[From willow bark to acetylsalicylic acid]

Dan Medicinhist Arbog. 2009:37:79-98.
[Article in Danish]


Acetylsalicylic acid is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. Its ancestry the salicylates, including salicin and salicylic acid, are found in the bark and leaves of the willow and poplar trees. The ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, as well as Hippocrates, Celsus, Pliny the Elder, Dioscorides and Galen used these natural products as remedies for pain, fever and inflammation. In the Middle Ages these remedies were used for fever and rheumatism by Hildegard of Bingen and Henrik Harpestreng. The first "clinical trial" was reported by Edward Stone in 1763 with a successful treatment of malarial fever with the willow bark. In 1876 the antirheumatic effect of salicin was described by T. MacLagan, and that of salicylic acid by S. Stricker and L. Riess. Acetylsalicylic acid was synthesized by Charles Gerhardt in 1853 and in 1897 by Felix Hoffmann in the Bayer Company. The beneficial effect of acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin) on pain and rheumatic fever was recognized by K. Witthauer and J. Wohlgemuth, and the mechanism of action was explained in 1971 by John Vane. Today the antithrombotic effect of acetylsalicylic acid and new aspects of ongoing research demonstrates a still living drug.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Aspirin / history*
  • Aspirin / therapeutic use
  • Biological Products / history
  • Biological Products / therapeutic use
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Plant Extracts / history*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Rheumatic Fever / drug therapy


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Biological Products
  • Plant Extracts
  • Aspirin