Introduction: Survive in Style (5) - DIY Aspirin

Picture of Survive in Style (5) - DIY Aspirin

One of my worst ennemies - even more worse than ice cubes or coca cola that try to ruin my single malt - is something really vicious.

Headache. Since many years it's one of my closest - unwilled - friends. When I'm stressed it's there, when I'm tired it's there, when I drink too much it's there and when I'm drunk because I've been tired of being stressed, it's even more there.

Instead of attacking the cause of this pain, I prefer blowing the result. Totally me.

And so I'm taking pills, sometimes. Quite innocent stuff, but nevertheless a few hundred pills a year...

I know, it IS really bad and one day these chemicals are going to do bad things to me. Maybe The Evil is already there.


One of the most classic methods to fight pain, and headache in particular, is aspirin.

Since I like to think two steps in advance, I know that whenever I run out of pills in the outdoors, there's always a way to make this medicine by myself. Easy.

Step 1: Get Some Willow

Picture of Get Some Willow

Aspirin is based on salicylin, a chemical found in the bark of the willow tree. The therapeutic properties of willow tree bark have been known for at least 2,400 years, with Hippocrates prescribing it for headaches. Bark containing salicin was used by the Romans and Native Americans to treat cold, flu, aches, pains and infections. Salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin, was first discovered from the bark of the willow tree in 1763 by Edward Stone of Wadham College, University of Oxford.

Thank you, Wikipedia.

So you need a willow. So far so good.

Willows, also called sallows, and osiers, form the genus Salix, around 400 species of deciduous trees and shrubs, found primarily on moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Most species are known as willow, but some narrow-leaved shrub species are called osier, and some broader-leaved species are referred to as sallow (from Old English sealh, related to the Latin word salix, willow). Some willows (particularly arctic and alpine species) are low-growing or creeping shrubs; for example, the dwarf willow (Salix herbacea) rarely exceeds 6 cm (2.4 in) in height, though it spreads widely across the ground.

Thanx again, Wikipedia.

Step 2: Cut Some Bark

Picture of Cut Some Bark

Like Wiki said, the salisylic acid is mostly in the bark of willow trees.

To fight some headache you don't need a whole tree, just a handful - literally.

Use a hatchet or a knife to cut a handsized piece of bark from the tree.

Cut the four sides, the piece will peel off easily.

Again, this instructable isn't about 'mutilating trees' and 'showing it's ok'. It's about harvesting a natural resource without killing that source - aka responsible survival. Unless you're peeling half of the trees bark off the tree will repear itself quite fast. Before winter comes the wound will be sutured & dry.

Never cut the bark off all around the tree, because thàt's how you kill it.

Never cut more than one piece from a single tree.

Common sense & respect, that's the way to do it.

Step 3: Make Chips

Picture of Make Chips

What you need is the pinky colored inner bark.

So remove the outer bark with your knife and tear the rest apart like a chicken breast. Or a turkey. Or an ostrich.

A real handful, I said.

Step 4: Boil & Wait

Picture of Boil & Wait

Bring some water to boil in a pan, a bowl, a can, whatever - or use this method - and add the willow chips.

Let it boil for a few minutes. The water will color pink very fast.

Heat off & let it cool down.

Step 5: Use It Wisely

Picture of Use It Wisely

What you made is not a weird kind of tea, but a 'decoction' - extracting plant extracts by boiling.

Like you'll guess, the salicylic acid is in that really nice looking magic potion.

No need to tell you that this drink is used to be a quite effective liquid to ease pain or infections, and that you're supposed to use it wisely.

I'm not your father - unless it is you, lost son - and I'm not telling you what to do and what not. I just want you to know that this is an instructable showing you how to deal with pain in a potential life-risking situation. Sometimes you won't be able to treat the cause in situ, and calming the pain down can help you to reset your mind and get out of the danger zone.

This grandma's remedy is meant to arm you with knowledge, not to stimulate you to do stupid things.

Use it wisely, and stay safe out there.


LA Kanyan (author)2015-09-30

13 kids, raised by mountain grandparents and this was all they ever gave us. I'm 60 now and still make my own. And of course, if you have allergies to aspirin, don't use it. I have a sensitive stomach so I either eat a pat of real butter or take a sip of cream before drinking it.

NetWt4Lbs (author)2015-08-04

I wonder how I would react to this… Aspirin pills cause a bad reaction, they mess with my BP… make me lightheaded, slightly wobbly on my feet and make my ears ring

DaddysGal22 (author)2015-07-29

Some water? Is there a dosage? What happens if you take too much? This is most definitely for emergencies only.

Arashzco (author)2015-07-25

Only willow trees bark are contain aspirin (only the internal bark not the outside)other trees bark are contain some other chemical plus the aspirin . Don't take any chances in survival situations. Tnx for sharing anyway

JulieD8 (author)2015-07-22

My son suffers from migraines. This is an excellent idea for him to learn if he would ever be in a situation without aspirin. No worries, he is over 18. God forbid we ever have to survive without modern conveniences, but our family moto has always been "Be Prepared". Both my boys went through scouts but there is so much more you can learn on how to survive. Thanks!

rwilson35 (author)2015-07-05

this is actually awesome! my mom hates aspirin and will suffer a headache because she doesn't want to pop pills. I think we'll be using this one. Do you know how long the "tea" will keep and be effective?

TomP7 (author)rwilson352015-07-17

This is much worse than "popping pills", for all the reasons mentioned in the other comments. Aspirin was a wonder drug because it largely eliminated the worst side effects of salicylic acid. You can OD on this, too, and it's just as damaging to your liver.

Venom8 (author)2015-07-14

Excellent instructable! this isn't the first time I've seen this survival technique. I believe it is taught in almost all outdoor survival training courses. For those that do't realize it, this isn't the SYNTHETIC aspirin that you buy so neatly wrapped into a pill form and placed in a bottle. Research is your friend!

mandolinible (author)2015-07-14

Thanks for this, I knew something about it but not how much to use so thanks for the heads up. I read somewhere that back in the 1930s when pharmacists isolated and extracted the sal.acid and made it into tablet form, they didn't include the other component that suppresses nausea, so willow bark is better in this respect. Also, i had cream once for hard skin which was mostly salycilic acid so I'm going to give this a go on my footsies :-).

Jobar007 (author)2015-07-02

Where I live in the PNW of North America, we have another excellent source for this remedy: Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa). It's inner bark is used similarly to willow. That's about all the tree is good for though (it's seed fluff is horrible for my allergies, the wood when burned is super ashy, lumber is really weak).

liam.plybon.3 (author)Jobar0072015-07-09

I second that.

liam.plybon.3 (author)2015-07-09

Honestly folks, this is a backwoods survival medicine. If you are in a survival situation and you need a painkiller, it is an understatement to say you might need to go to the hospital. To say this drug is untested is true, but I have read about frontiersmen using it as well as Indians. This drug is not to be taken lightly but can save a life.

bricobart (author)2015-07-08

Thanx for everyone who participated in the animated discussion about this topic. I thought that I set it clear enough in the last step that this whole remedy needs to be taken with a lot of common sense - the 'I'm not your father thing', you know - but I think still a lot of members are taking this too serious.

It's a SURVIVAL instructable. In survival common rules don't work. You're working with what you've got, basta. If tomorrow I'll be out in the wild & out of my mind because of a headache, I'd take anything just to have some relief.

This remedy has proven it's efficiency in many cases, and so I'll hesitate not a single second to give it a shot.

Free to decide, but I'll stick to bark.

farticus (author)2015-07-05

You cannot die from pain, but *all* forms of pain killer can kill you.

ryadia (author)farticus2015-07-05

Farticus...Your suggestion is only applicable if you exceed a certain amount of some types of 'pain killer'. More people are killed in the USA by guns in a month than any Pain killer has ever been responsible for. Lets not forget automotive accident deaths either.

Asprin won't kill anyone except maybe an animal but it has been responsible for saving many lives by preventing heart attacks and strokes. Yes, used continually over a very long period of time it can cause stomach ulcers but its benefit to humanity is well documented and undeniable.

farticus (author)ryadia2015-07-05

I suggest that you get some medical (and legal) advice because you are wrong. Even the "safest" pain killers can kill humans (all of relevant chemical groups.), but pain cannot kill you, even if it can be so bad that you wish you were dead.

Further more, as  even you have pointed out, dose is the key, and this Instructable demonstrates no method for safely controlling that most important variable.

FYI: (from medscape)

Phases and symptoms of salicylate toxicity

The acid-base, fluid, and electrolyte abnormalities seen with salicylate toxicity can be grouped into phases. (See Presentation and Workup.) Phase 1 of the toxicity is characterized by hyperventilation resulting from direct respiratory center stimulation, leading to respiratory alkalosis and compensatory alkaluria. Potassium and sodium bicarbonate are excreted in the urine. This phase may last as long as 12 hours. In phase 2, paradoxic aciduria in the presence of continued respiratory alkalosis occurs when sufficient potassium has been lost from the kidneys. This phase may begin within hours and may last 12-24 hours. Phase 3 includes dehydration, hypokalemia, and progressive metabolic acidosis. This phase may begin 4-6 hours after ingestion in a young infant or 24 hours or more after ingestion in an adolescent or adult. Nausea, vomiting, diaphoresis, and tinnitus are the earliest signs and symptoms of salicylate toxicity. Other early symptoms and signs are vertigo, hyperventilation, tachycardia, and hyperactivity. As toxicity progresses, agitation, delirium, hallucinations, convulsions, lethargy, and stupor may occur. Hyperthermia is an indication of severe toxicity, especially in young children.

Patient education

Advise patients and their families that use or overuse of seemingly benign OTC medications is sometimes dangerous. The ready availability of aspirin and aspirin-containing products does not establish the safety of aspirin.

wicious (author)farticus2015-07-05

There should be some disclaimers on this instructable, but we should also have a sense of proportion about it: Almost anything can kill you. People die sort of often from drinking too much water. People die all the time from drinking contaminated water. People die, like, constantly from drinking booze. There should definitely be more information on this instructable, and given that there's not, people should research it, but really, pain relievers are not evil. Pretty much all drugs (all chemicals) can kill you. Making tea with any plant is a risk in itself!

farticus (author)wicious2015-07-05

Your logic is rather rubbery and only you mentioned "evil", I mentioned chemistry and medicine, you know science. There are many plants that are generally recognised as safe, that is why we call them food and that includes many herbs. But this is not about making food it is about making a very crude extract of a form of a drug that is the least safest and even the safer modified compound is still dangerous.

To be honest if you are not able to get real painkillers/teatment from a doctor you would be better off using the THC in hemp to make a tea as it is (ironically) far less dangerous than willow bark extract. This obviously brings up legal issues in some jurisdictions, but given you are in a hypothetical situation where the police can't help you I can't see how they are going to arrest you either.

wicious (author)farticus2015-07-06

"But this is not about making food it is about making a very crude extract of a form of a drug."

I.e., tea. People have been doing this for literally thousands of years. There are better alternatives available in industrialized areas. Not everyone is in one of those areas. There may be a time when no one is. So let's calm down and look into it while resources are still available to us.

farticus (author)wicious2015-07-06

Wicious that is a crazy argument, people have been doing many stupid things for thousands of years, so the time people have done things is irrelevant.

The bottom line is that this concoction could kill some kid if they try it when they have influenza, and that is a medical fact that you can't ignore. That is science, nothing to do with emotions, it is a mathematical certainty that DIY Asprin will be fatal to some people. I have also pointed out a natural alternative that does not have a LD 50 at all.

shawnlambert (author)farticus2015-07-08

Agree... people can be stupid...the Romans used to drink lead. But this guys instruct-able is no different than anyone telling you how to make a blast furnace in your garage or build a structure--the bottom line is go get more information before you rely on this or anything you read.

farticus (author)wicious2015-07-05

How about this for a disclaimer?

As for ethanol, yeah that it s why it is listed as a class one carcinogen.

Antoine-LL (author)2015-07-05

A word of warning for any would-be woodsmen:
The extract you're getting contains salicylic acid, this is NOT aspirin. Aspirin is made of ACETYLsalicylic acid. This WILL relieve pain and reduce fevers, but unlike aspirin, it can cause serious gastric problems, including internal bleeding.
Also, as with any drug-containing plant extract, you don't know what dose you're getting, as the amount of salicylic acid varies from decoction to decoction. With something as toxic to your liver as aspirin, that shouldn't be taken lightly.
I'd recommend never using this unless you've had training in chemistry and medicine.

shawnlambert (author)Antoine-LL2015-07-08

Yeah it was my thought exactly mention to dosage...

lazemaple (author)Antoine-LL2015-07-06

Aspirin is well known to cause gastric problems and bleeding as well...

lhall12 (author)2015-07-05

As with aspirin, it is a blood thinner. Please use wisely. If you are already on any meds that react with or might react with willow bark please consult your doctor and of course tell your physician about any meds, including natural, that you are taking.

crank_girl (author)lhall122015-07-07

it's also very bad for your stomach lining.

MikeB17 (author)lhall122015-07-06

Thanks! I was going to ask about that side effect...

alberto-a7 (author)2015-07-07

I have been a Dr. of Traditional Oriental Medicine for some 30 years and, I have had numerous patients looking for the miracle cure of acupuncture for their chronic migraine headaches that devastate their lives. Yes I have used this but the larger picture needs to be explained. A women was brought into my office for this problem. She had just completed a months stay at the newest and best national center for Migraine studies in Houston texas. She was worse than before going there. I treated her and in two weeks she was back to her normal self and not needing to buy illegal marijuana (1990`s). The answer to the problem is not found in the circulatory system. It is found in the stressed out...nonfunctioning DIGESTIVE-HEPATIC processes. 90% of those who were going to the ER for IV drugs were treated and had their migraines eliminated by resolving this DIGESTIVE-HEPATIC process. Find a good doc who practices FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE and you should get your problem fixed. EXCESSIVE EMOTIONAL STRESS is a huge factor to destroy the DIGESTIVE-HEPATIC processes. Get this and live well. Luck to you! PS...I live in South America... it is an anti-stress move.

denewf (author)2015-07-06

Slow up there!!

Wonderful amount of disinformation posted here

With aspirin so cheap why on earth take chances??

Keep a bottle in your travel kit.

JeremyH4 (author)2015-07-06

Can anyone suggest some sort of test to check its strength and whether it's safe to use?

SDPogue (author)2015-07-06

Wow - these comments sure have gone off the rails. As for people afraid of this medical "advice" - don't do it. It's not illegal to share since no where in any of this did he say he was a doctor.

Anyway, I just wanted to say, it's better to take small branches than to cut into the tree. We do that with the trees we need bark from for other projects. The bark is thinner and there is no risk to the tree.

alcurb (author)2015-07-06

I see that there is a lot of concern about how much is too much. Perhaps someone has already done the footwork and found a relatively precise method of making this decoction and figured out the right dose to give. Nevertheless, in a desperate situation away from modern conveniences (including convenience stores) this might have to do in a pinch.

I am told by a nurse, that NSAIDS when kept past expiration can denature into a poison, esp true about Ibuprophen. Not sure if this is true about aspirin, but I won't take any chances.

PJSolarz (author)alcurb2015-07-06

alcurb.... I have checked several sites and ibuprofen does not turn into a poison. It like most all other medications (accept for anti-biotic medications) tends to be less effective as it ages beyond the shelf life. Anti-biotic med's can become very dangerous beyond it's shelf life.

ahoier (author)2015-07-05

from personal experience....this is not meant to be 'made ahead' and sat the potency degrades over's best used fresh...and as noted, we're not harvesting a whole tree here..just enough to get rid of the yea, it's kind of a pain....but yea i wouldn't suggest making it ahead of's something that definitely loses potency over time....

lazemaple (author)ahoier2015-07-06

I wonder if it could be frozen in ice cube tray short term, like 2 or 3 months to preserve potency.

schmitta (author)2015-07-05

your comments while you tell the story are far out.

gcanders (author)2015-06-29

Very cool. It looks quite delicious. I might make some even when I don't need it just to taste it.

bricobart (author)gcanders2015-06-30

Thanx, but it's quite terrifying! Not as bad as yak butter tea or Heineken, but bad anyway...

gfeikens (author)bricobart2015-07-05

You state that Heineken tastes bad, you must either be British, German or from Belgium! Because the rest of the world of course disagrees ;-)

GeckoHiker1 (author)bricobart2015-07-05

I happen to think that Heineken is better than Ambrosia, and yak butter tea must be as good as the buttered/coconut oil coffee sludge I drink every morning. Bitter is Better!

wicious (author)2015-07-05

Here's another resource if you want to plant something ahead of time but don't want to plant a willow, or if you don't want to damage a tree:

The herb is called "meadowsweet" and has been used since forever, like willow.

lazemaple (author)2015-07-05

FWIW I had a lot of headaches, migraines too until I eliminated all wheat product from my diet.

alexandraroach1 (author)2015-07-05

Salicylic acid also great for acne! (Beware of dry skin)

alex4pt (author)2015-07-05

for people that have asked about measuring the strength of the final preparation: mentions a test using 1% iron (III) chloride. An instructional video for making iron chloride can be found here But then you will have to do the math to work out how strong your iron chloride is :)

jdc187 (author)2015-07-05

curious I had been told that rose hips where a part of asprin i will have to see what the active chemical in those are.

Really awesome info thanks for the instructable

christopher.leblanc.98 (author)2015-07-05

cool to see the prosses tks

3967 (author)2015-07-05

To my the piece you cut out seems a bit large, i think its better to cut 2 or 3 smaller pieces with large space between them. Then each wound has less diameter and i guess this shoul heal faster than one single cutout. I also have chronical headache since a child. I quit the pills, when i realised how dangerous this stuff in reality is in the long run. I took some which also selled as "harmles"s. But when i read the manualpaper i came to the conclusion its not worth, you just risk to get another chronical desease! The ironical thing is that they updated the risk statement 30 years later with deathrisk for people over 55 years...

(I took iboprofen because from aspirin i got more headache). I also seeked to find ways to lower the probability of headache since several factors in live can boost your headache risk (forgotten meal at work, stress, bad sleep, to much videogaming). I think going back to directly natural medicine (like tea) is better. What i found astonishing is that high volume acohol (30%) in a small dose (2 spoons), reduces my headache. I got that from a boubon vanilla essence. greetings

jnfriar (author)2015-07-05

Thank you, I had been curious as to how to extract salicylic acid and what tree exactly to get it from. Very well done.

Jolonar (author)2015-06-29

I'd also like to know what amount of liquid you equate to say, one tablet of over the counter aspirin. Taking too much is not good because it is also a blood thinner.

About This Instructable




Bio: I made a beer mug with only a knife & a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.
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