Joint pain and stiffness associated with arthritis may trigger a call to the doctor or a run to the medicine cabinet for traditional drug therapy. Some arthritis sufferers, however, have found relief from their joint pain by adding herbal treatments to their anti-arthritis regimens.
Herbal arthritis therapies are either taken orally or applied externally as topical treatments to affected joints. Below are some of the herbs thought to combat the pain, stiffness and inflammation caused by arthritis, along with some information about how each herb is used and, where appropriate, tips on how to grow and prepare these alternative treatments.
Arnica Montana is an anti-inflammatory herb best used in topical ointments to prevent joint pain and swelling.
Arnica is a hardy plant that can tolerate cold temperatures after it germinates. Grow it from seeds indoors in the spring, and transplant seedlings outdoors in May or June in a spot that will receive bright, indirect sunlight. Keep the arnica’s soil moist, and by late summer, you will have flowers to pick, dry and crush for inclusion in a homemade ointment. You might make an arnica ointment with a grape seed, almond or avocado oil base, or use light extra virgin olive oil.
Borage Oil, made from the seeds of the borage or starflower plant, is a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid, a beneficial Omega-6 fatty acid that can reduce swelling and tenderness in inflamed joints. It is ingested either in capsule form or as a liquid. Raw or cooked leaves from the borage plant can also be eaten or steeped in teas.
Arthritis sufferers will not likely want to press their own oil, but the borage plant with its star-shaped blue flowers can be grown in fine, moist, rich soil that receives partial sun. Seeds must be sown following spring’s last frost. Healthy plants in mild climates will self-seed from year to year and in fact may grow so well that they’ll overtake your garden without regular clearing.
Frankincense, also called boswellia owed to the name of the tree from which it is tapped, can be ingested or applied topically and may reduce morning stiffness and increase mobility. It is thought to have important cartilage-protecting properties.
A boswellia tree might take eight to 10 years of growth before it produces acceptable Frankincense, so arthritis suffers will want to look for high-quality supplements and prepared lotions or creams for more immediate use and relief.
Ginger is a natural pain reliever, antioxidant and circulation stimulant. It can be used in cooking and makes a soothing, fragrant tea. Some arthritis sufferers prefer to soak in a ginger bath for all-over detoxification and pain relief.
Ginger is native to tropical climates, but it can grow in cooler, dryer climates if it is protected from frost, wind and direct sunlight. A candidate for indoor pot-planting, ginger can be grown from store-bought plants if they have buds, or “eyes,” on them. Keep the ginger pot warm and the soil moist and fertilized.
Turmeric, specifically the curcumin extracted from it, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce a patient’s reliance on ibuprofen for pain control. A popular cooking spice in Asian and Indian cuisines, as a supplement it is usually taken in capsule form but is easy to incorporate into your own cooking. Curried dishes prominently feature turmeric, and a little known fact is that ordinary table mustard’s bright yellow color comes from turmeric.
Turmeric only grows in moist, hot climates and must get maximum light and heat from the sun. It can successfully be grown in a heated greenhouse, however, starting with fresh turmeric roots that are sometimes available in health food stores or Asian specialty shops.
Wintergreen leaves and the oils derived from them contain properties that alleviate pain, remove toxins and control spasms when used in topical treatments.
First used for pain relief by Native Americans, wintergreen grows best in the semi-shade, tolerates cold and drought well, and is evergreen once established. It does, however, need extra protection from frost during its first few years. Mature leaves and stems are dried in the shade and can be used in arnica-infused oil, either as an addition or a replacement.
Arthritis sufferers should always discuss the use of herbal arthritis treatments with their physicians, due to possible interactions with traditionally prescribed medications and the rare, but still possible, side effects some herbs may cause.