Arnica: Homeopathic Herb Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects

Can arnica tea, topical gels, and extracts relieve pain and improve health?

Arnica oil, cream, powder, and dried herb

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Arnica is a homeopathic herb used to treat aches, pains, and bruises. An herb in the sunflower family (Asteraceae), arnica contains anti-inflammatory compounds. This is thought to relieve muscle and joint pain and heal bruising.

Arnica can be applied topically to the skin as a gel. Oral forms are also available as teas, tinctures, and tablets.

This article discusses arnica, its uses, side effects, and preparation. It also explores some of the research into arnica's effectiveness.

What Is Arnica?

Arnica comes from the sub-alpine regions of western North America. It can also be found in arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America.

Arnica plants have long, downy leaves. Their flowers are daisy-like. They are bright yellow or orange and between 2 and 3 inches wide.

The anti-inflammatory ingredient in arnica is called helenalin. This compound is very toxic when consumed. It can also irritate the skin if it is not diluted.

What Is Arnica Used For?

Arnica is commonly used in alternative medicine. It is claimed to treat:

The plant can be toxic. Because of this, it is most often used in a homeopathic form. Homeopathic products contain very small amounts of an active ingredient.

Arnica is sold by homeopathic drug makers. It is used for a number of conditions, including:

There is limited evidence to support arnica's use in treating any condition. This does not necessarily mean it does not have benefits. It just means that clinical studies have so far been small and poorly designed. Many have contradictory findings.

Talk with a doctor before deciding if arnica is a safe option for you.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is often referred to as "wear-and-tear" arthritis. In this condition, the cartilage that protects the joints wears down over time. It is often treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Arnica is thought by some to be a safe, natural alternative to NSAIDs.

In a 2013 review, Australian researchers looked at seven trials on topical herbal remedies for osteoarthritis.

Arnica gel appeared to work nearly as well as Advil (ibuprofen). Benefits included reducing pain and improving joint function in people with hand osteoarthritis.

However, 13% of those who used arnica gel had side effects. This is compared to 8% of Advil users. Some even reported an increase in joint stiffness and pain.

Post-Surgical Pain and Bruising

Proponents of arnica think it can reduce bruising and swelling after surgery. For this use, it is either applied topically or taken as an oral supplement.

A 2016 review suggested that the arnica species A. montana was a "valid alternative" to NSAIDs in treating:

Reviewers did state, though, that the results varied based on formulation and dosage.

Another review concluded there wasn't enough evidence to support the use of oral or topical arnica for swelling or bruising after surgery.

Muscle Pain

Muscle pain is also called myalgia. It is associated with a wide range of medical conditions. It can also happen after simple overuse of the muscles.

Most studies on arnica have focused on post-exercise muscle pain. Arnica has long been used for this purpose in sports supplements. Even so, there is little evidence to support its use.

One review of studies strongly endorsed the combined use of oral and topical arnica for muscle injuries.

The authors came to this conclusion even though four studies in the review found no benefits compared to a placebo. A placebo is a substance that contains no active ingredients. 

How to Take Arnica

Arnica is often sold as an over-the-counter (OTC) product in topical and oral forms.

Topical Arnica

Arnica is used topically as a creams gel, ointment, and tincture. Arnica tincture can be used to make a compress. To make a compress:

  • Dilute arnica tincture in warm or cold water.
  • Dip a soft cloth in the infusion. 
  • Ring out cloth and place over the treatment area. 
  • Leave the compress on the area for 10 to 20 minutes.

Oral Pellet

Arnica is also sold as a homeopathic oral pellet. Homeopathic remedies are highly diluted and therefore safe.

Arnica Tea

Arnica is also sold as tea. However, in large doses arnica can be poisonous. Internal use of arnica is not generally recommended unless it is very diluted and under the care of a healthcare provider.

Do not drink arnica tea if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Drinking arnica tea can cause a miscarriage.

Other Forms

Other forms of arnica include:

  • Extracts
  • Oral supplements
  • Powders
  • Aromatherapy oil
  • Dried "wild-crafted" herb

Possible Side Effects

Arnica is known to cause side effects. This is true even when used in very diluted topical ointments or creams. More serious side effects can occur with oral forms.

Topical Use

In less-diluted formulas, arnica may cause a mild allergic reaction. This happens most often in people allergic to plants of the Asteraceae family. These plants include:

  • Ragweed
  • Marigolds
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Daisies

Arnica can also trigger increases in blood pressure and heart rate. This is more likely if used in excess or on broken skin.

More of the active ingredient can be absorbed through broken skin. On broken skin, arnica may also cause stinging.

Oral Use

Most homeopathic arnica remedies are very diluted. These are generally considered safe. Some forms, though, may contain detectable amounts of helenalin. These forms have health risks.

When taken by mouth, helenalin can cause:

  • Mouth and throat irritation
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure

Avoid oral preparations containing pure arnica. These are more likely to cause symptoms. They can also damage the heart and increase the risk of organ failure, coma, and death.

Contraindications and Interactions

In theory, arnica could slow blood clotting. Use of any non-homeopathic arnica should be discontinued two weeks before surgery. This will reduce the risk of postoperative bleeding.

Avoid arnica if you are taking blood-thinning drugs. The combination could increase your risk of bleeding and bruising.  

Arnica may interact negatively with these medications:

Little is known about the safety of arnica during pregnancy. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, ask your doctor before using arnica in any form.

Arnica dried herb

Verywell / Anastasiia Tretiak​

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Arnica montana is the species most often used for medical purposes. Chamissonis, A. longifolia, and A. gracilis are also sometimes used.

Most OTC arnica is very diluted. This results in gels, ointments, and extracts with little to no helenalin. This is also true for arnica powders, capsules, and other oral forms.

When purchasing arnica, look for brands that have been tested by an independent certifying body, such as:

  • U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)
  • ConsumerLab
  • NSF International

This way, you can be sure the product label is accurate. You will also be able to tell if there is any helenalin in the product.

Also make sure the Latin name of the arnica species (such as Arnica montana) is on the product label. Be wary of any product that claims to contain "pure arnica."

Never buy dried wild-crafted arnica. Don't grow fresh arnica and use it to make teas or tonics. There is no way to safely dose arnica at home. Your exposure to helenalin is likely to be excessive, if not dangerous.

Most arnica preparations can be stored at room temperature. As a general rule, store them in their original containers. Keep them away from direct sunlight.

Never use more than the dose listed on the product label. Discard any arnica that is past its expiration date.

Summary

Arnica is an herb commonly used to treat pain. There is limited evidence to support its use.

Arnica is believed to help relieve pain associated with arthritis and muscle soreness. It is also used to treat post-surgical swelling and bruising. It is available in topical and oral forms.

When it is undiluted, arnica may cause side effects like nausea, rapid heart rate, and bruising or bleeding. It may also interact with blood-thinning drugs.

Always ask a doctor before using any natural remedy. Look for arnica that is diluted and has been tested by a third party.

A Word From Verywell

Herbal remedies aren't subject to the same regulatory standards as pharmaceutical drugs. Be cautious when using any such product. Always ask your doctor before trying any of these remedies.

Remember that even natural products can be dangerous. They may cause unwanted side effects or interact with other drugs or supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is arnica a good anti-inflammatory?

    There is some evidence that topical arnica can treat inflammation related to osteoarthritis and swelling from injuries. 

  • Is it safe to take arnica supplements?

    Oral arnica products have potentially toxic side effects. While some highly diluted homeopathic products may be safe, it’s best to ask your doctor before taking pills, tablets, tinctures, or oils.

  • Does arnica raise blood pressure?

    Possibly. When taken internally, arnica may raise blood pressure. Topical treatments, on the other hand, do not.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.