History Of Medicinal Use Of Arnica

Native to the mountainous slopes of Eurasia and Siberia, Arnica (Arnica montana L.)[1] is a herbaceous perennial plant in the same plant family as the aster or sunflower (Asterace.)

Traditionally, the dried leaves of the graceful woodland plant were smoked as a substitute for tobacco, earning its common name: mountain tobacco. Other common vernacular names are leopard’s bane, mountain arnica or wolfbane.

Arnica DrawingCredit: Wikipedia

As early as the 16th century, traditional European folk medicine relied on Arnica montana to soothe stomach distress, reduce high fever, relieve pain and as a topical treatment to soothe skin irritations. The hardy plant established a stellar reputation in Russian folk medicine. The healing herb was used to treat a multitude of medical conditions including angina pectoralis, myocarditis, uterine hemorrhage and arteriosclerosis.

Considered a “miracle” herb or “Wunder Kraut” in Germany, the plant is an immensely popular homeopathic remedy. Historians note that the German philosopher, Goethe, sipped Arnica[2] tea to relieve chest pain and congestion. In Germany, more than 300 novel therapeutic preparations are crafted from the flowers of the hardy plant to meet the growing demand of German consumers. (Arnica montana is a protected species in Germany. A similar plant, Arnica chamissonis, is employed as an effective substitute. Swiss and French pharmacopoeias do not accept this substitution.)

Wolfbane On The MountainCredit: M. Affeld

North American species of Arnica Alpina[3] (A. sororia, A. latifolia, A. fungens, and A. cordifolia) have long been an essential component of Native American holistic medicine. A pungent liniment, made from the plant was applied to relieve the pain and inflammation of muscle strains, bruises and contusions. The flower emits a powerful sage-pine odor when the plants are bruised or rubbed. Native Americans rubbed their skin with the crushed leaves to repel flies and other annoying insects. Early settlers of the American West used the flowering herb to calm coughs and relieve sore throats.

Sunny Flower ArnicaCredit: M. Affeld

Plant Description

A low growing perennial herb, arnica flourishes in fertile, well-drained soil, in a temperate, sunny location. Large yellow flowers with deeper orange centers, 2 to 3 inches wide, grow on upright, deeply rooted stems. Typically 3 to 5 flowers appear on each plant. The flowers bloom in late June or early July. Other yellow flowering plants used for healing include Mullein, Chamomile, Soloman’s Seal, Marigold, Comfrey and St. John’s Wort.

At maturity, the plant produces tiny, seed-like fruit, covered with pale tan or white bristles. The perennial plant grows from 6 to 18 inches tall, presenting ovoid, bright green, leathery leaves arranged in a tight rosette. The upper leaves of the plant are toothed, with pointed tips. The lower leaf tips are rounded.

Parts Used

Traditionally, the entire plant including the root or rhizome was utilized. Today, amid concerns about its safety as a medicinal herb, only the fresh or dried flowering tops are used.


Arnica is one the most popular herbal remedies in the United States. However, the users sensitivity and medical condition should always be considered. There is no standard dosage. Women that are pregnant or breast-feeding should avoid the pungent herb.

Applied to the skin, arnica is considered safe. Prolonged use may cause skin irritations including peeling, blisters or redness. Never apply on on broken skin. Avoid applying to scrapes, open cuts, sores, pimples, boils or skin ulcers. People who demonstrate an allergic reaction to other herbaceous plants should avoid Arnica.

Arnica is a controversial herb and many homeopathic practitioners recommend that the herb be used internally with caution and only at extremely diluted concentrations. Always use carefully formulated homeopathic dosages. Taken internally, arnica should only be used under the supervision of a physician or other qualified medical practitioner.

Never take arnica with the prescription drugs Talwin (pentazocine) or Talwin NX. Avoid accidental poisoning. Products containing arnica, like all other medications, should be kept out of the reach of children. Avoid consuming the raw plant. Ingestion of the plant parts is toxic and can cause vomiting, irritation of the mucus membranes, dizziness, stomach pain, heart palpitations, tremors and seizures. Prolonged handling of the plant can cause skin redness and an annoying, painful rash. It is wise to wash your hands thoroughly after handing the fresh plant.

Medicinal Use

Advocates of arnica maintain the herb dramatically reduces muscular soreness and relieves post-operative trauma. Sesquiterpene lactones, active components of the herb, are known to reduce swelling, relieve pain and improve circulation. Homeopathic topical formula ointments, creams and salves are used to treat inflammation and swelling due to muscle injuries and broken bones. Arnica is useful in the treatment of bruises, sprains, contusions and tired and over exerted muscles. Athletes and body builders swear by the restorative properties of arnica. Symptoms of rheumatism, arthritis and fibromyalgia are temporarily relieved by arnica. Topical applications should contain no more than 15 per cent therapeutic volatile oil, prepared from fresh or dried flowers in a vegetable oil base. Almond, sesame and olive oil are commonly used as carrier oils. Tinctures of arnica are used in healing compresses and poultices.

Homeopathic formulations are readily available in varying potencies. 6C (diluted 600 times) is a typical dosage for chronic ailments. For acute symptoms, up to 30C (diluted 3,000 times) may be recommended to boost immunity, fight infection and accelerate healing.