In Victorian times Salicylic Acid was extracted from willow bark and used to help patients manage pain. The Victorian pharmacist would grind the bark in a mortar and pestle until it was softened before seeping it in ether over night to extract the acidic active. The solution was then passed through a cotton wool filter to get rid of any bark bits to leave a clear liquid containing salicylic acid and other chemicals. This mixture would then have sodium carbonate added to it as this helps to turn the salicylic acid into a salt. Next, Sulphuric acid was added to separate the active from the bulk and by this time a thick orange gunge has been created.
The salicylic acid in its crude form floats to the top and can then be washed and further purified by until beautiful white needles are created. These can then be ground into a fine powder ready for compressing.
Salicylic Acid is still used today in both cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications where it works to keep spots and warts at bay, reduce swelling and numb pain.
Isn’t nature great!