I'm fascinated by herb lore and its relationship with modern medicine. So I'm going to do a series of posts on herbal remedies that have valid usage in modern medicine and make cameos in literature as well.
Willow bark has abundant amounts of salicylic acid, the precursor to modern day aspirin. It's been used for thousands of years, in cultures as varying as ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Americas.
In the Medicine Cabinet
The modern day aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, which I made in chem lab in college without lighting the lab on fire, was first synthesized in 1853 and later marketed by Bayer in 1897. It was considered to be easier on the stomach, which makes me laugh, because every doctor knows that taking aspirin is a major risk factor for causing bleeding in the stomach.
Nowadays, we use it for headaches, reducing fever, pain, and it's well known to be helpful for prevention of strokes and heart attacks.
I just finished reading Ash by Malinda Lo, and in it, the greenwitches use willow bark tea medicinally. Also, in the Clan of the Cave Bear books by Jean M. Auel, Ayla used willow bark tea for aches and pains as well.
In English folklore, the willow tree is somewhat sinister, and that seems to be reflected in the characters of Old Man Willow in the LOTR trilogy and the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter. There are also references to willow in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Othello.
So, got a headache? Have a cup of willow-bark tea, but beware. The tree may smack you in return, and give you a stomach-ache to boot.
Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!
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