top of page

Happy Anniversary Aspirin: The Wonder Drug

Today, March 6th is the 118th year anniversary of the patenting of aspirin. Aspirin is an over-the-counter pharmaceutical derived from salicylic acid that has often been referred to as a “miracle drug”. It’s a mild and non-narcotic analgesic that helps reduce fever, relieves headache and eases the pain of arthritis, bursitis and general body aches. Recently, low dose (81 mg) daily aspirin has been recommended for heart health. Aspirin works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, chemicals that sensitize nerve endings to pain.

Most people know that patients were encouraged to chew on the bark of the willow tree since the time of Hippocrates (400 BC) to reduce headaches, fevers and body pain, but it wasn’t until 1828 that Johan Buchner, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Munich isolated the compound salicin.

In 1829 Henri Leroux, a French chemist, who was working with the crude form of salicin improved the extraction procedure to produce salicylic acid. Unfortunately, salicylic acid is harsh and most people couldn’t tolerate the stomach distress and he gave up the project.

In 1853 Charles Frederic Gerhardt, another French chemist developed a means of “buffering” salicylic acid with sodium salicylate and acetyl chloride to produce acetylsalicylic acid, but for whatever reason he wasn’t willing to market it and so his formulation was left to obscurity.

While looking for a drug to relieve the pain of arthritis that his father was suffering from, Felix Hoffmann re-discovered Gerhardt’s formula in 1899. It was quite effective in relieving his distress and so Hoffmann, who worked for Bayer, convinced them to market the new drug.

Aspirin was first sold as a powder. It wasn’t until 1915 that the first tablets were made. Until 1919, Bayer had exclusive rights to produce and market aspirin, but were forced to give up the trademark as part of the Treaty of Versailles. There are now many companies that manufacture aspirin and it comes in many shapes and strengths; some are enteric coated for stomach safety.

“Happy Anniversary Aspirin” and thank you Charles Frederic Gerhardt for gifting the world with this inexpensive and effective means of relieving pain and fever.

If you’d like to learn more about willow bark check out this informative article: Or if you’d like to learn how to make willow tea, check out an article I found by Dustin Courts

bottom of page