What is Arnica Actually For?

So many people see arnica at my booth and get excited. They have heard of it and you probably have to. But do you know what it is actually good for? Most people’s thoughts first go to muscle pain or for bruises. Well this is not completely correct.

Arnica is a flower in the aster family. At my reckoning, about 95% of arnica products in the United States are homeopathic grade arnica. Briefly, homeopathic medicines are highly diluted forms of herbs. Generally you could say you get more of the energy of the plant rather than the biochemical actions. When you look at research based medicine, there is little, if any, evidence that homeopathic medicines do anything at all but are just a placebo effect. While I use some myself I do not recommend them to others. Try them and learn for yourself when working with a homeopath.

The remaining measurable 5% of arnica products use oil extracts of arnica. These extracts often use the flowers and are good extracts. Well they still may not be the best medicine. The research that is showing best results using arnica is focusing on the  molecule helenaline. This molecule does not extract in an infused oil. That does not mean that these extracts of arnica are not beneficial, it does mean they should not be compared to the super powers of arnica when used as an alcohol extract. Warning: Arnica is a poisonous herb and should never be ingested at a full strength extract.

There are then a very small portion of arnica products that use alcohol as the extract. For herbalists, these would generally be made into liniments or creams such as The Dancing Herbalist’s Arnica Cream. These extracts have the helenaline in them and the research on this molecule is stunning. This molecule is so powerful. It actually promotes inflammatory cells to kill themselves (apoptosis) making it great for acute inflammation such as when you are standing on your feet all day or after exercise to help prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). I also recommend it for the pressure associated with menstruation.

So muscle pain? Not really. If the pain has been there for a while or is not due to inflammation a full strength arnica is not really going to have much of an impact. If it does it is due to the other, non-researched molecules found in arnica extracts.

Bruising? Nope. There is no evidence that any extracts of arnica are actually effective for healing the capillary damage associated with bruises. However, there is some good research suggesting that patient experience of bruises is improved with arnica. I interpret this as the anti-inflammatory actions providing relief from the pressure associated with the bruise, not the capillary damage.

So is arnica right for me? That depends on what your problem is. Feel free to join us at The Dancing Herbalist’s Herbies and our practitioners would be glad to support you in finding what herbs are right for your personal needs.

Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. Join her for live classes and The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online for more learning opportunities.

Having won an award for her research on arnica in 2014, Jillian is currently updating her research on arnica and expects to be publishing more details on this research in 2018. All sources for the research mentioned here will be available at that time.

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