Arnica is a member of the Asteraceae (or Compositeae) family along with sunflowers and dandelions. It is a hardy perennial native to the mountains and pasturelands of Central Europe. The green oval-shaped leaves are covered with fine hairs and form a flat rosette. Several leaf stems, also hairy and 1-2 feet in height, rise from the center of the rosette and terminate in yellow ray flowers similar in shape to a daisy. The rays are notched at the tips. These flowers appear in July and are followed by the classic dandelion-type “puff” peculiar to the family. The root is a brown, cylindrical rhizome.
History and Folklore
The word arnica comes from the Greek arnikis which means lamb coat. This may refer to the flower’s furry sepals.
The German name for arnica is Wolfsblume or Wolf Flower. Ancient tradition had it that the spirit of the Corn Wolf wandered among the cornfields adding his strength to the coming harvest. Arnica was placed around the fields to prevent him from escaping before the corn was ready to be harvested. His spirit then entered the final sheaf that was cut and it was later carried to the village in honor. (Note: Corn, in this case, refers to grain in general, not maize specifically.)
Arnica has been wildly popular in Germany for centuries where it claims over 100 medicinal uses for everything from heart disease to anemia. The American variety was used by Native Americans and the early settlers for a variety of uses as well.
Arnica enjoys a well-drained, slightly acidic soil. To increase drainage, if needed, add some sand to the soil. To increase acidity, you can add some peat moss. If using potting soil, mix equal parts sand and peat moss and combine that mix with equal parts potting soil.
You can propagate by root division or by seed. Roots should be divided in the spring, and seeds collected in the fall. Plant as early as you dare in the spring; ideally, start them in a cold frame and set them into the ground in May. This plant requires full sun and does grow well in a pot. It prefers high altitudes.
Arnica is a great addition to a rock garden.
Harvesting & Storage
Collect the flowers as soon as they bloom and hang upside down in a dark place to dry. The root may be collected in the fall after the flowers die down. The root can then be dried in the oven.
To drive away thunderstorms burn arnica and say “Set arnica alight, set arnica alight, thunderstorm take flight.”
Arnica can be used in general protective rituals as well as rituals for the fertility of crops.
Arnica can be planted around an area to keep a spirit from entering or leaving. It will only work until the plant dies back in the fall.
Arnica is topically soothing and aids healing in bruises and sprains and should be applied as quickly as possible after the injury occurs to aid healing. The essential oil can be added to massage oils for use before and after strenuous physical exercise to prevent muscle aches and strains. It is great for muscle aches of all sorts (including PMS) as it reduces inflammation and soothes pain. Arnica actually reduces clotting, however, and does not speed the disappearance of bruises, merely soothes the pain.
It should never be applied to open wounds, rashes or any broken skin. However, a compress of the flowers and roots can be applied in a compress over a bandaged wound to relieve pain and aid in healing. A hot compress can also be applied to aching, arthritic joints and wrists afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome.
A good salve mix for bumps, bruises and sprains is witch hazel, comfrey and arnica.
Some people are allergic to this plant and repeated or continuous use can cause some people to develop an allergy to it. Use with caution and only for first aid purposes. Use something else for daily maintenance.
If you are allergic to any other member of the Compositae family (ragweed, for example) you are probably allergic to arnica! If you allow yourself to develop an allergy to arnica through overuse, you will most likely develop allergies to other members of the Compositae family as well.
Do not take arnica internally. It can cause intestinal irritation, inflames the mucous membranes, and affects blood pressure and heart rate. Even a small amount can kill you or, failing that, cause permanent damage to your heart.
Homeopathic arnica is safe.
Arnica should never be eaten as it is bad for the heart and can cause severe gastrointestinal upset.