What Is Arnica?
When considering arnica, Shakespeare comes to mind. The poet said, “A rose by any other name…” Like Shakespeare’s rose, arnica has varied names but each is the same natural herb.
Arnica is an herb found in central Europe and the mountains of Siberia. It was once used as a substitute for tobacco there, spawning its nickname “mountain tobacco.” It also calls the woodlands and high pastures of the northern mountains of Canada and the United States home. Here, it is also known as wolfsbane and leopards-bane.
Arnica is one of the staples of folk medicine and alternative homeopathic treatments. Medical practitioners since the 1500s have known of its healing qualities. It remains a popular topical treatment today.
Arnica’s historical uses range from soothing muscle aches, to reducing inflammation, to helping resolve bruising and healing wounds. Its historical use has been as a skin ointment, cream, liniment, tincture and salve.
A perennial plant that grows 1 to 2 feet high, arnica sports bright green leaves and yellow-orange flowers that look similar to daisies. The fresh or dried flower heads and the roots are the parts of the plants used for medicinal purposes. To extract pure arnica essential oil, CO2 (carbon dioxide) distillation or steam distillation is typically used. It tends to be an expensive process, however.
Arnica oil is in cosmetic products and perfumes, and in hair care products such as hair tonics and anti-dandruff lotions. It is usually sold in diluted arnica oils, arnica pellets, gels for topical application and skin creams. It has antimicrobial properties and provides anti-inflammatory effects.
It can help in treating a wide variety of ailments. Aches and pains. Topical application of products containing arnica oil can have a positive effect on sore muscles caused by overuse, spasms, pulled or sprained muscles or the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
Bruising. One of the most popular topical uses for arnica is to relieve swelling and pain due to bruising. Testing has shown it as especially effective in postoperative wounds by helping relieve bruising following cosmetic surgery or traumatic fractures.
Insect bites and stings. Application of homeopathic arnica is a popular treatment for insect stings and bites. It is especially helpful for cases where the insect bite or sting results in intensive bruising or soreness, as in an allergic reaction.
Acne. Application of skin care products containing arnica oil may be helpful in clearing acne. It is not recommended to use ointments or gels containing arnica on broken skin, however.
Thinning hair. A diluted form of the herbal oil may help promote hair growth by improving local blood flow when applied to the scalp.
Osteoarthritis pain. Studies are moving forward to determine the effectiveness of using arnica oil or gel as a topical treatment for osteoarthritis pain.
Homeopathic doses of arnica oil are extremely diluted, regardless of the form of the preparation. These products will have such a low concentration that it may not be detectable by normal analytical measures. This low dose is safe when following directions on the label.
Words of Caution
Do not take arnica by mouth, in any form, without the direct supervision of a medical professional. Arnica must be in an extremely diluted form to avoid side effects that may possibly be extreme.
Commercial preparations of arnica, even those sold in homeopathic venues, are safe when used according to included instructions. It can be in creams, ointments, gels and lotions.
Do not apply any forms of arnica to broken skin.
As with any change in pharmacology use, you should discuss use of arnica oil, in any form, with your personal physician before beginning therapy.