Origin Story of Aspirin
mp3 | wav


One great myth in medicine is that aspirin was first used by Hippocrates to treat pain. He's the ancient Greek physician regarded as the father of medicine in fifth century BCE. But his writings barely mention willow.

Willow leaves and bark contain salicin which is the active ingredient that dulls pain. Most histories of aspirin include four-thousand-year-old Sumerian tablets that mention willow as pain relief. It was also used by the ancient Chinese and Greeks. But Hippocrates gets the most credit.

The problem is that the type of willow tree he used didn't have enough salicin in the bark to be effective when chewed or brewed as tea, as prescribed by him. The real credit goes to several groups of scientists. In the eighteenth century, Edward Stone, an English vicar used dried willow bark for five years to treat fevers. Drying it concentrates the salicin. Then in eighteen-twenty-six, Italian researchers extracted salicin from willow bark and two years later, a German pharmacologist purified it and named it salicin for willow in Latin. It was another fifty years before a clinical trial of salicin showed it reduced fever and inflammation.

Soon after it was mass produced in Germany and a chemist for Bayer pharmaceutical made it into the aspirin we know today, one that's easier on the stomach. An astonishing forty thousand metric tons of aspirin is still used. We're grateful that it not only relieves pain but reduces swelling and prevents blood clots!

For more information…

Hippocrates and willow bark? What you know about the history of aspirin is probably wrong
Aspirin is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. Its main ingredient comes from a natural product, salicin, found in plants such as willow and myrtle. Aspirin is also a good example of how myths build up around ancient medicines...

A history of aspirin
One of the first drugs to come into common usage, aspirin is still one of the most researched drugs in the world, with an estimated 700 to 1,000 clinical trials conducted each year...

Aspirin: Turn-of-the-Century Miracle Drug
Aspirin has had a long history as a pain reliever. But only in the 1970s did scientists begin to uncover its chemical secrets....