From Tree to Pharmacy: The Story of Aspirin

The National Herald Archive

(Photo vua Wikimedia Cpmmons)

Plants are the backbone of Earth but also for Human health. Even though a small percentage of the approximately 370,000 plant species that exist worldwide have been studied, a great number of them have found to be useful for medicine. This is maybe the main argument for why each species threatened with extinction is important. Maybe the next medicine for cancer will be some small native plant in the middle of nowhere and its habitat is threatened by company X.

The above scenario/hypothesis is not far from the story of one groundbreaking pill we still use: aspirin. The story dates back more than 2000 years, in Hippocrates’ time, the 5th century B.C. Hippocrates reduced unbearable pain by chewing pieces the bark of Salix alba, the ‘white’ (alba in Latin) willow tree. In this form, bark was too acidic for the stomach and often produced vomiting, but pain was greatly reduced. Even though ancient Greeks did not know the main substance which the willow bark has, salicylic acid, they use it widely as a pain reliever and fever reducer. In modern times, Edward Stone accidentally verified the use of willow bark powder for fever and pain when he was studying malaria. Salicylic acid was bad for the stomach, so its use was still not accepted for some centuries. In 1899, however, Hoffman and Dreser, with funding from the Bayer company, made aspirin by using willow tree bark as a base. Nowadays, aspirin is the most famous drug of all, used to reduce pain, fever, or inflammation derived from various diseases.

In Greece’s environs, the willow tree can be found on the shores of rivers and lakes. You can recognize it by the silver-colored leaves and its tall, thin bark. You can use the leaves and bark of the tree as a fever reducer and anti-flu tea, but nowadays, it has been replaced by aspirin because of the side effects mentioned above. This lovely tree adds a silver color to Greece’s colorful forests but it is also offered to us as a great, irreplaceable drug for our health. This story highlights the fact that “without plants, there is no life”.

* The above is not medical advice but mere suggestions for improving your diet. Before reach herbal use you should consult your doctor, especially those who have health issues, are pregnant or are under the age of 6.

Evropi-Sofia Dalampira is an Agriculturist-MSc Botany-Biology and PhD Candidate in Agricultural-Environmental Education and Science Communication.