By Allison Ford, DivineCaroline
In this age of flashy new medicines and cutting-edge medical treatments, it’s comforting to find a simple cure that’s tried and true. In 400 BCE, the Greek physician Hippocrates described the healing powers of willow bark, which he recommended for easing pain and reducing fevers. It turns out that willow bark’s active ingredient, a chemical called salicin, is the foundation of aspirin, the closest thing modern medicine has to a miracle drug.
Healers have used willow bark to treat pain and inflammation for centuries, and since the 1700s, chemists and doctors have been isolating salicin into salicylic acid for medicinal purposes. In 1897, a German chemist was searching for a new formulation to help his father’s painful rheumatism. At the time, salicylic acid was already a dominant pain reliever, but it had terrible gastrointestinal side effects.
By tinkering with the chemical structure of salicylic acid, he ended up with acetylsalicylic acid, a milder and gentler version. The pharmaceutical company he worked for, Bayer, named the compound aspirin and began marketing its new pill aggressively, and within just a few years, it was the most prescribed drug in the world. By 1915, aspirin was so ubiquitous that it became available over the counter.
These days in the United States and many other countries, aspirin is a generic drug that several companies manufacture. In countries such as Germany, Canada, Mexico, and 80 others, however, Aspirin is still a registered trademark of the Bayer Corporation. In these countries, generic forms of aspirin are called by their chemical name, acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).