Arnica (Arnica montana)
Energetics: very warm/dry
Therapeutic Actions: anti-hematoma, anti-inflammatory (ultimately), counter-irritant, immune-stimulant
I may have mentioned it in this blog before. I am clumsy. I am all elbows, knees, and forehead. My spatial awareness is questionable at best. On my second date with my now husband, I tripped over a slight, and I do mean slight, lip in the sidewalk – bloodying my toes, palms and badly bruising my knees. Can I also add that this was heading into the date? As in, before any adult beverages were consumed in any way. Just me, being me. Bloodied and bruised in sandals and a sundress – all by my own doing.
Also, have I mentioned that at least two of my daughters have also inherited my, errrh, grace?
Needless to say, I have a well stocked herbal first aid kit. Perhaps the herb nearest and dearest to my heart, ahem -knees, is arnica. Because arnica is an accident prone herbalist’s best friend.
Arnica Medicinal Benefits
Arnica is best known as a remedy for trauma. This herb works by speeding blood flow to an area of application, prompting the immune system to clear damaged tissue and start “repair work”. It is wonder herb where red and blue bruising is visible on the surface almost immediately after sustaining an injury. My personal experience is that helps to clear a bruise in a fraction of the time normal healing takes – without that awful yellow-green stage of healing. It is also a frontline herb for instances of muscle strain and minor sprains, decreasing swelling and pain. I have a few runners as clients that swear by liniments and salves that include this herb for addressing shin splints. Herbalist Matthew Wood recommends this herb for chilblains (the painful inflammation response of the skin upon exposure to the cold).
Traditionally homeopathic arnica is used for shock and stroke, but please note these instances are a medical CRISIS and warrant immediate medical attention. Do not hesitate for a moment to seek emergency care.
Arnica Safety and Dosage
Arnica is for external use or as a homeopathic remedy, ONLY. Do not consume this herb unless as a homeopathic preparation (please see packaging instruction for proper homeopathic dose). Do not apply this herb to broken or rash-y skin.
Arnica is best administered immediately following an injury. This is a highly warming and stimulating herb. If time has elapsed from injury and significant swelling is observed, use this herb when warm treatment is warranted (i.e. if alternating cold and hot packs, use during the “warm” cycle).
Arnica is considered an alpine or mountain herb, and herbaceous perennial generally found between 3500-10,500 feet in elevation. It has a bright, sunny, daisy-like yellow flower. The green leaves are ovate, opposite, and slightly fuzzy on their upper surface; the stem is hairy and striated. The hairs are highly irritating; avoid inhalation.
There are many species of arnica. Of these, though, A. montana is considered the most medicinally valuable.
Arnica for Bruising, Strains & Sprains
My well outfitted herbal first aid kit includes an economy sized tub of this salve. I infused olive and sunflower (also great for trauma) with dried arnica, and if I am so inclined a bit of St. John’s wort too (another great trauma herb). A small amount of wintergreen, helichrysum, and geranium essential oils are optional, but add a bit more proverbial muscle to this already highly effective salve.
Please note: take special care not to inhale the irritating fibers when handling dried arnica.
Arnica Salve for Bruising, Strains & Sprains
Arnica is the ultimate first aid herb for bruising, sprains, and strains. This salve is ideal for the accident prone and active athletes alike!
- 1 cup base oil of your choice I like one part olive oil to one part sunflower oil for this salve
- 1/2 cup arnica flowers dried
- 1/4 cup St. John's wort fresh but wilted if possible; dried is fine too
- 3-4 tablespoons beeswax pastilles
- 48 drops wintergreen, helichrysum & geranium essential oils optional; I like 12 drops wintergreen w/ 18 drops each of the other eo's
Combine base oil and dried herbs in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Place in a small crockpot with water to the fill height of the jar. Infuse on the lowest setting heat for 24-48 hours. Alternatively, the oils can infuse without heat for six weeks, or rapid infuse in a double boiler over for 30 minutes.
After oil is adequately infused, strain through muslin or cheese cloth. Return oil to a double boiler, add beeswax, then warm until completely melted. Remove oil/beeswax mixture from heat. Add essential oils.
Pour into individual 2-ounce containers (approximate 4) or other similarly sized jars. Allow to cool completely before putting a lid on the jar.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Wood, Matthew. (2016). The earthwise herbal repertory: the definitive practitioner’s guide. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.