Survive in Style (5) - DIY Aspirin




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

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.

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Step 1: 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

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

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

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

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.

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    57 Discussions

    LA Kanyan

    4 years ago

    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.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    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


    4 years ago

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


    4 years ago

    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


    4 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    4 years ago on Step 5

    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?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 5

    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.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    4 years ago on Step 5

    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 :-).


    4 years ago on Introduction

    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).

    1 reply

    4 years ago

    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.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 4 years ago

    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!


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 4 years ago

    "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.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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.