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The act of living often results in pain of some kind: emotional, physical, or a combination of the above. Whether it’s breaking a leg or a paper cut, it hurts. So how do we deal with it? This is another case where herbal options could be useful.
Firstly, however, the Disclaimer. I know, you’re seen this before! It’s not for you; it’s for the FCC/FDA. And any other prying eyes that would love to shut down a site that presents alternatives to the standard narrative.
I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV. None of what I’m saying in this article should be construed as medical advice. Always check with your doctor before changing meds, and if you’re in major distress, go directly to the nearest ER.
I remember when I broke my leg in 2007. I was walking home from a bus stop just after sunset. I slipped and fell on an ice patch on a shoveled sidewalk. Snow tends to melt a little bit during the day, then turns to ice very quickly when the sun sets. It was cold and dark, so I was walking quickly to get home to the warmth and light. I hit an ice patch, and down I went! I heard a loud SNAP over the music playing in my ears and fell hard.
Then I GOT UP AND WALKED HOME.
OK, it was more of a hobble. I slapped an Ace bandage on and hobbled around all weekend. When I still hurt Monday morning, I hobbled into the clinic for an X-ray. Sure enough, that SNAP I’d heard was my left fibula, which was now in two parts. The doctor set it and gave me a prescription for both crutches and Vicodin until I could get in to see the orthopedist.
And wow! Did it hurt! In order for the leg to heal properly, it had to be set in such a way that it hurt to put it down. I couldn’t put any weight whatsoever on it for an entire week, at least. Cooking and all of the other acts of daily living we take for granted became much more complicated. I have a two-story house. Think stairs.
And wow! Did it hurt! (Did I mention that yet?) I could take only so much Vicodin. I so wish I’d known more about herbal therapies at that time! It was a painful three months, even after the bone had set and I was in a regular cast. This article will discuss those options and scientific evidence of their effectiveness. If, Heaven forbid, this ever happens to me again, I will be PREPARED. And so will you!
Herbs as analgesics
According to Prepper’s Natural Medicine, there are a number of herbs that can be used as analgesics. Her list:
- California poppy
- ma huang
- St John’s wort
- white willow
Interesting. I’ve covered some of these in the last two articles on mental wellness support and respiratory support, specifically St John’s wort, mullein, comfrey, ginger, lavender, and Echinacea. In my small space, I prefer to grow things that serve a variety of purposes. I can only overwinter so many pots indoors.
Here’s the science.
But what about a scientific basis for the efficacy of these herbs in pain management?
Arnica is pretty commonly used for bruises and is readily available in cream formulations. There are some cautions, however: DO NOT take this internally, and if you’re allergic to anything in the Aster family, don’t take arnica. A number of the black belts in my aikido school carried this in their gi bag, which in my view is a vote for effectiveness. (source)
Mullein is one that, while containing active compounds with anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, requires more human clinical trials to confirm the efficacy of traditional uses. Do your due diligence and make your personal choices accordingly. (source)
While St John’s wort has been proven effective in mild to moderate depression, its uses for pain management are still being studied. As I pointed out in my Mental Wellness article, it also interacts with a number of other medicines. It’s applied topically for this purpose but again, do your due diligence. (source)
How about California poppy? Again, the evidence is mixed. RxList says there’s insufficient clinical evidence to validate its use for pain. Healthline agrees with this assessment and includes a caution that this may interact with blood thinners and blood pressure medications. (source)
Spilanthes has earned the nickname “toothache plant” for good reason. This herb is placed directly on the tissue as a tincture. Studies in this PubMed review confirm the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties of this herb, possibly due to interactions with several pro-inflammatory mediators.
White willow is indeed useful, according to Mount Sinai. Its main active compound is salicin, a chemical similar to aspirin. Willow bark has been shown to be effective for headaches, low back pain, and osteoarthritis among other things.
Comfrey is a handy plant to have around and all too easy to grow. In fact, in my yard it’ll take over the universe if I allow it! My bumblebees like it however, and studies show it effective in pain management. This is another herb that comes with a caution: it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids and shouldn’t be taken internally. I’ve used this one as a poultice and a salve. The latter is much less messy and salves are very easy to make. I’ve tried to keep this leaf by drying it. No dice. It’s a very thick leaf with lots of moisture, and also kind of prickly. Mine molded. The salve has lasted for years.
What about Echinacea? Yay, it’s effective! Mount Sinai lists it as effective for boosting the immune system, relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and a number of other anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. And it’s a perennial, easy to grow! (source)
Valerian is another one of those commonly used plants that haven’t been well-researched. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, unvalidated uses include pain management, muscle spasms/cramps, and insomnia. Evidently, cats also like it because it’s similar to catnip. There are a number of medical interactions to be aware of however, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. (source)
Turmeric is another one of those trendy herbs touted as beneficial for a number of things. According to Mayo Clinic, it may be effective in treating arthritis pain. The active ingredient is curcumin, and it’s available OTC in a number of formulations. I’ve used Curamin by Terry Naturals and found relief for my low back pain. Mayo suggests not exceeding 8 grams per day. (source)
Ginger, according to PubMed, is validated as effective in pain management. It can be ingested or used topically but I don’t find it the easiest stuff to grow. I mentioned trying it in a shallow dish of water in my last article. Gardener’s Path lists some great advice for growing it indoors.
Thyme is one of those useful culinary herbs that isn’t really medically validated for any of its touted uses. It also has a number of side effects, including headaches, dizziness, allergic reactions, and asthma to name a few. (source)
Why some have not been validated
Usnea is a lichen that grows on trees. This one deserves a great deal of caution! Cat’s book lists it as a topical, and that’s probably wise to pay attention to. Taking usnea internally can lead to a great many problems, including liver failure. According to Healthline, usnea may promote wound healing and weight loss, among other things but there’s little scientific research validating these claims and the side effects are a serious concern. (source)
Goldenrod has a number of traditional uses, none of them scientifically validated. Lavender may help relieve post-tonsillectomy pain in children. Stinging nettle has a number of uses but pain management has not been validated, ditto peppermint. All are commonly used but none are scientifically validated. Caveat emptor.
I’ve written about a number of things that the standard medical narrative suggests caution towards due to lack of clinical research. This is good to know, but I’d like to point out that clinical research is expensive. Therefore, organizations that conduct such research require suitable motivation. That’s often associated with potential profits, especially where Big Pharma is concerned.
I have presented information truthfully and to the best of my ability regarding herbs that are in the herbalist’s standard formulary. However, nothing will replace your own due diligence! Do your research and make your selection based on that knowledge. The old ways have their good points too. Consult your local herbalist, if you have one.
Herbs for pain management are an important tool.
The more options we have, the better off we’ll be. Consider adding more herbs to your toolbox for pain management, obviously with the approval of your physician. Don’t stop taking any medication without your doctor’s help, and always check for potential interactions before taking herbal remedies with pharmaceutical medications.
Herbs have an important place in your prepper’s medicine cabinet. Pain management is another aspect of this.
Do you use herbal remedies to help you through life’s aches and pains? Are there some you can vouch for or some that you feel are ineffective? Please tell us in the comments section.
About Amy Allen
Amy Allen is a professional bookworm and student of Life, the Universe, and Everything. She’s also a Master Gardener with a BS in biology, and has been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010.