Willow leaves' extracts contain anti-tumor agents effective against three cell types

PLoS One. 2007 Jan 31;2(1):e178. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000178.


Many higher plants contain novel metabolites with antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral properties. However, in the developed world almost all clinically used chemotherapeutics have been produced by in vitro chemical synthesis. Exceptions, like taxol and vincristine, were structurally complex metabolites that were difficult to synthesize in vitro. Many non-natural, synthetic drugs cause severe side effects that were not acceptable except as treatments of last resort for terminal diseases such as cancer. The metabolites discovered in medicinal plants may avoid the side effect of synthetic drugs, because they must accumulate within living cells. The aim here was to test an aqueous extract from the young developing leaves of willow (Salix safsaf, Salicaceae) trees for activity against human carcinoma cells in vivo and in vitro. In vivo Ehrlich Ascites Carcinoma Cells (EACC) were injected into the intraperitoneal cavity of mice. The willow extract was fed via stomach tube. The (EACC) derived tumor growth was reduced by the willow extract and death was delayed (for 35 days). In vitro the willow extract could kill the majority (75%-80%) of abnormal cells among primary cells harvested from seven patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and 13 with AML (acute myeloid leukemia). DNA fragmentation patterns within treated cells inferred targeted cell death by apoptosis had occurred. The metabolites within the willow extract may act as tumor inhibitors that promote apoptosis, cause DNA damage, and affect cell membranes and/or denature proteins.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use
  • Benzyl Alcohols / chemistry
  • Benzyl Alcohols / pharmacology
  • Benzyl Alcohols / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Ehrlich Tumor / drug therapy
  • Cell Line, Tumor / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Glucosides
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry*
  • Salix* / anatomy & histology
  • Salix* / chemistry


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Benzyl Alcohols
  • Glucosides
  • Plant Extracts
  • salicin
  • salicyl alcohol