Aspirin – not just for a hangover!

Environment > Aspirin – not just for a hangover!

You can read this in 3 minutes

The popular painkiller is renowned for its head-soothing properties - but it can also help to regenerate crops.

06 July 2021, 3:38 PM


What if we told you that aspirin could not only take away your headache, but also help rebuild our natural world? Too good to be true, right?

Wrong! New research has shown that this cheap and readily available medicine found in most homes could be the key to ecological restoration – the recovery of the world around us which has been degraded, damaged or destroyed.

The study revealed that aspirin can improve the survival of grass species that are fundamental to some of these recovery processes. This can include the creation of sustainable pastures for farming and animals, regeneration of spoiled land, and it can even help plant growth and survival. Who knew!

So: how does it work?

Well, aspirin is made up of salicylic acid, and this study showed that by applying very low concentrations of salicylic acid to a seed, it can improve plant survival and therefore its effectiveness in reaching those restoration goals. This simple solution helps build plant resistance to stress from the moment it goes into the ground – in particular attacks from disease or infection. 

Similar studies have been done on plants that are already well established too. One by the University of Rhode Island found that a diluted solution of water and aspirin acted as a great prevention against blight for plants like tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, by triggering their immune systems. It’s a bit like us taking vitamins to kickstart our immune system before we get struck down with the flu.

Salicylic acid has been used for its medicinal properties for more than 4,000 years. It was originally sourced from the bark of willow trees and similar plants, although modern day aspirin is created synthetically using a scientific process called chemical synthesis (the process of producing useful products by various chemical reactions).

In c400 BC, Hippocrates gave willow leaf tea to women during childbirth as a painkiller

Each year, ecosystems around the world are being damaged and destroyed, but ecological restoration is all about helping with its recovery. Not only is this process important to restore balance to Mother Nature, it will also increase populations of rare and threatened animal and plant species, enhance landscapes, increase the availability of environmental goods – such as flowers, fruits, vegetables, and more – so it’s basically a win-win… win!

Going forward, this method will be tested on a whole range of different plants used in ecological restoration, with the hope that it will improve their strength and resilience – and help ensure more successful planting efforts of seeds into damaged landscapes. Making the world a greener and more flourishing place also makes us feel good and looks good – so it’s a win for our wellbeing too.

What a light bulb moment for the environment when someone decided to use aspirin to coat seeds! So, next time you’re reaching for an aspirin, stop and think about what that tiny painkiller can actually do for our planet. Don’t know about you, but our minds are blown (in the pain-free way).

Next article: All aboard! Riding the recycled rails

Warning: may blow your mind!

Check out our top picks


The food waste app that’s revolutionising the way we eat


Saving the ice caps, one bead at a time


The future of sustainable fashion

Incredible people, unbelievable stories


We can all
change the world

We are #DifferenceMakers, a ground-breaking movement inspiring us all to make a change, no matter how big or small, by sharing remarkable stories of how engineering and technology are saving the world around us. Expect the unexpected – from super sustainable fashion and squeaky clean streaming, to apps that combat food waste and
tech to stop the ice caps melting.

We’re changing the way everyone sees engineering and technology, and proving they're a force to be reckoned with when it comes to saving our planet! If you care about making a difference and want to learn more, then join our movement today.

#DifferenceMakers was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) – one of the world’s largest engineering institutions and a diverse home for everyone in engineering and technology.