Arnica oil Health Benefits, Uses, Quality & Best Products Compared

Author: Dr. Michael Tyler
Date: 01.10.2020
Reading time: 8:27 min

Arnica is one of the best known medicinal plants. Most of its active ingredients are found in arnica oil.

Name Arnica
Lat. Name Arnica montana
Synonyms Arnica
Origin Europe
Price per 10ml 0,95

Internal effect

Arnica oil is only applied externally, but its benefits are not limited to the surface of the skin. The valuable ingredients in arnica oil have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is the classic natural therapy for various blunt injuries, such as bruises or sprains. Contusions and bumps heal faster, are less painful and their swelling is reduced with arnica oil treatment. It is suitable for athletes and their injuries, as well as for children who are prone to bruises and falling.

It is also effective for the treatment of rheumatic or chronic arthritic complaints which can fluctuate with time. Arnica oil can help alleviate chronic inflammation and thereby reduce pain. It promotes blood circulation, causing a warming effect.

External effect

The anti-inflammatory properties, naturally, also have an immediate effect on various skin diseases, infections or open injuries on the skin surface itself. This also includes painful inflamed insect bites. The ingredients of the essential arnica oil have disinfectant and germicidal effects. Not only can existing inflammation be alleviated, it can also be prevented.

Side effects

The arnica flower contains the toxins helenalin and dihydrohelenalin. These can be found in very high concentrations in the essential oil. Even when commercially purchased arnica oil contains very small amounts of this essential oil. It is so toxic that it should never be ingested. Possible consequences would be cardiac dysfunction and circulatory instability.

The two ingredients mentioned above are not only classified as toxic, but are also potent allergens. Allergies to arnica are not particularly common, but can always be traced back to these substances. Therefore, you should first try the arnica oil on a small area of skin first to see if you are sensitive to it before further applying it.

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Application

Arnica is often used as a massage oil and can be purchased in massage oil form. By massaging the oil over painful muscles - which can span a relatively large area - it promotes blood circulation and soothes symptoms of pain and inflammation. A muscle massage with arnica oil can also prevent future muscle pains, especially after intensive training sessions. Frequent massages or rubbing over painful joints help with rheumatic or arthritic complaints.

Repeated application of arnica oil helps with blunt injuries such as bruises or sprains. By increasing the blood flow, the anti-inflammatory and analgesic agents can be better absorbed and distributed.

Arnica is more traditionally oriented towards medical complaints of deeper tissues. Nevertheless, it can also function with problems of the external layers of the skin. Inflamed areas of skin or eczema can also be treated with arnica oil. Ointments containing arnica oil help with inflamed and swollen insect bites as well as with thick bumps.

Manufacturing

Steam distillation is used to extract the essential oil from the arnica flowers. The flowers are first dried and ground down before hot water is applied within a distillation flask, which allows the volatile essential oils to float. They are carried into a second, cooler vessel with the water vapour which it condenses again to form the liquid. The oily liquid is the pure essential oil of the arnica flower and can now be carefully decanted. An estimated 400 kilograms of the dried flowers are needed for one litre of this oil.

Usually it is not sold as a pure oil but in final form; complete oil mixtures. For this reason, small amounts of essential oil are dissolved in carrier oils. Sunflower or olive oil is often used for this. This mixture is then ready-to-use arnica oil. The essential oil is also found in tinctures and various ointments or creams.

You can easily make a simple plant extracts from the arnica flowers yourself. To do so, collect open flowers from the plant and dry them for 1 to 2 weeks. Then put them into a suitable carrier oil. This can be a cheap sunflower oil or perhaps high quality almond oil. In the course of up to 4 weeks, the oily parts dissolve from the dried flowers and pass into the carrier oil. At regular intervals during this period, the oil should be gently shaken. Finally, filter the oil through a thin cotton cloth or a filter in order to remove the remaining parts of the flower.

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Make arnica ointment yourself

Instead of an oil, you can also use ointments that contain the essential oil of arnica. You can buy such ointments readily, but you can also easily make them yourself. Since ointments basically consist exclusively of fats, a fat that gives arnica oil a more solid consistency should be selected. Solid fats and waxes are very suitable for this. A possible mixture would consist of the following ingredients:

  • 60 ml arnica oil
  • 60 g Shea butter
  • 10 g beeswax

(in principle you can also use other solid fats and wax but pay attention to the quantitative ratio)

Melt the beeswax and shea butter in a water bath until they can be mixed well. Be careful not to exceed the melting point of the beeswax, which is a little over 60 ° C - otherwise valuable healing properties could be destroyed. If both fats are liquid, add the warm arnica oil and mix everything thoroughly. Fill the mixture into a container in which it can cool slowly and mix gently, continuously. The final cooled ointment can be stored in a closed container and used for about 6 months.

If you are unsatisfied with the consistency, the concoction can be reheated and oil, fat or wax can be added as necessary. Shea butter is better absorbed by the skin, while beeswax forms a protective film.

Ingredients

Essential arnica oil contains sesquiterpene lactones in esterified form, which function as the main active ingredient, in particular helenalin and dihydrohelenalin esters. These compounds have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, but are highly toxic when digested. Because of this toxicity, tinctures and extracts from arnica flowers should never be taken orally. Arnica flowers in tea can also lead to poisoning, which affects the cardiovascular system in particular. In addition to these substances, essential arnica oil contains thymol and thymol methyl ether, which have a strong disinfectant, bactericidal and fungicidal effect.

Since essential arnica oil is always dissolved in a carrier oil, the respective product also contains corresponding ingredients of the carrier oil, and their benefits, which are not taken into account here.

History

Arnica comes from Central Europe and as such was not proven to be known in antiquity. The earliest records of the plant come from the scholar Hildegard von Bingen, who wrote extensive writings on naturopathy in the 12th century. From the 18th century onwards, arnica was demonstrably widely used as a medicinal herbal plant. The spectrum of applications ranged from bruises and general injuries to varicose veins, gout, rheumatism and even as an abortive agent.

In modern times, arnica is still used primarily for the external treatment of injuries and muscle problems. Internal intake is only permitted in the field of homeopathy.

The arnica was voted Flower of the Year in 1986 and Medicinal Plant of 2001 in 2001.

Botany

Arnica (Arnica montana) belongs to the daisy family. The perennial herb can be found in Central Europe in altitudes of approximately 2800 meters and prefers acidic and limestone meadows. It grows to a height of 20 to 60 centimetres and spreads quickly through underground stems, so-called rhizomes.

The stem of the arnica is mostly unbranched and has one or two leaves. This characteristic is rather rare among the daisy family and is a very good point of reference for reliably recognizing the arnica species. The individual leaves are offset on the stem and as such there are never 2 leaves directly opposite, as is the case with sunflowers, for example.

Arnica blooms from May to August: its inflorescences are typically arranged in the shape of a basket. A multitude of bright yellow flowers are arranged in a circle and seem to form a single large flower. The flowers of the outer floral ring are significantly longer and appear as sepals. A classic example of a daisy family is the dandelion. The thick yellow bloom of this flower actually consists of a large number of small flowers. This becomes clear when the umbrellas of the dandelion develop. Only one seed is created from each flower.

Arnica is pollinated mainly by bees and butterflies. Small seeds are created from the flowers with an umbrella, known as the pappus. When it is dry, it spreads out, similar to dandelions, and allows the seed to be carried away in the wind.

In Germany and many other European countries, the true arnica is on the red list of endangered species: under no circumstances should wil variants it be picked. Nevertheless, it is obviously permitted to grow arnica in private gardens and for it to be harvested as necessary. So if you want to make arnica oil yourself, you either have to rely on home-grown flowers or buy dried flowers.

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Cultivation

Since arnica is protected in many European countries and is difficult to cultivate in large areas, the flowers are mostly grown wild in countries where the plant is not (yet) threatened. Large natural medicine manufacturers receive criticism for this practice.

If you want to ensure that species protection is observed, you can cultivate arnica in your own garden and make your own oily plant extracts from this medicinal herb. To do this, you must understand some of the plants requirements:

  • sunny location
  • acidic to pH neutral soil
  • few nutrients

Rhododendron soil is suitable for growing arnica, because it meets the necessary prerequisites. Arnica should never be fertilized while in the field, because the roots can be damaged. The pH of the soil has to exact. Arnica also needs minimal water during summer months and copes well with long dry periods. This perennial is quite hardy and also does not require any specific frost protection.

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