Arnica grows wild in the mountains of Europe where the dried leaves used to be smoked as a kind of tobacco. Since early times it has been used in medicines for the heart.
Arnica, arnica montana, is for external use only. It should never be taken internally except under medical advice, as it is poisonous. It is, however, a useful herb in the home and an attractive perennial plant to grow in the garden. It is only rarely found in the wild in Great Britain, but it has long been a popular and effective remedy for minor ailments in countries where it has always grown wild. Arnica grows to medium height, the single hairy flower stem rising from a flat rosette of leaves. This stalk carries bright orange-yellow daisy-like flowers which are pleasantly aromatic. The rhizome is thick, curved and dark brown with threadlike roots on the underside.
Arnica grows well in a light acid soil with added peat. Sow the seed in early spring in a cool greenhouse and plant out in May in a shady spot in the garden. The rosette of leaves appears in the first year and the flowering stems in the second year. The flowerhead is the only part of the herb which is used; these are best when fresh, but dried flowers can be used when fresh are not available. The flowers are cut off when fully open, the green calyx is removed and the flower is then dried whole and stored in the usual way.
Arnica is used as a tincture to heal wounds and irritation.
* To make the tincture: Place 2 handfuls of the fresh flowers in a glass screwtop jar. Cover them with 2 cups of pure alcohol and seal. Leave the jar in the warm or on a sunny windowsill for a week or two, shaking it once a day. Filter the tincture through muslin or cheesecloth before using. If pure alcohol is unobtainable either vodka or surgical spirit can be substituted in its place.
For phlebitis, bruises and contusions, arnica is used in the form of a compress.
* To make an arnica compress: Mix together 2 cups of distilled water and I tablespoon of the tincture. Dip pieces of lint in the mixture and apply to the affected part. Renew the compress frequently.
Arnica is also good for tired and aching feet.
* To make an arnica footbath: Put enough hot water in a bowl just to cover the feet and add half a cupful of the tincture. Immerse the feet for 10-15 minutes.
In mild cases of hair loss, such as after an illness, arnica can help make the hair grow. Use a weak mixture of arnica tincture and water (I tablespoon tincture to 2 cups distilled water) and apply to the scalp once a day. Care should be taken by those with sensitive skins, and it is recommended that the solution is applied to a small patch of skin at first. If redness or soreness appears do not use the tincture.