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Bane of the wolf

Could I interest you in some mountain tobacco? Or how about some wolf’s bane or sneezewort?

Those are just three of the colorful names that have been given to Arnica Montana, an herb I told you about in the e-Alert “Screen Pattern” last July when I used an arnica ointment to soothe my aching shoulder after an afternoon of basketball.

Arnica is a flowering herb that grows in mountainous areas of Europe and Asia. Apparently mountain climbers have been known to chew the arnica plant to relieve bruises and sore muscles. These days most people (including mountaineers) use arnica ointment, oil, tincture and pills to reduce the painful inflammation associated with joint and muscle pain from injuries or exercise.

As is the case with so many herbal remedies, it isn’t known just exactly how arnica works. But new research from England may offer an important clue about the bioactive components that give arnica its soothing qualities.

Skin deep

At last week’s British Pharmaceutical Conference, researchers from the Bradford School of Pharmacy presented their results of a laboratory test in which they set out to determine if arnica could be absorbed by human skin.

Using a commercial tincture that included arnica, the Bradford team showed that the herb apparently cannot permeate skin – not at first anyway. Approximately 12 hours after the test began, they found that the skin had absorbed two elements which were identified as sesquiterpene lactones; anti-inflammatory agents contained in arnica. Their conclusion: Although slow to act, these components of arnica may ultimately protect damaged blood capillaries.

Put another way: Arnica may help prevent bruising; although the lead researcher of the study, Professor Adrian Williams, made it clear that his study provides “good evidence – but not yet proof”

Further complicating the issue is the fact that arnica products are not standardized, so one preparation may contain more of the active ingredients than another. Which could explain why some have experienced positive results when using arnica, while others have not. Professor Williams believes that purifying arnica’s active ingredients may lead to more effective arnica products. Meanwhile the professor and his staff also have their eye on a bigger prize: they’re attempting to synthesize the active agents. In other words: they hope to create a pharmaceutical version of arnica that can be patented.

Nothing but net

As I told you in July’s e-Alert, I’m not what you would call a likely first round draft pick for the NBA. So when I spent an afternoon playing basketball with a friend, my shoulder felt like it was on fire a few hours later. That evening I mentioned the pain to my sister who suggested that I try arnica, which she uses to relieve her bursitis.

Not really looking forward to waking up the next morning with a painful, throbbing shoulder, I went straight out, found an arnica product, and gave it a try. The results were amazing. When I woke up, the pain was completely gone. The product I used was a homeopathic tablet from Hyland called ArnicAid that I picked up at Whole Foods Market.

So if you’re an NBA superstar, or simply a weekend warrior who overdoes the physical activity resulting in minor aches and pains, you might find relief with a good quality arnica product. Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., even suggests that arnica may be useful after surgery. In a Health eTips e-letter last July, Dr. Wright wrote: “As soon as possible after surgery, take arnica montana – four pellets under the tongue (no food or water at the same time) every one to three hours according to the degree of pain. Arnica is an herb with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities that can reduce pain and swelling and improve wound healing.”

Also, our colleagues at NorthStar Nutritionals just recently introduced a new topical product that contains arnica called Immediate Relief – an herbal oil that HSI Panelist Jon Barron helped develop. You can use the link below for more information about Immediate Relief.

One word of caution, however: I found a source that claims arnica can stimulate blood circulation and may raise blood pressure. So to be absolutely safe, check with your doctor before using any arnica product. And, just to be extra safe, check with him before picking up a basketball for the first time in 15 years, too.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


“New Study Supports Use of Arnica to Reduce Brusing” News From the British Pharmaceutical Conference 2003, 9/15/03,

“Herbal Remedy Secret Uncovered” BBC News, 9/15/03,

“Arnica Found to Contain Potent Anti-Inflammatory Agent”, 9/17/03,

“That’s What You Zinc” Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., Health eTips, 7/14/03,