Arnica Montana, also called heart-leaf Arnica, is the trauma medicine of choice for herbalists and homeopaths alike. This bright yellow flower prefers high altitudes (above 8,000 feet) and well drained soil in partial sunlight. Every June, the entire North-facing hillside behind our cabin in the Rocky Mountains is a golden blanket of Arnica blossoms – more than I know what to do with!
Arnica is used externally in a “material” (meaning non-homeopathic) dose in oils, ointments, liniments and salves. The keyword here is trauma of any kind. How often have you been out for a hike in the mountains and accidentally twisted your ankle, caught your body weight falling on your wrists, or pulled a muscle strapping on a heavy backpack? If you are fortunate enough to be near an arnica patch, a quick poultice of some leaves and blossoms is as good as any topical analgesic for swelling reduction, tissue repair and pain relief. Do not apply arnica to broken or hypersensitive skin. In the case of a bleeding scrape, for example, the area where the skin is broken may be poultice with comfrey (preferred when available) or mullein while using arnica for the area around the wound to minimize swelling and pain.
Most of the herbalists I talk with about Arnica prefer to harvest and make their preparations using just the flower. Professional Homeopathic Pharmacies, on the other hand, make their “mother tincture” from the whole plant, root and all. I believe in the synergistic power of the whole plant, and also in only wildcrafting what is needed while respecting the delicate wilderness ecology. Arnica roots are interconnected, meaning the patch growing on a hillside is all one organism, many hundreds of blossoms all growing from the same root system. It is advisable, then, to harvest the top part of the plant only to preserve the life of the patch while utilizing the synergistic properties of the arnica leaf, stem and blossom.
Arnica is not generally recommended for internal use unless it is in a homeopathic preparation, meaning it has been serially diluted and sucussed to potentiate its healing properties. However, a “mother tincture” of Arnica is highly effective in cases of hypertension and asthma where the chest is tight and constricted. The essential oils in the arnica plant are toxic in large doses. Therefore, internal use should be limited to 10 drops of tincture a day and taken under professional supervision.
The homeopathic preparation of arnica functions in a similar way, having the same affinity for soft tissue damage, bruising, swelling and heart constriction. For minor surgeries, accidents of any kind from fender benders to a fall down the stairs, and even for the trauma of a sudden surprise or hearing bad news (when Rescue Remedy or Aconite are not indicated or available), I recommend homeopathic arnica 200c up to 10M or higher (depending on the depth of the trauma). Homeopathic arnica has even been known to release physical, emotional and spiritual trauma from many years past in the proper potency.
Buddhists believe that accidents and trauma are not mere coincidence: they are the ripening of our personal Karma, accrued over many countless lifetimes wandering in the cyclic wheel of existence called Samsara. Once one has realized this, every ‘accident’ actually becomes a golden opportunity to pay attention and stop generating more bad Karma. His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama recommends practicing thankfulness for the bumps and bruises we experience every day.
When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength. Thanks to the teachings of Buddha, I have been able to take this second way.
– His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
How can you be grateful for a sprained ankle or a fractured wrist? Instead of succumbing to the knee-jerk reaction of yelling, cursing, becoming angry, looking for someone to blame and generating more bad karma, why not try some Arnica instead? While you are delicately applying a homemade arnica salve to your wounds, try thinking to yourself (in your best Dalai Lama impression), “oh, good! I am so grateful for this opportunity to clear away my past negative karma. This is a good reminder to pay attention in the future.”