Don’t be fooled by arnica’s pretty face. The lovely, daisy-like flowers of this mountain herb can send blood pressure into the stratosphere and cause permanent heart damage. Distilled oils from arnica, or teas made from dried flowers, should never be taken internally. External uses are another story entirely. Arnica is surprisingly effective for treating muscle soreness, bruises, and sprains. In other words, if you’ve had a little accident or sports injury of just about any sort, arnica is the herb you’ll probably want to turn to for relief.
What’s it good for?
• Bursitis and Tendinitis
• Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
• Foot Pain
Banish Bruises, Eliminate Aches:
Arnica has received the stamp of approval from Germany’s Commission E—seen as the world’s leading authority on the safety and effectiveness of herbs—as an external treatment for bruises as well as muscle aches and pains. (Never use arnica internally; it’s toxic.)
You can buy arnica in gel, cream, ointment, and tincture forms. It’s also found frequently in homeopathic preparations. You can also make an arnica compress. First brew up a strong tea using 2 teaspoons of arnica flowers per cup of boiling water. Let the tea cool, then soak a clean cloth in it and apply. Arnica is most effective for:
• Banishing bruises. Arnica erases bruises by helping the body reabsorb the blood that has seeped into the tissues. A cream or ointment containing 5% to 25% arnica extract, applied several times daily, reduces pain and swelling—along with that ugly eggplant color. If you prefer to use the tincture form, mix 1 part tincture with 3 to 10 parts water, soak a clean cloth in the liquid, and apply to the bruise. Two of the chemicals in arnica, helenalin and dihydrohelenalin, have painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties when absorbed through the skin. You can also take one or two tablets of the homeopathic remedy Arnica 30C as soon as possible after you’ve bumped yourself to minimize bruising. Follow the
dosage instructions on the label.
• Soothing sprains and strains. Because it curbs inflammation, arnica is perfect for treating mild sprains. It may also improve circulation, increasing the
flow of healing nutrients into sore muscles while removing pain-causing injury by-products such as lactic acid. It also helps relieve pain. Because arnica can be toxic when taken internally, don’t use it on broken skin.
• Tending tender tootsies. Feet hurt at the end of the day? Soak them in a warm-water footbath spiked with a half-ounce of arnica tincture. The improved blood flow almost instantly results in less pain.
Watch Out for Rashes
Most people can enjoy the benefits of arnica without any side effects. Not so if you’re one of the unlucky ones allergic to helenalin, one of the active chemicals in arnica. Regular use of the herb can result in contact dermatitis, a harmless but potentially itchy skin rash. This usually occurs in people who use the herb often or apply a too-strong tincture to the skin. If you’re allergic to ragweed, you’ll definitely want to avoid arnica. They’re
both members of the aster family, a common allergy culprit.