Arnica is one of the herbs most recognized for its external use. Beware: Taken internally it can be quite poisonous. The Greeks even used arnica for this purpose. It would be ground into a powder and used to poison enemies. Arnica wine was often made for this reason. The Greek naturalist Theophrastus wrote that when slaves became angry with their owners, they sometimes ingested tiny bits to make themselves ill and unable to work.

The external soothing qualities of arnica have been well-documented historically both in Europe and in North America. European herbalists concocted healing remedies with their arnica, while American Indians made healing ointments and tinctures with our native species.

A topical cream, lotion, or oil made from arnica helps relax stiff muscles, treat wounds, relieve pain, and reduce inflammation and bruises. A 1981 German study found two substances in this herb, helenalin and dihydrohelenalin, which produce anti-inflammatory effects.

To make your arnica oil, heat three ounces of the flowers in three ounces of almond oil, using a double boiler on low heat for four hours. Strain the oil and let it cool before applying.

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