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Herbal Spotlight: Arnica
By Rachel Laase, Herbal Enthusiast

Arnica blossoms

Arnica blooms from May to early fall

With the days warming up and a mosaic of colors covering the hillsides as the wildflowers bloom, morning walks are one of my favorite ways to start the day, allowing me to observe which plants are blooming and to keep track of peak foraging harvest times. On a recent walk, I stumbled upon a cluster of wild Arnica Montana, also known as 'Wolf's Bane', which is part of the Asteraceae family. It was a delightful discovery since my muscles have been a bit sore from the tasks of maintaining the garden beds and double-digging.

This herbal ally is best known for its bright yellow flower, which starts to bloom in May and continues into fall. It is used in herbal oils and creams to help heal bruises, sprains or muscle and joint pain because of its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antiseptic properties. Arnica is an herbaceous perennial that can get up to 2 ft tall and 1 ft wide and is fairly easy to grow since it can thrive in poor soil conditions. Once flowering, the blossoms can be harvested when fully open and then dried and stored in a cool dark place for use later.

Arnica is typically used as an external remedy and is considered to be toxic if taken internally. Gels and ointments containing arnica are available as over-the-counter applications in most pharmacies; however they contain petroleum, preservatives, and other ingredients that can easily be avoided by making your own arnica salve with homegrown or store-bought flowers. My favorite way to utilize its medicine is to make a simple infused oil or salve. Here is a straightforward recipe for both:

First make an arnica infused oil. To do this, fill a pint jar 1/3 of the way with dried arnica flowers. Fill the jar with a carrier oil of your choice, such as olive, almond, sesame, etc. Cover the top of the jar, and let it sit in a warm, sunny location for four to six weeks. Strain the plant material from the infused oil. Compost the spent flowers, and your oil is ready to use.

To make the salve, measure infused arnica oil and beeswax in a 4:1 ratio. For example, if you use one cup of oil, add 1/4 cup beeswax. Place the oil and beeswax in a double boiler and heat gently until the beeswax is thoroughly melted. Pour the mixture into tin cans or small jars, and let cool completely before using. Label, date and store in a cool place.

For bruises or sore muscles, gently rub a small amount into the affected area. Repeat as needed, three times a day.

NOTE: The content in this article is meant to inform, not to diagnose or treat any ailment. Always use common sense, and consult with your healthcare provider before attempting to treat yourself or others.

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