a substance similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Salicin may be the chemical involved in the pain-reliving and anti-inflammatory effects of the white willow herb. In fact, in the 1800s, salicin was used to develop aspirin. White willow bark extract does appear to have some analgesic properties.


Pain reduction
Nutr J. 2013. A commercialized dietary supplement alleviates joint pain in community adults: a double-blind, placebo-controlled community trial. The purpose of this study was to assess the effect of 8-weeks ingestion of a commercialized joint pain dietary supplement (InstaflexTM Joint Support, Direct Digital, Charlotte, NC) compared to placebo on joint pain, stiffness, and function in adults with self-reported joint pain. InstaflexTM is a joint pain supplement containing glucosamine sulfate, methylsufonlylmethane (MSM), white willow bark extract (15% salicin), ginger root concentrate, boswella serrata extract (65% boswellic acid), turmeric root extract, cayenne, and hyaluronic acid.


White willow bark composition
White willow bark contains salicin. Although willow bark extracts are generally standardized to salicin, other ingredients in the extracts including other salicylates as well as polyphenols, and flavonoids may also play prominent roles in the therapeutic actions.


White willow bark side effects
No major white willow bark side effects have been reported in the medical literature except for anaphylaxis in a person who was allergic to aspirin. It is possible, though, that white willow bark may have similar side effects to aspirin. Some of these side effects could include stomach ache, ringing in the ears, nausea, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Adverse effects appear to be minimal as compared to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including aspirin. The primary cause for concern may relate to allergic reactions in salicylate-sensitive individuals.


Review article
Phytother Res. 2015. Efficacy and Safety of White Willow Bark (Salix alba) Extracts. Willow bark extract has been used for thousands of years as an anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and analgesic. In spite of its long history of use, relatively few human and animal studies have been published that confirm anecdotal observations. A small number of clinical studies have been conducted that support the use of willow bark extracts in chronic lower back and joint pain and osteoarthritis. Willow bark extracts also are widely used in sports performance and weight loss products presumably because of anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities, although no human studies have been published that specifically and directly document beneficial effects. In recent years, various in vitro and animal studies have demonstrated that the anti-inflammatory activity of willow bark extract is associated with down regulation of the inflammatory mediators tumor necrosis factor-α and nuclear factor-kappa B.

White Willow Bark studies
Anaphylactic reaction to a dietary supplement containing willow bark.
Ann Pharmacother. 2003. Boullata JI, McDonnell PJ, Oliva CD. School of Pharmacy, Temple University Health Sciences Center, Philadelphia, PA
To report a case of anaphylaxis resulting from the use of a willow bark containing dietary supplement in a patient with a history of an aspirin allergy. A 25-year-old white woman presented to the emergency department of a community teaching hospital with anaphylaxis requiring epinephrine, diphenhydramine, methylprednisolone, and volume resuscitation to which she responded favorably. Medication history revealed that she had ingested 2 capsules of Stacker 2 (NVE Pharmaceuticals, Newton, NJ), a dietary supplement promoted for weight loss, prior to experiencing her initial symptoms. Among other active ingredients, this product contains willow bark. Of significance is that this patient also reported a history of allergy to acetylsalicylic acid. No other causes for anaphylaxis were identified. She continued to receive routine supportive care and the remaining hospital course was uncomplicated. The popular product consumed by our patient is used for weight loss and contains willow bark, a source of salicylates. Based on the Naranjo probability scale, it is probable that this case of anaphylaxis was due to this dietary supplement. The use of any willow bark -containing dietary supplement may present a risk of anaphylactic reaction to patients with a history of allergy to salicylates. Clinicians need to recognize the potential for adverse effects from dietary supplements.

White Willow herb raw material suppliers carry:
White Willow powder
White Willow bark extract 15% and 25%

Q. Can white willow herb be used the same time as an ahcc supplement pill?
   A. We have not seen any studies with this combination, so it is difficult to say for sure.


Q. I am allergic to aspirin and the related NSAIDs (Motrin, Aleve, etc.). Since I can tell when I'm having an anaphylactic reaction and it comes on slowly, I decided to give a joint supplement that contains white willow a try. (I am 41 and have osteoarthritis). After one week on the supplements, I already feel better and am having no allergic reaction to the White Willow! I am four months post-op knee surgery and couldn't get my knee to completely heal, and there is a marked difference after one week on the supplements.
   A. What is the supplement name that has the white willow bark?
      Q. It is Fast Flex from GNC. I am amazed that I have not had a reaction. I even had a reaction to a NSAID pain patch. I know it's a little reckless for me to try Fast Flex with white willow bark, but when you have a history of osteoarthritis in your family and can't take anything, you are willing to take some chances.


Hello and thank you for ALL the great work you have done to help educate us! My Question is: what information or research can you share with me regarding White Willow Bark as an effective replacement for low dose daily aspirin?
    There have been countless studies with aspirin but hardly any with white willow bark. Therefore it is difficult to make comparisons particularly since the amount of salicin in the herb can vary between different products on the market.


white willow tree