Salix alba, the White Willow is a willow native to Europe, and western and central Asia. It is a large deciduous tree up to 20-30 m tall. The name derives from the leaves, which are paler than most other willows, due to a covering of very fine silky white hairs, particularly on the underside. The leaves are typically 5-10 cm long and 1-1.5 cm wide. The shoots in the typical species are grey-brown to green-brown. The dioecious flowers are catkins, produced in early spring, and pollinated by bees.
A number of cultivars and hybrids of White Willow have been selected for forestry and horticulture use:
The Cricket-bat Willow (Salix alba 'Caerulea'), often referred to simply as English Willow, is grown as a specialist timber crop in Britain, mainly for the production of cricket bats, but also for other uses where a tough, lightweight wood that does not splinter easily, is required. It is distinguished mainly by its growth form, very fast growing with a single straight stem, and also by its slightly larger leaves (10 - 11cm long, 1.5 - 2cm wide) with a more blue-green colour. Its origin is unknown, but it may be a hybrid between White Willow and Crack Willow (Salix fragilis).
Hippocrates wrote in the 5th century BC about a bitter powder extracted from willow bark that could ease aches and pains and reduce fevers. This remedy is also mentioned in texts from ancient Egypt, Sumer, and Assyria. Native American Indians used it for headaches, fever, sore muscles, rheumatism, and chills. The Reverend Edward Stone, a vicar from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire England, noted in 1763 that the bark of the willow was effective in reducing a fever.
The active extract of the bark, called salicin, after the Latin name for the White Willow (Salix alba), was isolated to its crystalline form in 1828 by Henri Leroux, a French pharmacist, and Raffaele Piria, an Italian chemist, who then succeeded in separating out the acid in its pure state. Salicin, like aspirin, is a chemical derivative of salicylic acid