Arnica is a very popular herbal remedy that has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500s. This plant is known as Arnica root, Common Arnica, Mountain Arnica, Mountain tobacco, Arnica flowers, Leopard’s bane and Wolf’s bane.
Its scientific name though is Arnica Montana. It is a perennial that grows to a height of 20–60 cm. Stems are round and hairy, ending in one to three flower stalks. Most of the bright green leaves are in a basal rosette, the upper leaves are toothed and a little bit hairy, while lower leaves have rounded tips. The flower head on the stem is yellow-orange, similar to daisies (5 cm in diameter).
Arnica is native to the mountains of Europe (from southern Iberia to southern Scandinavia and the Carpathians) and Siberia, and is cultivated in North America. The plant grows in nutrient-poor meadows up to nearly 3000 m. It may also be found on nutrient-poor moors and heaths. Arnica thrives in a mixture of loam, peat, and sand. Due to increasingly intensive agriculture it is becoming rarer in the north of its distribution.
It may be propagated by root division or from seed. The plant is sown in early spring in a cold frame, and plant out in May.
Fresh or dried flower heads are used in medicinal preparations. The flowers are collected entire and dried. The root is collected in autumn after the leaves have died down.
Arnica is available commercially in topical creams, and ointments. But it is more used internally in homeopathy. It is most commonly prepared as a tincture, which can also be used as the base for compresses and poultices. A number of homeopathic remedies are available in pill, liniment, salve (ointment) or injectable forms. Arnica is used as a whole or cut herb, powder, tea, liquid, or gel. The herb can be soaked with water and made into a poultice (a soft, moist mass of herbs) that is applied directly to the skin.
The active components in Arnica are sesquiterpene lactones. These are famous for reducing inflammation and decreasing pain. Other active components are Arnicin, a volatile oil, thymol (an essential oil), flavonoids, inulin, carotenoids, tannins and phulin.
How does Arnica work?
- It stimulates the activity of white blood cells that perform much of the digestion of congested blood, stimulates blood circulation and can raise blood pressure (especially in the coronary arteries)
- It disperses trapped, disorganized fluids from bumped and bruised tissue, joints and muscles
Arnica has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities that can reduce pain and swelling, improving wound healing. It also demonstrates respiratory-stimulant, positive inotropic, and tonus increasing actions.
Arnica Montana is used for number of conditions and ailments, such as:
- It is effective herbal remedy for wounds, infections, and inflammation – applied on the skin
- The plant is used externally for arthritis, and ulcers
- Arnica is promoted for use on the skin to help sunburn, acne, eczema, chapped lips, and irritated nostrils
- Homeopathic preparations are also used to treat sore muscles, bruises, sprains, irritation from accidental injuries and burns, and other conditions caused by overexertion or trauma
For all these benefits you should be extremely careful with dosage, as scientific evidence does not support most of the claims about effectiveness of Arnica. There are also some evidences, that when taken by mouth, it can be poisonous (in case of wrong dosage), or can cause some side effects. Homeopathic practitioners claim that the dose should be in extremely diluted solution. The doses have no detectable amount of the plant in them and are generally considered safe for internal use when taken according to the directions on the product labeling. Scientific evidence does not support these claims as well.
The usage of Arnica is more approved for external use. It is appeared to be effective for treating injury and effects of accidents, inflammation of the mouth and throat area, and insect bites. Again, be very careful with the dosage. Prolonged use or wrong dose of oil or ointment may irritate the skin, causing eczema, peeling, blisters, or other skin conditions. Arnica should not be used on broken skin, such as leg ulcers. You could also be allergic to the components of the plant.
Note some possible side effects:
- When taken internally it can irritate the stomach and may result in vomiting, diarrhea, and nosebleeds
- It has caused a number of serious reactions, including allergies and at least one death
- It can cause dizziness, tremors, and heart irregularities
- Large doses can even be fatal
Do not use it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Better not to use it for children.
Here are some generally safe doses (though the doses should be chosen individually by your doctor or homeopathic practitioner):
- Tincture – a 1:10 tincture prepared with 70% ethanol
- For compresses – tincture diluted 3 – 10 times with water
- As creams and ointments – 20 – 25% tincture (or a maximum of 15% arnica oil made from one part dried arnica flower head and five parts vegetable oil)
- For Poultices – tincture diluted 3 – 10 times with water
- As mouthwash – tincture diluted 10 times with water (should not be swallowed)
Arnica should be used as herbal remedy only with direct medical supervision. Even homeopathic products should be used only with your homeopathic practitioner’s supervision and according to directions on the label. Be very careful.