How To

Natural Pain Remedy: Hot Rocks and Willow Tea

The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that “Willow bark is used to ease pain and reduce inflammation. Researchers believe that the chemical salicin, found in willow bark, is responsible for these effects.”

For centuries willow bark has been chewed, or boiled in tea, to relieve pain. The following excerpt from The Cave and The Sea, A Novel, describes the use of willow in a primitive, survival scenario (perhaps based on actual events!) Note that the characters heat rocks in the fire then steep the willow tea in improvised wooden cups. For those interested in learning more about the use of small, hot rocks as boiling implements, please see these fantastic experiments from Stone Age Skills (

Excerpt from The Cave and The Sea, Chapter 34

The sound of a scream wakened Coe from a deep slumber. He could not see in the depths of the West Chamber but could tell that Mycha was standing near the wall to his right. He walked from the bough bed on his knees to investigate while her loud thrashing continued. In confusion he rose to comfort her and felt the rush of wind as she spun in the dark to strike him with her arm in a circular motion. The point of her elbow met the Cave wall instead; she screamed in pain then crumpled to the Cave floor. Coe thought that she had waked and knelt to console her as she cried.

She was almost inconsolable in her pain. “It hurts,” she cried. “It must be broken…” Her agony sounded unbearable.

Coe hurried to the coal bed in the Council Room and quickly ignited one of their lamps. He added wood to the fire before returning to the West Chamber to tend to her.

She had stopped crying but seemed in shock while saying, “My arm is badly damaged, Coe; please help me … please … is it broken?”

He examined her arm in the torchlight. In the dimness he could tell that it was misshapen.

“Mycha,” he said calmly, “Give me your good hand. You have to stand and walk to the other room. Your arm will be fine – I will fix it.”

He helped her stand as she winced in pain while doing her best to support her wounded arm. He guided her to stand in the firelight against one wall of the Council Room so that he could examine more closely. Gently he ran his fingers from her shoulder down past the wounded joint to her wrist. She winced again but was able to maintain control.

He made an effort to speak with calm clarity: “Your arm is not broken; you have dislocated your elbow.” Gently he held her hand as it dangled beneath the mangled joint. “Mycha, turn your head away from me. Stand still. Take a deep breath then let it out.”

He didn’t hesitate; as he heard her complete her exhale he forcefully pulled her hand diagonally away from her body. While maintaining downward pressure with one hand he pressed inward on her elbow with the other. The entire procedure took less than a second; her scream was delayed. She cried desperately as he helped to lower her to a seated recline against the wall.

He supported her arm near her midsection while carefully pulling her head to his chest in an embrace. She cried for several minutes as he spoke to her.

“I have seen an injury almost identical to this before,” he said. “We can handle it, and in a matter of weeks, it will be much better.”

She continued to cry and eventually reached with her good hand to support her arm. “Okay, thank you. It still really hurts …” Soldier crept into the Council Room and rested his head on her lap.

“I will build up the fire for you and need to make medicine. Will you be alright while I go to the willow?”

She nodded; quickly Coe placed three small rocks in the fire then exited the Cave to navigate through the darkness to the willow tree. His familiarity with the area enabled him to move quickly in the starlight. He extracted pieces of bark and also took a small piece of willow branch that had several green leaves attached.

Upon returning to the Cave, he filled a wooden cup with water and dropped in a hot rock. After adding the willow leaves, twigs, and bark, Mycha’s tea was steeping.

“This will make you feel better,” he said. “I will make a sling for you.”

She managed a smile as he folded a piece of leather from her pack into a large triangle. “When you are ready to stand, we will sling your elbow,” he assured her. “Please drink your tea – it is ready.” He placed the cup in her good hand.

“What is happening to me, Coe?” she asked, before taking a small sip of the willow tea. “How could this occur?”

He touched her cheek, smiled, and tried to look unafraid; in truth, he had no idea how to respond. He put his arm around her shoulders and kissed her as she sipped from her cup. -End

For your personal study, please see these resources:

Willow Bark – University of Maryland Medical Center,

Boiling with Hot Stones – Stone Age Skills,



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