The People's Perspective on Medicine

Arnica

Arnica extract should generally not be ingested, but it is widely used topically to treat bruises and wounds and speed their healing.

Arnica montana is a perennial flowering plant native to southern Russia and other mountainous areas in Europe.

In Germany, A. montana is a protected species, so the pharmacopoeia there includes the very similar species A. chamissonis. (French and Swiss pharmacopoeias do not permit this substitution.) Vernacular names include leopard’s bane and mountain tobacco. 

There are also North American species of arnica (A. fulgens, A. sororia, A. latifolia, and A. cordifolia). All these species have attractive yellow daisy-like flowers, and all have been used medicinally for centuries. While the Europeans started using arnica back in the sixteenth century for digestive disorders, to reduce fever, and as a topical treatment for skin disorders, Native American groups were experimenting with other uses.

At one time the entire plant, including the rhizome (“root”) was used, but now only the flowers are included in herbal medicines. American settlers used tincture of arnica to soothe sore throats and improve circulation. The German philosopher Goethe is said to have used arnica tea as a remedy for chest pain. Current understanding of the potential toxicity of arnica, especially for the heart, has relegated its modern use to external applications and homeopathic tinctures.

Active Ingredients:

Arnica flowers contain a number of sesquiterpene lactones, with the exact mix and amount of each one varying from one species to another as well as with growing conditions. European standards specify “not less than 0.7 percent m/m of total lactone sesquiterpenes.” The primary ones are helenalin and related compounds. Acetic, isobutyric, and other carboxylic acids have also been identified.

Typically, a number of flavonoids are also present, including isoquercitrin, luteolin, kaempferol, quercitin, and astragalin. The 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.

Uses:

Arnica flowers in ointments, creams, or gels are most commonly used for the topical treatment of bruises and sprains. They have also been recommended for inflammation due to insect bites and for stiff, inflamed joints. Such remedies seem to have a mild anti-inflammatory effect with some ability to relieve pain.

Dermatologists who reviewed the medical literature concluded that there is insufficient evidence that arnica reduces post-surgery redness or swelling (Dermatologic Surgery, April 2016). They urged their colleagues to conduct studies.

In one double-blind trial, it reduced stiffness following a marathon run. Other studies have not demonstrated its superiority to placebo.

Helenalin and dihydrohelenalin have strong antibacterial activity. The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy suggests that arnica flower preparations may be gargled or applied to canker sores or inflamed gums (gingivitis).

One study of people following dental surgery for impacted wisdom teeth did not show any advantage of arnica flower mouthwash, however. The patients using metronidazole healed more rapidly, while those using arnica had greater inflammation and pain than those on placebo.

It is important not to swallow any arnica solution or gel used in the mouth; be sure to split it out and rinse the mouth out with water.

Arnica polysaccharides seem to stimulate the immune system and other constituents keep blood clots from forming. This property may help explain the traditional belief that arnica improves blood flow and heals bruises.

Despite these activities, traditional internal uses of this herb to stimulate the heart or improve blood flow are far too dangerous for a reasonable person to try them.

Dose:

Ointments, gels, or creams containing 5 to 25 percent tincture or extract are applied topically according to directions. For mouth rinse, the tincture is diluted ten times.

Prolonged use is discouraged due to the possibility of developing eczema, edema, or rash.

Special Precautions:

Arnica flower preparations are appropriate for external use only. They should not be applied to open wounds or broken skin. Arnica is a member of the aster family. Anyone allergic to ragweed or other flowers in the family should avoid arnica-containing products.

Arnica itself may trigger allergy or contact dermatitis and should be avoided by anyone who has experienced such a reaction to this plant in the past.

Although external applications might not trigger uterine contractions, pregnant women should not use arnica.

Adverse Effects:

Arnica is considered a poisonous plant. Taken internally, it can cause stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and inflammation of the mucous membranes. At high doses, nervousness, altered pulse, and muscular weakness has been reported. Difficulty breathing may precede cardiac arrest. Deaths have occurred.

Children who have eaten flowers have suffered vomiting, drowsiness, and coma.

Arnica flower extracts have serious toxicity if taken internally. Studies in laboratory animals demonstrated clearly that such preparations harm the heart and significantly raise blood pressure. Animal studies also confirmed arnica’s ability to stimulate uterine contractions. Consequently, pregnant women should avoid using this herb (Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, Sep. 2018). 

Topical arnica preparations can cause contact dermatitis or even eczema in people who are frequently exposed to the plant. One gardener suffered chronic eczema of the hands and face until arnica flowers were identified as the allergen. If rash or swelling occurs on skin that has been exposed to arnica, the preparation should be discontinued immediately.

Possible Interactions:

If arnica were taken internally, in addition to serious side effects, it would possibly interact with the anticoagulant Coumadin because of the herb’s ability to inhibit platelet aggregation.

No interactions with topical arnica preparations have been reported.

Rate this article
star-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-empty
3.2- 29 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Citations
  • Ho D et al, "Is there a role for arnica and bromelain in prevention of post-procedure ecchymosis or edema? A systematic review of the literature." Dermatologic Surgery, April 2016. DOI: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000000701
  • Alonso-Castro AJ et al, "Self-medication practice in pregnant women from central Mexico." Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, Sep. 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsps.2018.03.008
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 31 comments
Comments
Add your comment

I had severe sun sensitivity due to prescription meds for about 10 years. No sunscreen helped, even burned through my clothing and sitting by a window. It was agony. I did research and now am on supplements. One day after taking a prescription water pill and burning I thought what the heck, I’d do anything for relief and put Penetrex arnica cream on my face. Immediately I had relief. A BBQ flare up burned my husbands arms. The arnica cream immediately worked took the pain away and no blisters!! My daughter was scalded with boiling water it stopped the pain although she needed another application in two hours for pain it worked, there was no redness and no blistering. We keep this in our emergency kits. It also works for my varicose veins and knee pain. The company absolutely guarantees money back if you don’t like it and even if you’ve used it all.

I have been using arnica gel for knee pain for a few months now, and get as much (if not more) relief as when I use a name-brand gel. I usually apply it twice a day. Also use it on one ankle/foot before bed for mild arthritis and wake with no pain or stiffness. The gel I use is made in France and one 4oz. tube lasts 1-2 months (I don’t need to use as much as I do with Voltaren). So far, no problems with rash or any allergic reactions. I am a 70 y.o. woman.

I used A product called Arnicaeze on my tennis elbow and forearm but developed a nasty rash with Red bumps. The Dr said it was an allergic reaction to it or contact Ezma

I am interested in knowing the effects of drinking Arnica Tea. I have a granddaughter that may have Myositis.

I used arnica 200 tablet for two days before exploratory operation where they also took sample because of huge fibroid wrapped around my womb yesterday.. I was told I would feel uncomfortable for several days and was sent home with pain killers. Came out of hospital and only felt uncomfortable for just half an hour and then was fine. I will be using this again when I go for hysterectomy on 1st July. Amazing, well done makers of arnica!,

forgot to mention the severe headache that lasted for 2 days straight!

Had a lot of side effects, severe headache, burning in stomach hot burning under skin, hands & feet beet red & hives, raised blood pressure, heart palpitations. Put ice on feet & hands after I washed back & legs off with warm water. Up all night & afraid to go to sleep. how long does this take to get out of your body? Also feel like I am going to vomit, a lot of nausea. Have been drinking a lot of water hope it would flush it out. Am a74 yr. old woman with heart problems so have been very scared.
Did help fibromyalgia pain but not worth the risk of wondering if I was going to stop breathing. Would never recommend this. Very scary stuff. Been 8 hrs. Since this arnicare cream was put on.. should have looked side effects before I applied it. Have used tiger balm & various other creams with no side effects so thought since this was holistic it would be better. HUGE MISTAKE!!!!

Yeah, that sounds like a migraine. Please stop with the diagnosing of your family members. You are not a qualified professional. There are doctor-approved treatments for migraines. Someone could have MS or Lyme disease, or even meningitis, you can’t treat your family members yourself, because these things get so much worse without being under the doctor’s care.

How can you make the infusion ? Should you use alcohol or oil?

arnica is used in Peru too, but only in cream and it works very good in muscle pain.

Hi, my husband plays indoor soccer & was hit really hard on one side of his stomach, I think he was elbowed in. & he is in a lot of pain. & someone recommended arnica tea, & he drank one cup, but now he is in more pain, Help, what should I do for him. Thanks & God Bless.

I am making an external Arnica Coconut salve for sore muscles and the recipe calls for 0.6 oz of dried Arnica to steep in the Coconut oil for 24-48 hrs. before being strained off. Can I substitute Arnica oil instead to replace this step? If so, what amount of Arnica oil would be used?

I have been using a topical arnica gel for several years and swear by it. I bought arnica pellets last week, however, and had a scary episode after taking them this morning (second time I’ve taken the recommended dose). It was like the reaction I have to morphine — a burning under my skin (that’s how it feels) that radiated through my head, chest and arms… it even moved into my throat and has left me hoarse for the time being (I took a benadryl and it did get better quickly). So, I’m wondering if this is an allergic reaction to the arnica, or are there are known interactions possible with other herbs/supplements that I may be taking? Is there any relationship between arnica and morphine?

I am a massage therapist and have been using cream with arnica in it for the past year. I suddenly had an allergic reaction to it all over my hands. Painful red bumps

So I have recently been drinking Arnica Tea and so far nothing has happened
It has been something my family drinks for muscle pains, cramps, inflammation, and headaches.
The way I prepare it is:
Take 2 spoonfulls of the arnica in a regular sized pot of water
There should be a lot more water then Arnica
Then let it boil and strain it so the flower doesn’t get into the tea
I drink a cup in the morning and before I go to sleep and it’s help me a lot with my muscle pains and joint pains after at least 2 days of drinking!

My husband has digenerative disc disease and was using Icy Hot patches for some time. When he switched to Arnica, he received relief from the constant pain. However, he has developed a rash and now has to discontinue use. Is there any treatment for the rash, and once it is healed, could Arnica be used maybe less often, or is the rash an indicator of an allergic reaction to the plant?

Is Arnica safe on children? I am interested in trying it on my daughter’s chronic eczema.
I am trying to get away from steroids and petroleum based products and a friend told me to check into arnica. My daughter is allergic to peanuts and treenuts (including coconut), so any oils containing nuts are out.
Thanks for any advice.
People’s Pharmacy response: Be sure to read the ingredients list on any lotion you use, since some do have peanut oil.

Any time there is Arnica Tea it is usually used to make a poultice on the outside of the body and not to be used on broken skin. Some people do use it but only diluted hundreds of times and then only a tsp. at a time. The Arnica montana (not the state of Montana) is the one most people would use as the true Arnica. If you take it internally it can cause heart palpitations and death. You have to be VERY careful with this. It does make a wonderful muscle pain medicine when applied to the skin. Some people are allergic and can get hives. I just tried a spray a couple days ago and there were other ingredients in it, as well. It was the first ingredient. The combination of ingredients made me sleep like a baby.
I did hear of a lady in Austria that used the Arnica montana as a tea every day, just a little bit in the tea, and she lived to be 110. (I submitted that info. on another post.) I would use a very diluted version if I would do that at all. IT IS DANGEROUS…don’t take without doctors orders.

‘The lady in Austria’ MIGHT lived to be 120 but for drinking the arnica tea.

I’ve got very bad psoriasis on my feet and fingers — during the winter, they both crack open into a series of very painful fissures and ragged projections. The only thing that has kept them under control at least partially is a 12% lactic acid solution.
But several months ago, I picked up an OTC herbal product, Zim’s Crack Creme, which says it uses arnica flower (and something called myrcia), just to see what it does. After substituting this off and on for my lactic acid lotion over the past year, I can report that this arnica treatment seems to work in some ways better — it heals the cracks not quite as well as the lactic acid lotion, but it makes my fingers feel much smoother (the lactic acid lotion never quite gets all of the tiny ragged bits of skin to settle down like this does).
So far, no ill effects. So I find arnica very effective for a purpose that isn’t mentioned here or in any other source I find — healing dry psoriatic skin (especially when alternated with a 12% lactic acid lotion).
The Zim’s website claims that their product was developed by a pharmacist in Austintown, OH: “Local cement workers frequently visited the pharmacy, complaining of dry, cracked skin; the cement business took its toll on the workers’ hands and feet. The pharmacist saw a need, and began developing an all-natural, herbal-based liquid formula designed to help the cement workers. This formula became what was called ‘Cement Workers’ Lotion’.”

How is the strength of arnica determined? Or, what tests are available to test my homemade arnica tea?

I’ve been taking arnica tablets. Are they safe?
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: PROBABLY NOT. ARNICA IS NOT TO BE TAKEN ORALLY, BUT ONLY USED TOPICALLY.

Has anyone made an arnica and alcohol solution to be used for tightening horses legs? I needed the ratio of arnica flowers to alcohol. I’d be grateful for any input.

On Sat. I tripped over a hose in the garden while throwing a ball for my puppy. I landed hard on the ground, catching myself on both palms. Immediately swelling & bleeding beneath the skin started. I came in the house & applied ice for 15 min. then rubbed in arnica to both hands. The swelling went down, the pain left, even though the dark discoloration is still present.

Arnica is a standard in our home first aid kit. We use it for muscle strains and bruises. We would not be without it.

Bromelain also works well with Arnica montana. One product that contains both Arnica and Bromelain in an ointment form is Bruise-Stick.

I bought my husband Arnica Gel for muscle aches and pains, because he is allergic to Ben-gay and other similar skin topicals. Works great for him.
We live in a Mosquito infested area, he applies the gel to the bitten area and immediately the pain subsides.

Kim,
From what I’ve read, Arnica will not affect the INR when used topically. However other topical products are also available for pain like lidocaine.
Ice works well too … and it’s natural.
Tylenol, diflunisal, salsalate, tramadol and choline magnesium salicylate have less effect on platelets than other medications and might be useful.
Topical NSAIDs might be a better option than oral medications that are more likely to affect INR.

My husband is on coumadin for 2 prosthetic valves. Had cardiac ablation Tuesday and cath site is very bruised and tender. Considering using topical arnica around cath site for pain and swelling relief. Will topical arnica gel significantly interfere with activity of coumadin or the INR/PT?

Arnica worked well, I recommend it

I purchased a small pack of Arnica Flower from a grocery store. On the pack it reads “good for your health.” In the article above, it warns of many reasons not to use Arnica Flower. I purchased the Arnica to drink as a tea. The heading of this website is entitled Arnica tea. Can I safely drink a cup of Arnica tea without threat of death, or any other health hazard?
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: DON’T DRINK ARNICA. IT IS OK TOPICALLY BUT NOT SAFE FOR INTERNAL CONSUMPTION.
https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2005/09/04/arnica/

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^