Arnica Montana: Natural Magic


| May/June 2004







"Noch mal!” says Herr Gehring, pouring more beer. “Have another!” My husband and I don’t protest. When in Germany, where we recently spent nearly a year, we do as the Germans do. Is it the beer, or a trick of the Black Forest light? Glinting among the kohlrabi and rhubarb of the Gehrings’ garden we see a magical sight: a bottle of what looks like liquid sunshine.

Zauberpflanzen (magic plants) is German for certain plants known for centuries to have seemingly miraculous properties. As Frau Gehring puts another wurst on the grill, she explains that the bottle that so entrances me shines with the blossoms of one of Germany’s best known Zauberpflanzen: Arnica montana.

As with many herbs that entered the realm of folk medicine, arnica was used first in pagan times to curry favor with spirits. The blossoms were thought to be especially potent on the summer solstice. Bunches were gathered and set on the corners of fields to spread the power of the corn spirit and to ensure a good harvest. While Germans don’t believe in garnishing their fields with arnica these days, its power as a folk medicine has persisted.

About Arnica

A. montana is a perennial flower from the Asteraceae family, native to the mountains of Europe, as its name (montana) suggests. The yellow, daisy-like flower, seen from May to August in elevations of 3,500 to 10,000 feet, was mentioned first by Matthiolus, an Italian physician, in 1626. Folk remedies using arnica as a tea or tincture for wounds, bruises, rheumatic pains, heart weakness and even asthma, prevailed for centuries before that.



In Germany, Arnica is known commonly as wundkraut (wound herb), bruchkraut (fracture herb) and fallkraut (fall herb). In the mountains, where the steep paths make falling quite common, it was well-known that an application of fallkraut would help to heal any swelling or bruising to the body. Referred to in mountain dialect as “stand up and go home” (Stoh up un goh hen), arnica’s common names attest to its fast-healing properties.

Arnica’s Effectiveness

Arnica is now an ingredient in more than 100 herbal preparations in Germany, where plant-based medications are well-researched, highly respected and government-regulated. Germany’s Commission E, an expert committee on herbal drugs and preparations from medicinal plants, cites arnica as a treatment for various post-traumatic conditions, including bruises, sprains, contusions and rheumatic ailments.



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