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What is Arnica?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Arnica, or leopard's bane, is a perennial herb native to North America and Eurasia. It is used to make a tincture that is used topically to treat sore muscles and bruising. Many conventional drug stores carry arnica preparations, and the herb is also available at health food stores and other businesses which carry natural health care products. The herbal remedy is quite effective, especially for bruising, and it is often recommended by mainstream medical professionals as well as herbalists.

The Arnica genus has a number of member species, all of which can be used to create tinctures. The plants have bright yellow flowers that grow in radial heads, and opposite simple leaves that grow on branching stalks. The whole plant is used in the preparation of arnica tinctures, which are usually sold in the form of a gel that can be easily applied to the skin. One species, A. montana, was historically used as a tobacco substitute in Northern Eurasia, leading some people to call it mountain tobacco.

A number of chemical compounds have been isolated in arnica. It appears that the herb stimulates the production of white blood cells, which can help to clear brusing. Arnica also promotes fluid drainage and the release of toxins, reducing muscle soreness and pain. People who are taking it for muscle soreness should stay well hydrated to help flush the loosened toxins out of the body. The herb may also help with arthritis, joint pain, and acne when used externally.

As a topical anti-inflammatory, arnica appears to be quite useful. Applications in gel form often bring swelling the bruising down very quickly, and repeat applications can resolve areas of tenderness quite rapidly. In some cases, it may also be blended with other botanical ingredients to hasten healing and promote healthy skin. These preparations should never be consumed internally, as arnica can be quite harmful when ingested, and patients should wash their hands after applying a gel or paste made with the plant.

Some homeopathic remedies also use arnica. Homeopathy relies on using very small concentrations of herbs and other substances, so these preparations are safe to consume when used as directed. When tested, the tinctures used in homeopathy are often so diluted that chemists cannot detect even trace amounts of the substance used in the tincture. Arnica intended for ingestion will be clearly labeled as a homeopathic tincture; if a patient is in doubt, he or she should not consume it.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By ElizaBennett — On Apr 19, 2012

@robbie21 - I like how you are getting at the difference between homeopathy and broader ideas like natural remedies and alternative medicine. The terms are often used interchangeably, but they really aren't the same.

Using arnica cream to treat muscle strain is not homeopathy - it's a natural remedy. Taking a microscopic dose by ingestion is homeopathy.

As a general rule, natural remedies are untested and should be used with caution and in consultation with a knowledgeable practitioner. But you can think that homeopathy is a load of bunk (it doesn't make intuitive sense to me, but I'm no expert) and still be a fan of other natural remedies. I like evening primrose oil for labor preparation, for instance.

By robbie21 — On Apr 18, 2012

@sarahsmith67 - According to the Wikipedia article on arnica, a meta-study found that homeopathic arnica was no more effective than a placebo. But I know that most people who are drawn to homeopathy will not be convinced by that!

Arnica at higher concentrations, not the mega-diluted homeopathic version, hasn't been *proven* effective, but there is more evidence that it does have some medicinal effects.

I'm sure you're right that arnica cream for bruising will work better for some people than others. That's true of most medications! For instance, I can get a good night's sleep from Ambien if I'm having a bout of insomnia, but it makes my sister sleepwalk.

By sarahsmith67 — On Jan 20, 2009

Arnica doesn't work on everyone for bruising, unfortunately. My doctor recommended Bruise Rx from Remedies Cure. I totally believe in homeopathy, it works.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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