Nowadays there is a huge market for pain relief. On television, on the radio, in newspapers and magazines, and on the billboards along the roadways, the push for pain medications and pain management centers is a constant bombardment. Endorsed and sponsored by the medical profession and the insurance companies, the industry of pain has resulted in a major addiction among the population, resulting in a pharmaceutical black market and prison expansion and broken homes. All for what once was handled most of the time by a simple pill called aspirin.
Not that aspirin was/is perfect. With excessive or prolong use, the potential for a bleeding stomach increased. Yet if what makes aspirin work had not been put into a pill, but left in its herbal state, even that potential would disappear. Why do I say that? Because in aspirin what relieves the pain is a derivative of a chemical called salicylic acid. Scientists in the 19th century discovered salicylic acid when they investigated the herb White Willow Bark that was (and still is) used for inflammation and lowering of fevers. These two actions are known as anti-inflammatory and antipyretic. Using the crude extraction techniques that were available to them at the time, these scientists determined that the salicylic acid in the bark of White Willow was the source of these two actions. In 1839 salicylic acid was found in the buds of the herb Meadowsweet (another herb known for its pain relief and lowering of fever). This herb became the common source for synthesizing salicylic acid. However the gastric irritation from salicylic acid lead scientists to develop aspirin from a derivative of salicylic acid – acetylsalicylic acid. The name ‘aspirin’ comes from ‘a’ for ‘acetyl’ and ‘spirin’ from ‘Spirae’. Spirae was the common name for Meadowsweet at that time.
Of course, as we know, aspirin is still a gastric irritant. However it is a lesser irritant than the salicylic acid by itself and proved to also be highly analgesic and antiplatelet.
Let me point out again that gastric irritation was not evident when one took either one of the herbs. Which is why it is too bad the 19th century scientists had not investigated salicin in the bark of White Willow. If they had studied salicin, they would have realized that nature designed a derivative of salicylic acid. The consumption of White Willow Bark begins an elaborate process resulting in silicin delivering salicylic acid to the bloodstream and absolutely no gastric irritation. While Meadowsweet has salicylic acid, but does not have salicin, the plant has other components that are used to – get this – reduce excess stomach acidity and protect and heal the upper gastrointestinal tract.
So what I reach for when I have that rare headache or aches from “overdoing it” is an herbal answer. White Willow Bark (Salix alba) or Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) come to mind.