Sunday, January 5, 2014

bones' apothecary: arnica

Names that I know of: arnica, arnica montana, leopard's bane, mountain tobacco

I've been using arnica to help with the nerve pain I get in my right wrist. The cause of the pain is similar to  carpal tunnel, combined with arthritis. A Wise Woman I am friends with recommended arnica - one teaspoon in a mug of hot water, like tea, no more than once a day - and it has been working remarkably well. So of course I had to research it a bit.

If you look up arnica on google, you'll come across a lot of warnings about taking it internally, typically with a caveat that it's ok to take the "homeopathic" versions of the plant, which "have no detectable amount of the plant in them and are generally considered safe for internal use when taken according to the directions on the label."

Well, if there's no detectable amount of the herb, then what you're taking is essentially a placebo. At least that's how I figure it. ...I'm not even going to get into placebos right here and now.

So anyway, the available online resources say not to take it internally. The adverse effects that one should expect, if one were to take arnica internally, are harder to find than the warnings. A common refrain goes something like this: "Since arnica is an unproven treatment, there is no clear advice on how to use it. Given its risks, talk to a doctor or pharmacist before taking arnica orally." That is not terribly helpful. Somewhere - I can't find it now, sorry - there was an article which mentioned gastrointestinal distress as a side effect of arnica; I imagine that's part of the toxicity to be wary of, but I have nothing to verify that.

So anyway, here's what I do: I put one dried flower head (which is about a teaspoon's worth) into a tea infuser, and put that in a mug of hot water (just below boiling temperature) and let it steep for a few minutes. Then I take the infuser out, let the water cool a few more minutes, and chug the whole thing.

It doesn't have much of a flavor. Just tastes like someone put a daisy in my water, which isn't a bad flavor, but it isn't good either. I don't think I'd bother trying to make this taste good. It's easier to just drink it quickly.

It might be better to go the recommended route and use arnica externally, directly on the site of injury. Here's a couple salve recipes I found for that sort of thing:



Please don't construe anything I say here as medical advice. I'm totally unqualified for that sort of work. 

image is from "A Modern Herbal"

UPDATE (added 15 May 2014) - through trial and error, I've discovered that for myself and a few of my bravest friends, arnica does not help for pain related to muscle damage, but does help for pain related to nerve damage.


A Modern Herbal website (information is from the early 1900s)

Mountain Rose Herb Co. (a supplier)

PubMed articles (actual scientific studies)


Okay, I just couldn't leave it alone. So here ya go - the homeopathy controversy, in my opinion.

I found an article (a proponent of homeopathy) that summarized their view of the controversy this way: 

  • "Homeopathic medicines are diluted to such a degree that skeptics claim the small doses are merely placebos. They argue that, in theory, it is impossible for them to have any therapeutic effect because it cannot be explained how they work. Experienced homeopathic practitioners and patients make the counter-claim that they actually work in practice."

I'm going to ignore the obvious bias, since the author clearly intended to be persuasive, and go straight explaining why I think his "argument" is crap, and why it's analogous to creationists who say evolution is "just a theory." 

The most important bit here is that placebos work in practice. They also work in theory
While I just stumbled on this argument this morning, in my search for information on arnica, I can say with complete confidence that no scientist worth their salt would say it's impossible for something to work simply because we don't understand it. Science is, in fact, the pursuit of understanding the things we cannot explain. Placebos are one of those things that we know work (at least sometimes, and at least for some people), but we have lots of competing theories on why they work. Kinda like how we know evolution works, but we're still figuring out all the different mechanisms and applications. 

I would argue - with the article cited above - that it is impossible for the herb in any given homeopathic medication to work, because there is no detectable amount of the herb in the medication! So sure, the medication might work, but it's not the herb doing it. It's something else. The solution perhaps? The placebo effect? Both? No idea. But it's not the herb, because the herb isn't there. 

So, Larry Malerba, D.O., I think you're full of poo. And I think that you - and anyone who spouts this poo - is doing actual herbalists and their seekers a serious disservice. 

And I'm done here. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Oh hey! Are you looking for me?

I'll be right back.
Doing some annual blog-rededication.
Should be done later today.
See you soon!