Arnica is a native plant of Europe but was imported to
America, where it now grows wild, particularly in moist soil
conditions in mountains and valleys, at elevations ranging
from 3,500 to 10,000 feet. It resembles many other members of
the Composite family, with yellow range sunflower-like
blossoms that bloom from April through September.
Preparations of arnica were listed in the United States
Pharmacopoeia (the official listing of approved drugs in the
U.S.) from the early 1800s to 1960.
Two common names for
arnica are mountain tobacco and leopard’s bane, the latter a
reference to the herb’s toxicity to some beasts. It can be
fatal to humans if taken internally, so all of the safe
preparations containing arnica are intended for external
use only .
There are three ways to use arnica topically:
in a fluid extract, as a tea bath and as an ointment. To
prepare a fluid extract, measure out six ounces of powdered
arnica flowers, available from herbal suppliers or at some
health food stores, and add to a glass jar containing eight
ounces of grain alcohol, which can be purchased from any
distributor of alcoholic beverages. It should be 90% strength
(180 proof). Mix well by stirring constantly for about ten
minutes, screw a cap on the jar and allow the mixture to set
overnight. This allows the arnica flowers to dissolve more
completely in the alcohol. The next day, strain the mixture
using cheesecloth as a filter. Bottle the resulting fluid and
label. While this is not a pharmaceutical grade tincture of
arnica, it is very effective as a preparation for taking the
extreme soreness out of bruises.
An arnica tea may be made in
even simpler fashion by placing a tablespoon of the powdered
arnica flowers in a cup of boiling water and allowing it to
steep for ten minutes. Use a cheese cloth to filter the
undissolved powder; the remaining warm solution of arnica tea
may be applied to the bruised area. An arnica ointment is
also available for purchase at many herbal outlets and
natural food stores.
Calendula, or marigold, is a common annual found in many
backyard flower gardens. But even those familiar with this
plant may not know of its age-old reputation as a healing
agent for bruises. In fact, its use among Native Americans
dates back several centuries.
Like arnica, calendula is
intended for external use only and should not be swallowed.
It can be used in various forms as a fluid extract, tea
bath, oil or ointment. Each form has its advantages,
depending on the type of bruise or injury and your
preferred mode of administration.
You can make a homemade
fluid extract of calendula by using six ounces of dried
marigold flower petals to eight ounces of 180-proof grain
alcohol. Follow the same procedure described for the arnica
A calendula tea bath can also be made in
similar fashion to the arnica tea bath and applied as a
warm solution to bruises as needed.
The ointment and oil
forms can be purchased from herbal stores. Calendula
ointment has the advantage of being easy to apply. Plus,
not only does it take the soreness out of bruises, it also
penetrates through skin layers to start the healing
While calendula oil similarly possesses healing
emollients, it doesn’t always have the staying power of the
ointment, which tends to stick to the skin better. However,
you can use calendula oil as a topical skin treatment just
as you would the ointment. And because it is a liquid, you
can pour it into cuts that can’t handle the rubbing
friction that necessarily comes with applying an ointment.
Some of the commercially made preparations use a
combination base that includes mineral oil.
Dr. Dickson is the author of the book,
Investigations in Pharmaceutical and Biological Chemistry
(CRC Press, 1998).