7 forest wonders: 3 White willow

Salix alba leaves

© MPF-GNU-FDL

It’s probably the best known pharmaceutical in the world – and it’s certainly one of the most useful. Aspirin comes from the bark of the deciduous white willow tree (Salix alba), which was used to relieve fever and pain in ancient Greek, Chinese and Egyptian medicine. The active ingredient salicin, a natural anti-inflammatory, was isolated and refined by European chemists in the 1800s, and in 1897 Felix Hoffmann, at Bayer in Germany, chemically synthesized a stable form of it. Patented in 1900, it has recently been found to help prevent heart attack and strokes when taken regularly in small doses, and new research indicates this may also help prevent cancer. Willow bark itself is still taken as a herbal remedy and is thought to promote wellness with its antioxidant, antiseptic, and immune-system-boosting properties.

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