Spanish: Arnica. Family: Asteraceae. Genus: Arnica. Species: cordifolia, chamissonis, mollis
Arnica is one of the best-known medicinal herbs in the Western world with species growing in the Americas and Europe.
In New Mexico, we have three species including A. chamissonis, A. mollis and A. cordifolia. Arnica cordifolia is the most plentiful species growing in the mountains around Taos, and good stands of Arnica chamissonis grow here also.
Both grow above 8,000 feet. A. cordifolia prefers the north and northwestern mountain sides where it nestles in amongst the spruce, fir and aspen while A. chamissonis is found in high mountain meadows.
All arnicas have fairly typical daisy-like yellow disc flowers, Arnica cordifolia has heart-shaped leaves that give this species its name (Cordifolia comes from the Latin for heartleaf), and Arnica chamissonis has lance-shaped leaves. Arnica cordifolia can carpet the forest floor with heart-shaped leaves, but in many years only about 5 percent of the plants will bloom.
As medicine, arnica has the property of being a counterirritant. It mildly irritates the skin causing blood vessels to dilate (expand), which increases blood flow to the area, helps reduce pain and stiffness, and supports healing of damaged tissues.
Arnica is appropriate for bruises and will help to remove the black and blue bruising by speeding the reabsorption of the blood that has leaked into the surrounding tissues that cause the discoloration. Arnica helps sprains and can reduce stiffness and discomfort associated with osteoarthritis due to the presence of a number of anti-inflammatory agents, including helenalin and chamazulene.
Arnica should be applied only to unbroken skin. Preparations of arnica are available in many forms, including alcohol extracts, oils and salves as well as homeopathic pellets, topical gels and ointments. The most effective form of arnica is made by collecting wild arnica from the mountains around Taos and preparing a deep green salve.
Consult your healthcare practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements, especially if you are pregnant, taking prescription medication, or administering herbs to children.
Rob Hawley is an herbalist and co-owner of Taos Herb Company.