How to Make Aspirin if You're Lost in the Woods

Three Parts:Gathering IngredientsMaking the AspirinTaking the Medicine

If you ever find yourself lost in the woods and in need of pain relief, then a willow tree, a fire, and some water may be the answer. Willow bark contains salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin. If you can find a willow tree, then you can use its bark to make yourself a cup of willow bark tea. Keep in mind that even though this is a natural remedy, there are potential side effects and some people should not use willow bark at all.

Part 1
Gathering Ingredients

  1. Image titled Make Aspirin if You're Lost in the Woods Step 1
    Learn which types of willow trees contain the most salicylic acid. There are many different types of willow trees and not all of them have high levels of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is the active pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory component that is used to make aspirin. The types of willow trees with the highest levels of salicylic acid include:[1][2]
    • Salix alba (White or European Willow)
    • Salix purpurea (Purple Willow)
    • Salix nigra (Black or Pussy Willow)
    • Salix fragilis (Crack Willow)
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    Look for a white willow tree first. Your best bet is to find a white willow tree. White willow trees grow throughout much of the US, Europe and Asia and they are common in forested areas.[3] Features of a white willow tree include:[4]
    • A rough grayish bark
    • Irregular “furrows”
    • Smaller branches and twigs that are slender, golden brown and flexible
    • Leaves that are long and slender (2–4 inches long) with a fine serration at the edges
    • Tops of the leaves are shiny and green, while the undersides of the leaves are white and silky
    • Leaves alternate instead of being opposite one another
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    Keep in mind that any willow tree will do. All willow trees all contain some amount of salicylic acid in the bark, so it is okay to use a different type of willow tree. For example, if you are by a river, then you can use a river weeping willow.
    • When in doubt check the leaves to see if they share the features of white willow leaves. Willow tree leaves are distinctive, so checking the leaves may be the best way to identify the tree as a willow.
  4. Image titled Make Aspirin if You're Lost in the Woods Step 4
    Harvest some willow bark. Once you find a willow tree, try to find some loose bark and pull it off. As you pull off the bark, make sure that you are getting the papery material that underlies the bark.
    • It is a good idea to strip the bark from younger branches rather than the trunk. The bark from the trunk is harder to remove and it is also tougher to break up for boiling.

Part 2
Making the Aspirin

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    Dry the strips if you have time. If you are not in immediate need of the medicine, you should allow the strips to dry out a bit before using them. Lay them on a rock or other dry place in the sun for several hours. If you need the medicine right away, you can skip the drying step.
  2. Image titled Make Aspirin if You're Lost in the Woods Step 6
    Start a fire. The best way to make willow bark tea is to boil the bark in water. To do that, you will need to make a fire. Boiling the water that you will be using for your tea is also the best way to disinfect and purify the water.
    • You will also need a container to boil the water in, ideally made of metal. If you do not have a container, then you will need to search the area for something made from metal, glass, or clay that you can use to boil water.
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    Gather some water from a nearby water source. Collect about 3 cups of water and purify it by adding chlorine or ozone. If you don’t have these purifiers, make a fire and boil the water for at least 10 minutes before using.
    • If you can’t start a fire, let the willow bark soak in the water for at least an hour. Keep in mind that even though wilderness water can be purer in many ways than other water, it does contain various parasites. Boiling water or using a purifier is the best approach to protect yourself from these parasites.
    • If you are in an area where giardia (a parasite found in water) is present, or may be present, make certain you follow the correct purification procedure. Giardia can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms that may cause abdominal pain and may also cause you to become severely dehydrated.[5]
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    Add the willow bark strips to boiling water and simmer. After the water has started to boil, add the strips of willow bark to the water. Use about one tablespoon of willow bark per cup of water. Allow the willow bark to simmer for five to 10 minutes and then remove it from the fire.[6]

Part 3
Taking the Medicine

  1. Image titled Make Aspirin if You're Lost in the Woods Step 9
    Allow the willow bark tea to cool down a bit before drinking. After you have finished simmering the willow bark in water, pour the liquid into a cup (if you have one). Let the tea cool down for about 20 minutes so that you will not burn your mouth. After the tea has cooled, drink it slowly.[7]
    • Take the willow bark tea with some food if possible. Salicylic acid has an irritating effect on the stomach.
    • Be aware that it will take a little while before you feel the effects of the tea, so be prepared to wait a couple of hours after drinking the tea.
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    Be aware of potential side effects. The most common adverse effect of willow bark tea is mild to moderate stomach upset, but there are a few other things that you should be aware of before you decide to drink willow bark tea.[8]
    • Taking too much willow bark can cause nausea, vomiting, and tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears. Drink one cup and wait several hours before taking another dose.
    • Prolonged use of willow bark tea may cause increased bleeding and slow down blood clotting.[9]
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    Know when to avoid using willow bark tea. Not everyone should use willow bark tea. Consider your age, medical condition, and other factors as well before deciding to use willow bark tea. Do not use willow bark tea if you fall into any of the following categories:[10]
    • Children. Children under the age of 18 should not drink willow bark tea due to the risk of developing a disorder called Reye’s syndrome. This condition causes swelling in the liver and brain.
    • Pregnant or nursing women. Pregnant and nursing women should not use willow bark tea.
    • Taking medications. Salicylic acid interacts with several different types of medications, so do not use willow bark tea if you are taking any medications.

Things You'll Need

  • Water
  • Fire
  • Willow tree
  • Container for boiling water


  • Use caution when using alternative therapies. Non-traditional medicine has not been put through stringent clinical trials like standardized modern medicine.

Article Info

Categories: Taking Pills and Medicine | Hazard Survival Equipment