The genus Salix includes numerous trees and shrubs common in alpine ecosystems and along the margins of streams. The white willow, Salix alba, is a tree that commonly grows in areas periodically flooded along streams and lakes. Willow bark (known to pharmacists as Salicis cortex) is a European phytomedicine with a long tradition of use for treatment of chronic pain, rheumatoid diseases, fever, and headache, and one of its main compounds, salicine, served as a lead substance for aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Leonard Fuchs devotes a chapter in his New Kreutterbuch (1543), illustrated with three drawings of different species, to the various "classes" of willow. The leaves are reported to be good for treating some gastrointestinal complaints, and the bark to be useful for treating warts and corns. Acetylsalicylic acid is today used in a similar way. Fuchs's use of willow as a treatment for podagra (i.e., gout, especially of the big toe) mirrors modern uses in the treatment of a variety of chronic inflammatory conditions. A positive monograph for its use in fever-related diseases, rheumatic complaints, and headache was published by the German medical control agency (BFA). The drug is also monographed in the European Pharmacopoeia. Clinical evidence, including two double-blind studies, points to the effectiveness of willow bark for the treatment of chronic pain and rheumatoid diseases. This potency as a treatment is the result of more than one substance (most of them so far unknown). The extract is effective at a dosage of salicylates (a group of compounds chemically related to salicylic acid) which is much lower than the one reported for aspirin. However, the mechanism of action of this complex mixture and the individual compounds responsible for this activity remain unknown.
See: Ornamentals, p. 284; Materials, p. 348
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