Continuing on with our exploration of herbal actions, we come to analgesics. Many of you have probably heard this term before and it is a common one not just in herbal medicine but also in modern pharmaceutical practices. An analgesic compound is one that relieves pain. Some herbs are falsely called analgesics but rather work on the inflammatory pathway, relieving pain. Some of these herbs include arnica, tumeric, and calendula which are not true analgesic herbs.
Herbs that are true analgesics act on pain receptors in the body. Because of this, many of them are used topically. A pain receptor is a protein that detects a molecule in the body. The protein then sends a signal to the brain that there is a problem. Our brain interprets this information and we experience pain. Analgesic herbs either block the protein from detecting the molecules or they encourage a signal to be sent to the brain that lead to a feeling of hot or cold (depending on the receptor protein) rather than pain.
Cayenne is one of my favorite pain relieving herbs. It can be used topically or in small doses internally. Cayenne is a very hot herb but does not generally elicit a feeling of heat. Instead it is known for increasing the body’s temperature, increasing circulation, and generally stimulating the body. If your feet are cold, sprinkle some cayenne powder on the outside of your socks and put your sneakers on. Yea, it helps! Cayenne makes an excellent salve for topical pain relief.
Ginger, just like cayenne, is an excellent topical pain reliever. It is commonly made into a compress to stimulate blood flow and relieve pain. Ginger is popular for relieving pain of the digestive system as well. It can be taken orally to help with motion sickness and morning sickness. Ginger can help calm an upset or overactive stomach and help to raise a fever when you have a cold or a flu. For these actions ginger is best made in a decoction.
Peppermint might not be the first pain relieving herb you think of. The essential oil of peppermint contains the molecule menthone. This molecule is one of the analgesic molecules that block pain receptors and promote a cooling sensation to be experienced. While it is very low in the herb itself, peppermint tea is common for upset stomachs, similar to ginger, but is more effective at cooling the body rather than warming it up. As you learn more about herbs this is one comparison that will support you in determining which digestive supporting herb is right for which occasion.
While eucalyptus can be used internally, I feel that the essential oil qualities in eucalyptus are very high for use internally. I personally feel that it may upset the stomach if taken in too high quantities. Topically eucalyptus does a few things wonderfully. The essential oil components of eucalyptus are analgesic, anti microbial, anti bacterial, and anti fungal. An infused oil of eucalyptus also has many of these qualities as well, in lower quantity.