Despite all the advances in medicine in recent decades, aspirin remains one of the most remarkable drugs ever to have been discovered. But do you know where it comes from? This is another in our continuing series on the ingredients in ChopSaver all-natural lip balm. It helps explain why ChopSaver is so different from other lip balms. Today we feature White Willow with some scientific research and the history of this amazing plant.

image001White willow (Salix alba) is derived from the bark of willow trees and contains salicin, an analgesic compound from which salicylic acid and later acetylsalicylic acid (otherwise known as aspirin) were derived. It is often referred to as “herbal aspirin” and people with aspirin allergies should use it with caution.

Aspirin throughout the ages: a historical review

Rev Med Interne. 2000 Mar;21 Suppl 1:8s-17s.

Lévesque H, Lafont O.


Even at the beginning of the next millennium, aspirin will still offer surprises. Its relatively young pharmacological history compares with the early use of salicylate-containing plants since antiquity. The Assyrians and the Egyptians were aware of the analgesic effects of a decoction of myrtle or willow leaves for joint pains. Hippocrates recommended chewing willow leaves for analgesia in childbirth and the Reverend Edward Stones is acknowledged as the first person to scientifically define the beneficial antipyretic effects of willow bark. At the beginning of the 19th century salicin was extracted from willow bark and purified. Although a French chemist, Charles Gerhardt, was the first to synthesize aspirin in a crude form, the compound was ignored, and later studied by Felix Hoffmann. He reportedly tested the rediscovered agent on himself and on his father, who suffered from chronic arthritis–a legend was born and Bayer Laboratories rose to the heights of the pharmacological world. First used for its potent analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory properties, aspirin was successfully used as an antithrombotic agent. Sir John Vane elucidated aspirin’s active mechanism as an inhibitor of prostaglandin synthetase and received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this work in 1982. Two isoforms of cyclooxygenase (COX-1 and COX-2) have now been identified, each possessing similar activities, but differing in characteristic tissue expression. TheCOX enzyme is now a target of drug interventions against the inflammatory process. After two centuries of evaluation, aspirin remains topical, and new therapeutic indications are increasingly being studied.

An evaluation of the effect of a topical product containing salicin on the visible signs of human skin aging.

J Cosmet Dermatol.2010 Sep;9(3):196-201.

Gopaul R, Knaggs HE, Lephart JF, Holley KC, Gibson EM.


BACKGROUND: There are many different visible signs of skin aging. These include wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, lack of firmness, poor texture, enlarged pores, and dryness. While there are many topical agents that claim to deliver wide-spectrum anti-aging benefits, few target all of the signs of skin aging to the same extent. Salicin, an extract from white willow bark, has been researched as a potent anti-inflammatory agent when taken orally. Based on unpublished in-house comprehensive consumer clinical studies, it is believed salicin may have anti-aging capabilities when applied topically to human skin.

AIM: This research evaluated the effect of a topical serum formulation containing salicin at 0.5% on the visible signs of skin aging.

RESULTS: Twenty-nine of 30 subjects successfully completed the study. No tolerability issues were reported. The clinical investigator found statistically significant improvements in wrinkles, tactile roughness, pore size, radiance, and overall appearance at week 1 time point (P ≤ 0.05) against baseline and statistically significant improvements in mottled pigmentation, global firmness, and jaw-line contour at week 4 time point (P ≤ 0.05) against baseline. Cutometry, corneometry, and ultrasound measurements showed significant improvements at week 12 time point (P ≤ 0.05) against baseline.

CONCLUSION: Based on the findings from this study, it can be concluded that salicin has the ability to reduce the visible signs of skin aging when applied topically.

Herbal medicine for low back pain: a Cochrane review.

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2007 Jan 1;32(1):82-92

Erratum in Spine.2007 Aug 1;32(17):1931.

Gagnier JJ, van Tulder MW, Berman B, Bombardier C.


STUDY DESIGN: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials.

OBJECTIVES: To determine the effectiveness of herbal medicine compared with placebo, no intervention, or “standard/accepted/conventional treatments” for nonspecific low back pain.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Low back pain is a common condition and a substantial economic burden in industrialized societies. A large proportion of patients with chronic low back pain use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and/or visit CAM practitioners. Several herbal medicines have been purported for use in low back pain.

RESULTS: Ten trials were included in this review. Two high-quality trials utilizing Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s claw) found strong evidence for short-term improvements in pain and rescue medication for daily doses standardized to 50 mg or 100 mg harpagoside with another high-quality trial demonstrating relative equivalence to 12.5 mg per day of rofecoxib. Two moderate-quality trials utilizing Salix alba (White willow bark) found moderate evidence for short-term improvements in pain and rescue medication for daily doses standardized to 120 mg or 240 mg salicin with an additional trial demonstrating relative equivalence to 12.5 mg per day of rofecoxib.

CONCLUSIONS: Harpagophytum procumbens, Salix alba, and Capsicum frutescens seem to reduce pain more than placebo. Additional trials testing these herbal medicines against standard treatments will clarify their equivalence in terms of efficacy.

Treatment of low back pain exacerbations with willow bark extract: a randomized double-blind study.

Am J Med. 2000 Jul;109(1):9-14.

Chrubasik S, Eisenberg E, Balan E, Weinberger T, Luzzati R, Conradt C.


PURPOSE: Herbal medicines are widely used for the treatment of pain, although there is not much information on their effectiveness. This study was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of willow (Salix) bark extract, which is widely used in Europe, for the treatment of low back pain.SUBJECTS AND METHODS: We enrolled 210 patients with an exacerbation of chronic low back pain who reported current pain of 5 or more (out of 10) on a visual analog scale. They were randomly assigned to receive an oral willow bark extract with either 120 mg (low dose) or 240 mg (high dose) of salicin, or placebo, with tramadol as the sole rescue medication, in a 4-week blinded trial. The principal outcome measure was the proportion of patients who were pain-free without tramadol for at least 5 days during the final week of the study.

RESULTS: The treatment and placebo groups were similar at baseline in 114 of 120 clinical features. A total of 191 patients completed the study. The numbers of pain-free patients in the last week of treatment were 27 (39%) of 65 in the group receiving high-dose extract, 15 (21%) of 67 in the group receiving low-dose extract, and 4 (6%) of 59 in the placebo group (P <0.001). The response in the high-dose group was evident after only 1 week of treatment. Significantly more patients in the placebo group required tramadol (P <0.001) during each week of the study. One patient suffered a severe allergic reaction, perhaps to the extract.

CONCLUSION: Willow bark extract may be a useful and safe treatment for low back pain.