There are at least 100 plants that contain phytochemicals with anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. Unlike non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or non-opioid analgesics, herbal therapies are often better tolerated and present less risk of side effects or the risk of kidney or liver damage. Here's a sampling of the some of the most effective and best studied herbs to naturally help ease pain and inflammation.
Arnica (Arnica montana), pictured above, is a member of the daisy and sunflower family that is also known as mountain tobacco and wolf's bane (not to be confused with aconite (monkshood), a highly toxic plant also known by these common names. For centuries, this herb has been used for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory actions, which are primarily owing to the presence of thymol and helenalin. However, because the latter is a toxic sesquiterpene lactone, the use of arnica is limited to topical applications. It is also advisable to restrict topical use to closed wounds to avoid potential absorption.
The chemical compounds in arnica act as vasodilators , meaning they dilate blood vessels and draw increased blood flow to the site, transporting beneficial wound-repairing hormones at the same time. This activity helps to move out stagnant, pooled blood, which is essentially what bruising is.
It addition to bruises, arnica may be used to speed healing and to bring pain relief to sore muscles, sprains, and even aching joints from arthritis -- anywhere pain and swelling occurs. The herb is applied as an infused oil or as a cream. Homeopathic therapies are also available.
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) is a resin obtained from the Boswellia serrata tree. Also known as Indian Frankincense and Salai guggul, boswellia contains a number of acids with potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. It is taken in capsule or tablet form, standardized to contain up to 65% boswellic acids.
Devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a member of the sesame family that is native to southern Africa. Also known as wood spider and grapple plant, devil's claw gets its common name from the claw-like hooks on its fruit. The tuberous roots of the plant contain two anti-inflammatory and analgesic iridoid glycosides called harpagide and harpagoside. Devil's claw is taken as a tintcure or prepared as tea. The dried, ground herb may also be encapsulated. Caution: This herb is not suitable for children or pregnant or nursing women. This herb may also increase the effects of anticoagulant medications. Avoid use if you have a history of gastrointestinal, liver or kidney disease.
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is recommended by the Arthritis Foundation as a natural therapy for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The leaves of the plant contain a class of antioxidants called polyphenols that decrease inflammation and prevent the breakdown of cartilage. Green tea is also abundant in epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a compound that inhibits the release of inflammatory molecules that impair joint function in rheumatoid arthritis.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) contains more than 30 anti-inflammatory compounds. One of the most notable and best studied is carvacrol, which has been shown to reduce a number of inflammatory markers seen in people with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. One study indicates that this substance activates heat shock proteins (HSP) and stimulates an increased response of T cells to block inflammation and damage caused by autoimmune conditions, such as arthritis and bowel disease. One paper published in Phytotherapy Research stated that oil of oregano is comparable to morphine in terms of pain relief, and is in some cases more effective than conventional pain and anti-inflammatory drugs.
White willow bark (Salix alba) contains apigenin, salicin and salicylic acid, which collectively offer anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-neuralgic properties. The German chemist Felix Hoffmann is credited with first isolating salicin in 1828. A little more than 70 years later, the Bayer company began producing acetylsalicylic acid, the precursor to modern aspirin. Caution: This herb is not suitable for children due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome. This herb may also increase the effects of anticoagulant medications. Avoid use if you have a history of a bleeding disorder, stomach ulcers or liver or kidney disease.