Arnica montana is a plant with a long history of medicinal uses. It is believed to be one of the best herbal treatments available for sprains and bruising. The flowers and roots are the most potent part of the plant, and they are the essence of supplements found in health food stores. Arnica montana is a member of the Asteraceae family and is also known by the more recognizable names wolfsbane and leopardsbane.
Documented historical records of the medicinal use of arnica montana date back to the early 1600s, when Europeans began using it in the treatment of sprains and contusions. As a topical treatment, the leaves and flowers were crushed and boiled for use as poultices and salves. Though internal use was not as common, it was believed to help reduce fevers.
Studies conducted in the United Kingdom seemed to indicate that arnica montana may be superior to traditional gels and creams in the treatment of swelling and bruising. There is also some evidence that its anti-inflammatory properties may be better than many synthetic medications, such as ibuprofen. In another study conducted in the UK, the plant was shown to relieve pain and bleeding after dental surgery.
There are some possible problems associated with overuse or long-term use of arnica montana. Some of the more common side effects are eczema, muscle weakness, and nausea. Episodes of vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. An overdose of the herb can cause coma, organ damage or, in extreme cases, death. As with any supplement, caution should generally be used, and a physician should be consulted before beginning any treatment plan.
Though native to the mountains of central and Eastern Europe, several varieties of arnica montana also grow in North America. The plant prefers wooded areas or meadows that are surrounded by forest, ideally in a cool to cold climate. It is a perennial, and can reach heights of about 2 feet (0.6 m). The flowers are usually yellow or orange and are similar in appearance to daisies.
Arnica montana should generally be started in the spring by planting seeds in small containers using a mixture of sandy loam and peat. The seedlings can be transferred to an outdoor location when it is certain there will be no more frost. Most experts say that they should be planted in an area with good sun exposure and watered once weekly. The arnica montana is a fairly hardy plant and does not require fertilization.