Herbs for Topical Pain Relief

 
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

 

Materia Medica

For Topical Pain Relief

I have chosen to spotlight ten unique herbs for topical pain relief because they work reliably well and when thoughtfully blended together, can cover a full spectrum of pain relief effects.

The following criteria also influenced my choices:

 ·     Native species

·      Naturalized species.

·      Easy to grow.

·      Can be sustainably harvested.

·      Readily available + affordable.

 

ACUTE PHASE (TRAUMA HERBS)

ARNICA (Arnica montana)
Works on the blood.

Use For: 

  • Muscle fatigue.

  • Muscle stiffness.

  • Sprain and strains.

  • Bruising.

  • Trauma with blood stagnation or blood vessel damage.

  • Arthritis.

Qualities: Warming.

Actions: Analgesic, vasodilator, vulnerary.

COMFREY (Symphytum officinalis)
Works on fluid + tissue.

Use For:

  • Tissue damage.

  • Broken bones.

  • Sprains and strains.

  • Tissue tear.

  • Trauma with swelling and edema.

  • Repetitive-use injury.

  • Arthritis.

Qualities: Cooling, moistening.

Actions: Vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, emollient.

Cautions: Causes rapid tissue turnover and must be kept away from open wounds. It can be applied near a wound but not directly on it, take measures to prevent it from seeping into the wound. Comfrey will heal a wound so rapidly it can trap an infection in the wound or cause unsightly scarring.

 

ST. JOHN’S WORT (Hypericum perforatum)
Works on the nerves.

 Use For:

  • Injury to the nerves, spine or neck.

  • Repetitive-use injury.

  • Trauma with neuritis (sharp + shooting pain).

  • Chronic neuropathies and joint inflammation.

  • Fibromyalgia.

  • Sciatica.

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Qualities: Slightly warming.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-nociceptive.

Cautions: St. John’s Wort may cause photosensitivity. If you apply it to the skin, then expose that skin to the sun, it may burn very easily.

Notes: St. John’s Wort oil is best prepared as a solar maceration made from from fresh or freshly wilted flowers and buds.

 

SUBACUTE PHASE

 
WINTERGEEN
(Gualtheria procumbens)
Provides universal pain relief.


Use For: 

  • Pain from injury.

  • Tendonitis.

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

  • Sciatica.

  • Muscle soreness.

  • Back pain.

  • Joint pain.

  • Headache.

  • Fibromyalgia.

Alternatives: The bark of Birch or Willow.

Qualities: Cooling.

Actions: Analgesic, anesthetic, anti-inflammatory.

Cautions: Wintergreen is very rich in salicylic acids, therefore long-term topical use is contraindicated for people taking prescription blood thinning medications.

 

VALERIAN (Valeriana officinalis)
Works on the muscle.


Use For:

  • Muscle spasm.

  • Muscle cramps.

  • Muscle tension.

  • Arthritis.

  • Repetitive motion strain.

  • Postural strain.

  • Lower back pain.

  • Fibromyalgia.

  • Menstrual pain.

Alternatives: Other antispasmodics which work well topically are Lobelia, Kava Kava, Cramp Bark.

Qualities: Warming, mildly stimulating, relaxing.

Actions: Antispasmodic, analgesic, nervine, antirheumatic, mild circulatory stimulant.

Cautions: Valerian has a strong odour but it works really well, and is the most sustainable choice compared to the alternatives. The smell can be downplayed by blending with other aromatic herbs and essential oils.

 

SOLOMON SEAL (Polygonatum biflorum)
Works on fluid + tissue.


Use For:

  • Sprains and strains.

  • Tissue tears.

  • Post-operative healing.

  • Repetitive motion strain.

  • Arthritis.

Alternatives: False Solomon’s Seal, Mullein root.

Qualities: Cooling, moistening.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, demulcent.

Notes: Works best as an oil infusion, as the liniment form can be very sticky. Think of Solomon Seal as a tissue and joint lubricant. It is good for cracking joints and tough scar tissue, or to prevent tough scar tissue.

JUNIPER (Juniperus communis)
Works on fluids.


Use For:

  • Stiff joints.

  • Swollen joints.

  • Arthritis.

  • Rheumatism.

  • Synovial cysts.

Alternatives: Hemlock, Oak Bark.

Qualities: Warming, toning.

Actions: Diuretic, astringent, circulatory stimulant, antiseptic.

Cautions: Extracts made from the bark and needles can be mildly irritating to the skin, use at 10-20% of formula. Berries are non-irritating.

 

CHRONIC PHASE


GINGER (Zingiber officinalis)
Works on circulation.


Use For: 

  • Arthritis.

  • Stiff joints.

  • Muscle tension.

  • Pain associated with old injuries.

  • Poor circulation.

  • Diabetic neuropathy.

  • Lower back pain.

  • Fibromyalgia.

  • Menstrual cramps.

Qualities: Warming, stimulating.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, circulatory stimulant.

Notes: Ginger works well as a liniment as it is a highly resinous herb, however an oil infusion made from low-heat treated ginger rhizome is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and circulatory stimulant.

CAYENNE (Capsicum annuum)
Works on circulation + pain perception.


Use For: 

  • Arthritis.

  • Stiff joints.

  • Pain associated with old injuries.

  • Muscle tension.

  • Poor circulation.

  • Diabetic neuropathy.

  • Lower back pain.

  • Fibromyalgia.

Qualities: Warming, stimulating.

Actions: Antinociceptive, circulatory stimulant.

Cautions: Cayenne is best suited for a liniment, as it is very messy and will stain everything it touches. A liniment ensures rapid absorption, whereas oil will spread and linger longer on the skin’s surface. A very small amount of cayenne liniment will go a long way. Wash hands immediately after applying cayenne liniment to prevent getting it in your eye!

CANNABIS (Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica)
Universal pain reliever.


Use For:

  • Arthritis.

  • Joint pain.

  • Pain associated with spinal injury.

  • Muscle spasm.

  • Muscle cramps.

  • Fibromyalgia.

  • Neuropathic pain.

  • Headache.

Qualities: Warming, relaxing.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-nociceptive.

Notes: Cannabis is best suited as a liniment for topical pain relief, as it is a highly resinous herb. There are 40% less active constituents in an oil extraction. Liniments will preserve more terpene volatile oils. A 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD is a reliable strain for many types of pain relief.


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The plants have so much to teach us about healing:

“Being rooted to the earth, medicinal plants can not run from stress, they must adapt to it through their inner chemistry. This is their healing wisdom they impart to us”

- Janna Shapero, at The Urban Healer


Janna Shapero