White willow bark is one of the oldest home analgesics, dating back to 500 b.c. in China. Modern research confirms old-time wisdom, showing it helps back, osteoarthritic and nerve pains. Willow bark contains apigenin, salicin and salicylic acid, which provide anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-neuralgic actions. At the end of a four-week study of 210 individuals suffering from back pain, reported in the American Journal of Medicine in 2000, 39 percent of those who had received 240 mg of salicin daily were essentially pain-free, compared to 6 percent of those given a placebo.
Individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip also are helped. Willow bark can be purchased as standardized extracts and teas. If you have access to white willow and wish to make your own, collect bark from a twig (never the main trunk). Use about 2 teaspoons of bark to a cup of water, boil, simmer for 10 minutes and cool slightly. Because salicin concentration is low and widely variable in willow bark, you may need several cups to obtain the equivalent of two standard aspirin tablets. A word of caution: Willow should not be given to children, due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, nor used by individuals with aspirin allergies, bleeding disorders, or liver or kidney disease. Willow may interact adversely with blood-thinning medications and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Also, willow tends not to irritate the stomach in the short term, but long-term use can be problematic.
Peppermint is a famous antispasmodic for digestive cramps, while its essential oil is used as a local topical anesthetic in commercial ointments (Solarcaine and Ben-Gay, for example).
Germany’s Commission E authorizes use of oral peppermint oil for treating colicky pain in the digestive tract of adults. However, peppermint oil shouldn’t be used for colic in newborn babies, as it can cause jaundice.
Several double-blind studies of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome demonstrate peppermint can significantly relieve painful abdominal cramps, bloating and flatulence. In the largest study, reported in the Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers administered either enteric-coated peppermint oil or a placebo to 110 individuals three to four times daily, 15 to 30 minutes before meals, for four weeks. The study found peppermint significantly reduced abdominal discomfort.
Take a 0.2- to 0.4-ml enteric-coated peppermint capsule three times daily. (Enteric coating prevents stomach upset.) For mild stomach discomfort, try a tea from fresh or dried peppermint leaves. The menthol in peppermint relaxes the muscles. Its antispasmodic and analgesic effects also can help relieve headaches, possibly including migraines, when applied to the forehead or temples–dilute about 3 drops of essential oil in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
Don’t discount the psychological dimensions of pain in everyday aches. For instance, most headaches have psychogenic causes (such as anxiety, depression and stress), rather than vascular causes (dilated or distended blood vessels in the brain). Psychogenic headaches tend to be diffuse, often feeling more like pressure than pain, and often are accompanied by muscular tension. Vascular headaches, including migraines, respond more readily to painkillers, whereas emotionally induced ones might benefit more from herbs with calming or sedative properties, such as lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), chamomile (Matricaria recutita) or valerian (Valeriana officinalis).
It shouldn’t be surprising that pain is multidimensional, and our tools for combating it need to be also. When you’re suffering from creakiness or other discomfort, consider the possible causes–disease, physical strain, nutrient deficiency, chemical sensitivities, allergies or emotional stress. Then you can access the herbal apothecary effectively and appropriately, to fully restore your well-being.