Anyone who has homesteaded knows how achy you can be at the end of the day. Fortunately, most of us have painkillers in the medicine cabinet. But what if those aren’t available? What happens if you’re miles away from a pharmacy? Or if supply chain shortages leave shelves bare? Is homemade aspirin even a thing?
In cases like this, one of the best things you can do is turn to the plants around you.
Many plants have painkilling qualities, and one of the best is the precursor to modern aspirin: white willow.
White Willow Bark as a Pain Reliever and Anti-Inflammatory
White willow (Salix alba) bark contains salicin, which is a glucoside with anti-inflammatory and analgesic (painkilling) properties. Our bodies convert this into salicylic acid. This is the active ingredient contained in commercial aspirin.
Willow bark has been used medicinally by indigenous peoples for thousands of years and is invaluable for the home apothecary cabinet. It can be used in the same way that standard aspirin is for the following:
- Lowering fevers
- Alleviating pain from headaches, menstrual cramps, and injuries
- Reducing pain and swelling from toothaches
- Easing inflammation from chronic conditions, illnesses, insect bites, and stings
In this article, we’ll teach you three ways to make homemade aspirin using white willow.
Keep in mind that in a pinch, if you don’t have the means available to brew up tea or tincture, just chewing a pinch of fresh willow bark can alleviate pain quite effectively.
This is the easiest way to make homemade aspirin, as all you really need is the white willow bark and water.
A decoction is basically a tea but requires you to boil or simmer the plant matter instead of just steeping it. This method is used for hardier plant parts like bark, twigs, and roots, as heat helps to release the medicinal properties into the surrounding water.
Simply add one and a quarter cups of water to a small saucepan and add two teaspoons of dried or fresh white willow bark. Bring this to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 8-10 minutes.
Then remove from the heat and strain the contents through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. You can either drink it hot or allow it to cool a bit. Also, since willow tea is quite bitter, you can also add some honey, agave, or maple syrup to sweeten it a little bit.
To make a tincture type of homemade aspirin, you’ll need dried or fresh white willow bark, and alcohol. The alcohol is known as a “menstruum,” and is the solvent that will draw out the medicinal components. It should be at least 80-proof (40% alcohol content), so vodka and brandy are ideal.
The ratio of plant matter to menstruum is 1:2 for fresh herbs, and 1:5 for dried herbs and roots. This means that for a dried white willow bark tincture, we’d use 1 cup of dried bark and 5 cups of alcohol. In contrast, you’d use 1 cup of fresh bark to 2 cups of alcohol.
Add the bark to a clean, sterilized jar, and then add the alcohol. Make sure all the plant matter is covered well, and top up with a bit of extra alcohol until it reaches the neck. Then cap with a sterilized lid and pop it into a dark cupboard.
Let this steep for 4–6 weeks, shaking well every couple of days. Then strain through cheesecloth, transfer to a dropper bottle, label it, and store it out of direct sunlight.
The standard dosage is 20–40 drops as needed, though this will vary depending on the individual’s age, size, and weight. Children should get lower dosages, while people with tall or heavy builds may require higher dosages.
When it comes to concentrations, experiment gently with different tincture strengths. I have quite a high pain threshold, so I create a more concentrated, multi-strength tincture for myself.
To do this, I let the tincture cure for four to six weeks, strain it, then add more plant matter and let it steep another month or so. After doing this a few times, the menstruum has extracted a significant amount of analgesic properties and is effective enough for me to use.
If I had to use this concentration to treat anyone else, I would have to dilute it in order to use it safely.
It’s better to use herbal medicines gently and sparingly to monitor their effects gradually than to go full out and risk an overdose.
3. Infused Oil
Another way to use this precious homemade aspirin effectively is as a topical salve. For this, you’ll need to create an infused oil. You can either make this in a double boiler or a crockpot.
I prefer the latter as I can leave it unattended without worrying about setting my house on fire. This is the method I’m going to describe below.
Pour one cup of fresh or dried willow bark into your crockpot. Cover this completely with the best-quality olive oil you can afford, and turn the heat onto its lowest setting. Warm this gently for a couple of hours, then turn the heat off to let it cool a bit.
Repeat this process off and on for about 48 hours, never letting the oil boil or burn. Feel free to add a bit more oil if you feel that it’s reducing too much.
Once infused, strain the oil through cheesecloth into a sterile jar. You can either use this oil as it is to rub into sore joints, muscles, and bruises, or transform it into a salve with some beeswax.
Harvesting and Storage
If you have different species other than Salix alba in your area, that’s okay. Other willow species also contain salicin and can be used in a similar manner.
Try to wildcraft your twigs in springtime, just as the buds are starting to form.
Remove these buds and use a potato peeler to peel the bark into small slices. Dry thoroughly, either in a hanging mesh bag, dehydrator, or your oven on its lowest setting. Then store in an airtight container (like a closed Mason jar) in a cupboard for up to a year.
I keep dried white willow bark in the cupboard at all times.
I often add a bit of ginger to my homemade aspirin formula. Ginger also has analgesic properties and can hasten and intensify willow’s painkilling effects.
Remember that your health and wellbeing are your responsibility. Do thorough research before taking any herbal medicine, and consult your healthcare practitioner if you think there may be any contraindications or other issues in taking plant-based teas or tinctures.
These remedies are medicinal and may contain chemical compounds that can conflict with medications you’re taking, or exacerbate underlying health issues.