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Helpful Herbs: Arnica

A little plant that packs a punch, that is arnica. This incredibly helpful little herb is a major healer, and it grows like a weed – probably because it was a mountain and marshland weed for centuries before becoming part of our herb gardens.

Mountain arnica is a hardy plant that can be grown easily in zones 4-9. It is easiest to start from a seed, but can also be propagated from the root section of another mature plant. Germination for arnica seeds can be a lengthy process: they usually sprout within a month but can take up to two years. The plants like sandy soil and partial sun, and prefer regular watering.

Deep rooted and tall, the stems of arnica plants can be up to 24 inches tall, and they bear large yellow blossoms. Arnica is related to sunflowers and daisies, and the flower is very similar in appearance to those plant’s. The leaves of the arnica plant have a fuzzy quality to them, which is how the plant go its name: “arni” is Greek for “lamb”, as the fuzz of the petals is similar to a lamb’s wool.

Arnica blooms in late spring and early summer, and it is recommended to wait and harvest them in their second year of growth. Blossoms are harvested by plucking them from the stem and allowing them to fully dry in a warm, dark place. After a few weeks, when the blossoms are completely dry – you can squeeze the center to feel if there is any dampness left – they can be stored in an airtight container.

Unlike some of our other “Helpful Herbs” in this series, arnica is not for culinary use. Ingesting it is toxic, as it contains helenalin. Helenalin is poisonous when ingested in large quantities. The only exception to this rule is the homeopathic remedy, which is diluted to a state where it is non-toxic.

Instead, arnica is used as a salve or tincture to heal all manner of aches and pains. Arnica salve will help to soothe muscle aches and soreness, such as those felt after strenuous exercise. Homeopathic arnica is used to soothe insect bites, and is especially effective on bee stings.

Arnica as an oil or salve can help to reduce acne and chapping skin, and the anti-inflammatory properties of the plant that help to ease general muscle pain can even be an effective treatment for arthritis pains. Arnica oil is used to treat dandruff and is said to help reduce hair loss.

Arnica grew as a wild flower in the mountainous regions of the Western United States, as well as Germany and Russia, for centuries and was used by Native Americans as a tobacco, in tea, and as a paste to treat wounds and bruises. German writer Goethe credited a treatment of arnica with saving his life after a long bout with fever, and Swiss mountain guides chewed the plant to reduce symptoms of fatigue. Arnica continues to be a very popular folk remedy in Russia, where it is used to treat wounds and bruises.

Also known as leopard’s bane, mountain tobacco, “tumbler’s cure all”, and “the flower of recovery”, arnica is one of the best known homeopathic remedies. Arnica has been a homeopathic remedy since Samuel Hahneman, the founder of the alternative medicine, first potentised it in the late 18th Century. It continues to be one of the most well known and commonly used homeopathic cures today, treating all kinds of aches and pains, including emotional ones.

A bright and cheerful daisy in your garden, arnica is a wonderful treatment for strains and aches on our muscles, easing bruises, and soothing stings. It is the kind of remedy you may not use every day, but having it in your pocket in case of a bee sting or pulled muscle can make all the difference.


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