by Susan Teitelman
Arnica season is here! There are many different species of arnica; in our region of the Western Rockies, we typically come across the species Arnica montana. Arnica is in the sunflower family (Asteraceae) – note the classic sunflower look in the photo above! The plant prefers partly shady spots in mountainous areas, and it thrives at a range of elevations across the mountain west. Its bright yellow inflorescence can be spotted covering the hills around the Missoula valley in May and June. The flowering tops may be collected during this time and used for medicine.
Arnica has several constituents (chemical compounds that comprise a plant) including inulin, tannins, acids, sugars, and essential oils. Some constituents are specific to arnica — arnicolide, arnidiol, arnifolin, arnisterol — which contribute to this plant’s uniqueness! For an exhaustive list of plant constituents, we recommend the book Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore.
Medicinally, arnica is particularly beneficial as a first aid plant. The plant can help reduce inflammation from injuries, and is commonly used for sprains, strains, and bruising. It may be used topically as an oil, salve, liniment, or tincture. It can also be used internally as a homeopathic remedy. Arnica can help to stimulate circulation, reduce pain, and decrease inflammation. It is effective when used post-trauma to decrease bruising; it may also be applied topically to decrease swelling or stiffness in muscles and joints.* It can also be combined with other anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving herbs.
When picking arnica to be used for medicine making, remember to practice ethical harvesting! That means taking only what you need, avoiding depleting the plant population in any given area, harvesting from an unpolluted and bountiful area, and treading lightly in the place where you are harvesting. You can also practice being a steward of the land by spreading some of the arnica seeds (which puff up like dandelion seeds) to promote plant propagation and survival. Ultimately, it is important to be mindful and respectful of your surrounding environment when deciding where to wildcraft.
At Meadowsweet, our wildcrafters practice these principles, which means we receive fresh, healthy, sustainably sourced plants that we then turn into medicine! Here at the shop, we’ve been processing arnica for the last month. The last batch we harvested was accompanied by yellow spiders that matched the color of the flowers! We did our best to save and free our spider friends as we infused the flowers into organic olive oil or alcohol. These infusions are then used as the main ingredient for some of our salves, liniments, and massage oils.
Check out Meadowsweet products made with arnica! We offer Arnica Infused Oil, Arnica & St. John’s Wort Liniment, Black & Blue Roller, Tree Massage Oil, and our Tree Salve. You can also make your own Arnica and St. John’s Wort salve with our DIY salve kit! Come into the shop, give us a call, or find selected products on our website!
To learn more about arnica and other medicinal plants of the West, take a look at some of our favorite regional plant ID books: Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West (Michael Moore), Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West (Gregory Tilford), and Botany in a Day (Thomas Elpel). You can also plant your own seeds and grow arnica yourself!
*Arnica has a few contraindications: It should not be used externally on open wounds or for long periods of time, and it should be discontinued if skin redness occurs. Arnica should only be used internally (aside from homeopathic arnica) under the supervision of a trained, professional herbalist. Arnica is also contraindicated during pregnancy. Please also note that all of the above information is intended for educational purposes only. It has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.