In my natural pharmacy, I have a few plants that I always make sure to have in stock, because I know that with them, I can treat pretty much anything that comes my way. Arnica is one of them. I use it externally in an ointment (from Clef des champs, made in Quebec, using organic or wild-crafted plants and herbs) for anything to do with bruises/trauma, blood circulation and muscle pains or soreness. I’ve used it internally in a homeopathic form on a few occasions, like after a painful visit at the dentist removing my impacted wisdom teeth. It sped up the healing of the wounds. In case of an accident (like last year when I injured my knee snowboarding), I took it internally in homeopathic form (Traumeel) and externally in a cream. The combination worked really well!
A little bit of history
By the 1500s, interest in arnica had shifted from the magical to the medicinal. Italian physician and herbalist Pietro Andrea Mattioli wrote favorably about the herb’s healing properties in his botanical masterpiece, Commentarii in Sex Libros Pedacii Dioscoridis, which was first published in 1544. Arnica found a place in the folk medicine of many other European countries, especially Germany and Austria, where it remains an important medicinal herb to this day. Arnica montana is currently an ingredient in more than a hundred German herbal preparations. Originally, the entire plant, including the roots, was used in preparing herbal remedies, but now typically only the flower heads are used.
In the U.S., arnica has never enjoyed the popularity it does in Europe. Nevertheless, preparations of this herb are readily available – as gels, ointments, creams, and sprays – for external use in treating bruises, muscle strains, sprains and dislocations, arthritis and rheumatic pain, phlebitis, and swelling due to fractures. Arnica salves can be an effective remedy for chapped lips and acne. Tinctures of arnica are also common for use as a base in making compresses and poultices. Arnica in its herbal form is primarily restricted to these types of topical application because it can cause serious side effects if taken internally.
1820 – Arnica is officially added to the U.S. Pharmacopeia (and removed in 1960)
1830s – German writer Goethe (1749-1832) drinks arnica tea in old age for angina
1880 – Homeopathy founder S. Hahnemann notes arnica’s use for bruises and sprains
1981 – A. montana compounds with anti-inflammatory and antibiotic activity identified
- Contusions and other musculoskeletal injuries
- Swelling (from injuries)
- Joint pain (from injuries or osteoarthritis)
Arnica is the herb to go to immediately after an injury. Whether for the pain and swelling after bumps and sprains or the resulting bruising, arnica salves, ointments, gels, and creams are a common externally applied herbal remedy. (Homeopathic formulations of arnica, in dilute formulations given as capsules or pellets taken under the tongue, are also prescribed for the purpose of treating the symptoms immediately after an injury.) Arnica has a long history of use for these conditions in Europe and has been endorsed by the German health authority’s Commission E., responsible for evaluating the safety and efficacy of medicinal herbs in Germany. Currently it is becoming a common addition to first-aid kits in the United States.
This popular herbal treatment is supported by research. Many studies have been done after patients had surgery – plastic surgery, tonsil removal, hand operations – to manage the pain, swelling, and bruising.
Over the (kitchen) counter
Balm for bruises – homemade – Pack a widemouth jar with arnica leaf and fill it with organic almond oil (or high quality organic olive oil). Screw on the lid. Let the mixture steep for 2 to 3 weeks, stirring daily. Strain the oil into a clean container and refrigerate. To make the salve, heat 1/2 cup of the arnica oil in a saucepan to 100F. Add 3/4 ounce of grated beeswax. Stir until the wax is melted. Let mixture cool slightly. Pour into half-ounce glass jars with secure lids and store in the fridge.
How to use
Creams, gels, ointments and salves: Arnica topicals can be applied to an injury several times daily; or follow product instructions. Commercial arnica topical preparations are widely available (but make sure you buy the ones with the highest ratio of arnica and the least amount of other ingredients – ECP note).
Poultice: Steep 3 tablespoons of arnica flowers in a cup of hot water. Let stand for 10 minutes. Cool and apply saturated plant material to injury for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat 3 to 4 times daily for an acute injury.
Note: To prevent the absorption of dangerous compounds, topical preparations of arnica should not be applied to broken skin or near the mouth or eyes.
(excerpt from the book Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants, from National Geographic)