If there is one natural remedy that everyone should have in their medicinal cabinet, it would have to be arnica. This brilliant herb—which can be taken internally as a homeopathic remedy or used topically as a balm—is a must-have in your natural first aid kit and is the first remedy you should think of in a first aid situation when there’s been an injury from a fall or blow.
Arnica is one of the most popular homeopathic remedies used worldwide because of its effectiveness in reducing and preventing bruising, swelling, and pain. It is also a popular natural remedy for parents to treat their children’s playground bumps and bruises, and for athletes and gym goers to help ease muscle soreness after a heavy training session.
The Healing Herb Arnica Montana
Arnica montana—also known as arnica flower, Leopard’s bane, and mountain tobacco—is a yellow-orange flowering herb that looks very similar to a daisy and belongs to the sunflower family Asteraceae. There are several species of arnica, however arnica montana is the type commonly used for medicinal purposes. Arnica primarily grows in Alpine meadows throughout Europe and the mountains of Siberia, and it can also be sparsely found in Mexico, Canada, and the northern United States.
According to European folklore, arnica’s medicinal benefits were first discovered by shepherds who observed mountain goats foraging for arnica plants after they had fallen. Locals then starting topically using arnica salve to treat their bruises.
Arnica flowers have a long history of use as a healing herb and homeopathic remedy dating back to the earlysixteenth century. It was a popular German folk remedy for healing bruises, muscle aches and pains, inflammation, and wounds. Hahnemann, the founding father of homeopathy, published his findings of arnica in 1805 using homeopathic preparations of arnica to treat inflammation caused by muscle injuries such as sprains, strains, and blunt trauma. (1)
Health food stores and pharmacies stock a variety of arnica preparations and it is commonly available as either a homeopathic preparation or as an ointment, gel, or balm that can be topically applied.
Because arnica can only be taken internally as a highly diluted homeopathic remedy and not as a whole herb or tea due to its potential toxicity, caution but be taken. Homeopathic arnica, however, is safe for oral use.
Homeopathy is a system of complementary medicine that uses highly diluted, minute doses of plants, minerals, and other natural substances to stimulate the body’s own natural healing capabilities to treat ailments.
Homeopathic remedies come in the form of small sugar pillules that dissolve under the tongue or as a liquid given in drop dosages. One dose is measured as either two pillules under your tongue or five drops of liquid under the tongue.
Homeopathic remedies are offered in different strengths or potencies which are represented by certain numbers and letters, such as 6x, 30c, and 200c. The “x” means that the remedy has been diluted to a factor of ten and the “c” indicates it has been diluted to a factor of one hundred. So, for example, 200c is more dilute than 6x. Unlike allopathic medicines, the more dilute the homeopathic remedy, the more powerful or higher the potency it is. Higher potency remedies like 200c should be given less frequently than a lower potency like 30x or 6x. The best potencies of arnica to give after a fall or injury are 30c or 200c, and you should always try to match the intensity of the symptoms to the potency of the remedy.
Homeopathic arnica is indicated when there has been an injury, fall, or blow resulting in bruising, swelling, sprains, or strains. When the following signs and symptoms are present, arnica is well indicated: an all-over bruised feeling with unberable levels of discomfort at the mere thought of being touched, desires for isolation, an inability to sit or lie still for long periods of time, extreme restlessness, and the experience of increased pain at night.
Arnica is one of the top remedies that should be included in any natural first aid kit. If someone has been injured from a knock or fall with presenting bruising or swelling, or a suspected sprain or strain, arnica should be given.
A common sign that arnica is recommended is if the person is wanting to be left alone and cannot bear anyone touching them or the injured area. Arnica 30c should be given every fifteen to twenty minutes for up to two hours, or Arnica 200c given every thirty to forty minutes for up to two hours. Medical help should always be sought in the case of serious injury, including concussion and head injuries, and suspected fractures.
Homeopathic arnica is a safe and natural remedy for healing sprains, strains and easing inflammation without the side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories that can cause damage to the gut lining.
Homeopathic arnica has also been found to be beneficial for reducing bruising and swelling from postsurgical trauma, including from labour and delivery, and after dental procedures and cosmetic surgery. (2)
If the bruising and soreness hasn’t improved after a few days of use, discontinue the arnica and look for another better-suited remedy.
Children’s bumps and bruises
Homeopathic arnica is a safe and natural remedy for kids. It’s a must for all parents to keep on hand when their little ones have falls or get bumps and bruises. A few doses of arnica 30c after a fall can dramatically reduce swelling and can minimise or prevent nasty bruising.
Natural Birth Kit
Arnica is also a staple in natural birth kits to assist with post-partum healing and recovery.
Whether you had a natural birth or caesarean, taking arnica after the delivery will help to reduce bruising, swelling, and pain. Take arnica 30c every thirty minutes after labour for two hours, then three times a day for the next three days.
Homeopathic arnica and arnica balms are also excellent remedies for professional athletes, avid runners, and exercisers to keep in their sports bags.
A study published in the European Journal of Sport Science found topical arnica to be highly effective for reducing muscle pain in runners when applied immediately after intense exercise and for the following three days. (3)
Skiers and snow boarders should keep a bottle of arnica in their pockets while on the slopes to help prevent leg muscle soreness and to minimise or stop bruising if they have a fall. Outdoor enthusiasts including hikers and rock climbers also benefit from arnica’s muscle soothing and pain-relieving action.
Arnica Topical Preparations
Arnica balm, ointment, or gel topically applied to sore muscles, strains, and sprains is an excellent way to ease pain and swelling. It is also safe to take homeopathic arnica in conjunction with topical applications. Arnica contains an active compound called helenalin that has potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Arnica has also been found to be useful for reducing pain associated with arthritis including osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. (4)
According to a study published in Rheumatology International, a gel preparation of arnica tincture was just as effective in relieving hand osteoarthritis pain as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen. (5)
Arnica gel or balm is also handy to take on camping trips as it can help relieve the pain and itchiness of mosquito and insect bites, and poison oak or ivy.
Arnica should not be applied to broken skin or burns and should be avoided if you are allergic to other members of the Asteraceae family which includes ragweed, daisies, marigolds, and chrysanthemums.
There are a wide variety of topical arnica gels and balms available from health food stores and pharmacies that are combined with different healing herbs and essential oils. However, arnica is easy to grow at home so you can cheaply make your own arnica infused oils and balms in your kitchen.
DIY Arnica Infused Oil
Arnica infused oil makes a perfect massage oil to relieve sore and tight muscles. You can also use this oil to make soothing arnica balms. You can even add in other healing herbs to your infused oil. Yarrow has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties that help speed up healing and minimise bruising. St John’s wort has an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial action that also accelerates healing of injuries from blows and falls and helps improve muscle pain, inflammation, and soreness. When topically applied, St John’s can also be useful for arthritis sufferers.
1 cup dried or fresh arnica flowers
3 tbsp dried or fresh yarrow or St John’s wort (optional)
2 cups oil of choice, or use a combination (olive, sweet almond, jojoba, coconut)
4 capsules of vitamin E oil (to naturally preserve your oil)
Place flowers in a double boiler or crock pot. Cover the flowers with oil and stir to make sure all the flowers are completely submerged in the oil. Before adding the flowers, you can crush them with your hands or a spoon or blitz them a little in your food processor so that the flowers breakdown easier and infuse quicker in the oil.
Allow the mixture to infuse on low heat covered for 4-6 hours.
Allow the oil to cool before straining it through a cheese or muslin cloth, and let it drain into a bowl.
Mix through the vitamin E oil then transfer the oil to a sterilised jar or bottle and store it in a cool place.
DIY Soothing Arnica Balm
This balm is made with arnica and essential oils that will help ease muscle pain and tension and help reduce bruising. Use a teaspoon amount and gently massage it into the affected areas three times a day.
2 cups arnica-infused oil (bought or homemade from the recipe above)
½ – ¾ cup beeswax granules
- drops of your choice of essential oil (use one or a combination) *—optional
4 capsules of vitamin E oil (to naturally preserve your balm)
*Essential oils beneficial for easing muscle pain and tension, and for reducing inflammation include: wintergreen, peppermint, marjoram, eucalyptus, chamomile, rosemary, yarrow, cypress, lemongrass, juniper, lavender, cyprus, and thyme. Helichrysum is also beneficial for reducing bruising.
Place infused oil and beeswax granules in a double boiler and whisk until it’s melted and well-combined. If you’ve used olive or almond oil, you will have a softer balm and may need to add more beeswax. To test your balm, dip a spoon into the mixture and allow it to set.
Remove from the heat and allow your mixture to cool a little before stirring through the vitamin E oil.
Pour your mixture into a sterilised jar with a lid to set, and store in a cool place.
- Lori Zucker, in Complementary Therapies for Physical Therapy 2008.
- May Loo MD, in Intergrative Medicine for Children 2009, pages 214-216.
- Kate L Pumpa, Kieran E Fallon et al. The effects of topical Arnica on performance, pain and muscle damage after intense eccentric exercise. Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14(3):294-300.
- Gautam J. Desai DO, Dennis J. et al. Intergrative Medicine (fourth edition), 2018, pg. 697-706.
- Reto Widrig, Andy Suter, Reinhard Saller, Jorg Melzer. Choosing between NSAID and arnica for topical treatment of hand osteoarthritis in a randomised, double-blind study. Rhuematology Int. 2007. Apri;27(6):585-91.