An Herbal Interlude With Arnica

Heart Leaved Arnica


Botanical Names

Arnica cordifolia, A. chamissonis, A. montana, and others

More years ago than I can count, Arnica was one of the first plants I learned to identify in the high country or Colorado.  It’s still one of my favorites.  During my traveling years, I always made a point to make a Colorado stop in July to harvest Arnica.  Then, in South Dakota, a large patch was planted in the garden.  Not a huge patch, but enough for the needs of Wonderment Gardens. 

Why, you may ask, did I go to all those lengths for fresh Arnica.  Well, if you’ve taken the time to harvest your own medicinals, you already know.  When plants are harvested at the the right time and in the right place they are at their peak medicinally.  Then, when you have the plants consent to be made into medicine, it’s always better medicine.  If the plant says no, I move on.  Wild crafting only the plants that are agreeable.  

Adding to time, place and agreement is the way the plant is handled and prepared.  Doing the cutting, drying, infusing or tincturing myself guarantees a quality preparation.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve purchased some pretty sad medicinals before.  Probably harvested by folks that didn’t really understand and respect each plant as a living soul.  

Anyway, enough ranting.  On with Arnica!

Family - Asteraceae

Common Names

Heart-Leaved Arnica, Mountain Arnica, Leopard’s Bane, Mountain Daisy, Wolf’s Bane

Description of Arnica Plants

Several different varieties of Arnica can be found throughout the world. Of these Heart-Leafed Arnica, Arnica cordifolia is probably the most common in the western United States. With Arnica montana a close second.  Especially in the high mountain areas.

These pretty yellow flowered plants are often grow on the edge of the forest.  Ranging from the high mountains to around 4,000 feet.  They like the loamy soils of tall spruce and pin forests.    See the map below for the growing range reported by the USDA.

Arnica ointment

Arnica plants grow from 1 to 2 feet tall.  Solitary yellow composite flowers shoot from a single stalk. The flowers are a standard yellow daisy like blossom.  Kind of a cross between a small sunflower and a dandelion. The leaves are soft, with light almost unnoticeable hairs.  The leaves are opposite and  heartshaped.       

Parts Used

The entire plant may be harvested in flower, root and all.

The flowers are usually sold, or received, when purchasing arnica through online herb houses or other forms of standard comerce.  I’ve only come across one commercial supplier who sells the whole plant.  However, Pacific Botanicals is more of a farm than a commercial herb house.  Check them out at

Arnica Growing in US

Primary Chemical Constituents

The herb contains a bitter, yellow, crystalline principle, Arnicin.  Along with volatile oil, tannin and phulin. Arnica flowers contain a number of sesquiterpene lactones, including helenalin and related compounds as well as acetic, isobutyric, and other carboxylic acids. A number of flavonoids have been identified including isoquercitrin, luteolin, kaempferol, quercitin, and astragalin. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids tussilagine and isotussilagine may pose a risk of hepatotoxicity.
The flowers also contain caffeic acid and its derivatives and an essential oil containing fatty acids, carotenoids, and thymol derivatives, along with the coumarins umbelliferone and scopoletin.

Medicinal Properties of Arnica

Analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-microbial, stimulant, gastro stimulant, and immunostimulant.

Energetically, Arnica is hot and dry.

Commonly Used Preparations - How to use Arnica

Salves and Ointments

Arnica ointment or salve is probably the most common and well known preparation.  Plus, you can find it in most stores.  Even those that don’t specialize in natural products. 

Tinctures and Liniments

Tinctures and Liniments are both alcohol extracts.  Arnica tincture is made with 100% alcohol.  The liniment is made in a similar way with 92% isopropyl alcohol.  To tell you the truth.  I no longer make a true liniment, preferring instead to use my tincture as a liniment.  (diluted to 50%).  That way I get all the goodness and bruise fighting pain relief without the horrible smell of rubbing alcohol.

Arnica Flowers in US

Infused Oil

At Wonderment Gardens we us a lot of Arnica infused oil.  I suppose you could purchase Arnica essential oil, but why?  The plant gathered and infused in the first year will make highly effective and potent infused oil.   The infused oil is then made into varies products or used on its own.

Click Here to find out more about herbal infused oils and how to use them.

Homeopathic Arnica

Homeopathic remedies are prepared in a special way.  Each plant extract is diluted many times to create a product that contains only its energetic essence.  In this way only very small amounts are used.  Yet, the medicinal value can be very powerful.  Homeopathic Arnica is very popular for treating muscular pain and discomfort caused by overexertion and trauma.  And it is available at most stores that carry homeopathic remedies.  I like Boiron Arnica montana from Botainic Choice.

Medicinal Uses for Arnica

Arnica, however you use it, is primarily an external remedy.  When applied to the skin, the plant has a heating energy that warms, increasing circulation and acting as a counter irritant to decrease pain.  At the same time the plant works to dry excess moisture, and helps relieve inflammation.   

External application and homeopathic preparations are frequently used for the kind of discomfort associated with overexertion and advanced stages of disease.  For example, Arnica is effective on bruises, pain from repetitive motion, sprains, strains, broken bones, tendinitis, arthritis and more. Specifically indicated where there is soreness or pain upon movement.  When heat helps, try arnica.  If cold helps use something else.

Homeopathic Arnica is safe and can be purchased in most holistic health stores.  Boiron offers a quality Arnica homopathic made with Arnica montana.  I get mine from Botanic Choice.  Homeopathic Arnica is taken by dissolving 3 to 5 pellets under the tongue 2 or 3 times per day.   Indicated to help;

  • Temporarily relieve muscle pain and stiffness due to minor injuries, overexertion and falls
  • Reduce pain, swelling and discoloration from bruises

Other than homeopathic applications, Arnica should be used internally with caution.   This herb is very warming.  The tea taken internally burns the digestive mucosa.  However, as an irritant, Arnica works through the immune system. It’s a strong vasodilator and cardiovascular stimulant helping to counteract adrenalin, keeping the blood supply in the main organs and body rather than rushing out into the limbs. Use only 3 to 10 drops of the tincture in water as first aid after rough and tumble events such as falling off your motorcycle or losing a boxing match. You get the idea; I’m talking about the kind of event that will produce bruises and strains but nothing serious. Arnica increases immune response by stimulating microphage (white blood cell) activity. A few drops of the tincture taken in water or added to other herbs immune-boosting effects. 

Internally, Arnica Should always be used with Caution and Respect.  Use only 1 to 10 drops in water.  And only when needed 2x or so per day.


Preparation Methods and Suggested Dosages

The fresh plant tincture is made by stuffing as much fresh Arnica (whole plant, root and all) into a quart canning jar as will fit.  Then fill it with 100% ethanol alcohol (like everclear).  Next, shake it every day for a minimum of 2 weeks. Finally strain, separating the alcohol from the herbs.  I like to strain mine twice for a clearer product.  Discard the used herb.  Use the alcohol as a liniment or as a tincture taken as discussed above. Remember less is always more when using herbs. Start with a little and build up to more if needed.
Dry the flowers and whole plant for use in herbal oils, salves and ointments.

Contra-indications and Drug Interactions

Large amounts taken internally can cause death. The tea when taken internally may cause burning of the digestive mucosa. Over use, or using too much arnica internally can cause acid indigestion, vomiting, heart palpitations, burning mucosa, headache, and tremors.
Ask your Doctor if it’s right for you if you’re pregnant of breastfeeding. Arnica should not be used on small children or infants.

Blue cohosh tincture

Following are some of the Arnica Products handcrafted by Wonderment Gardens.  Click the links below to browse our selection.


Peoples Pharmacy
Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, revised and expanded edition, Santa Fe, NM; Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003
University of Maryland Medical Center


The statements and ideas presented here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. They have not been evaluated by the FDA. All ideas presented are for the sole purpose of education. To help you take control of your own health. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. We suggest that you always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

Herbs taken for health purposes should be treated with the same care as medicine. Herbal remedies are no substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are serious about good health, you’ll want to combine diet, exercise, herbals, a good relationship with your doctor and a generally healthy lifestyle. No one of these will do it alone.

This information is designed to be used as part of a complete health plan. No products are intended to replace your doctor’s care, or to supersede any of his/her advice or prescriptions.

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