Many people consider willow bark to be an herbal aspirin substitute. This is true for many of its actions, but there are some differences that are important to know about. The main commonality is that willow bark has analgesic and inflammation modulating effects that make it useful for pain. Willow bark is used for headaches and body pain. Studies have even shown it to be helpful for low back pain and osteoarthritis. Willow bark also can be a good choice when dealing with influenza. Willow bark shares aspirin’s ability to help reduce fevers. It can also reduce the body pain and headache associated with the flu.
Aspirin was not originally created from willow bark, but it could have been. Aspirin was derived from meadowsweet, a plant that contains salicylates just like willow bark does. Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid, and the addition of this acetyl group gives aspirin its blood thinning capacity. Unlike aspirin, willow bark does not reduce the stickiness of platelets or thin the blood. Otherwise, they are very similar in their actions, but willow bark is less likely to irritate the stomach compared to aspirin. The liver activates the compounds in willow bark after they have been absorbed into the blood stream, so they are not present in the gastrointestinal tract to cause irritation. Because of this activation step, willow bark doesn’t work as quickly as aspirin. But once converted to the active form, it can be effective for several hours.
P.S. There is a connection between the last 15 herbs I have blogged about recently (except the posting on Medicinal Kitchen Spices). Extra credit to anyone who can tell me what it is.
Passionflower is a relaxing herb that is native to Arkansas and other southeastern states. It is a close relative of passion fruit, but that species doesn’t have the calming action of passionflower. Even though the plant is named passionflower, we actually use the leaves of this vine before it flowers. One of the most common uses of passionflower is to ease mild cases of anxiety. Some even use it for depression associated with obsessive-compulsive tendencies or circular thinking. It is also used for insomnia, especially when the sleep issues are related to worry or overwork and exhaustion. Passionflower may also increase the quality of sleep.
The key to using passionflower is that it works best for symptoms where there is either restlessness or nerve irritation at the root of the problem. It mildly eases pain, especially nerve pain. Passionflower can also help relax muscle spasms. It has even been shown in studies to reduce the tendency for seizures. Other studies have shown the use of passionflower to ease mental symptoms associated with drug withdrawal, including nicotine and alcohol. Passionflower has also been used for heart palpitations that are related to nervousness.
Goldenseal is probably one of the best-known herbs, but its fame has contributed to overharvesting, and it is now considered to be an at risk plant. Therefore, it is important to know what conditions goldenseal works best for and when to choose another herb. For instance, one of goldenseal’s active components, berberine, is responsible for much of its immune stimulating and antimicrobial benefits. Oregon grape root is also rich in berberine and can be used as a more ecologically sustainable substitute for many conditions such as colds. Oregon grape root also shares many of goldenseal’s gastrointestinal benefits. Both of these herbs increase the production and flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder, making them useful for improving the digestion of fats. Oregon grape root and goldenseal also can act as a mild laxative. It could be these combined properties that earned goldenseal a reputation for being a great detoxifier, but I consider this to be mostly myth.
Where goldenseal really stands out compared to other herbs is as a mucous membrane toner. Its astringent qualities make it a good choice for chronically irritated sinuses, especially if the tissues are pale. In addition to taking it internally for issues like these, goldenseal can be added to a neti pot for direct nasal irrigation. Goldenseal can also be useful for sore throats and middle ear infections, especially chronic cases. When you do choose to use goldenseal, it is important to always buy organically grown goldenseal. This is one of the few ways to ensure that native populations aren’t being further diminished.
Posted in Herbs
Tagged berberine, cholegogue, choleretic, chronic sinusitis, health, laxative, medicine, middle ear infections, nature, neti pot, Oregon Grape Root, otitis media, upper respiratory infection