Today many of the pharmaceutical drugs we use have their origins in natural plants, and we can still take advantage of these natural forms of medicine without a doctor’s prescription.
1. Willow Bark
White willow bark dates back thousands of years, to the time of Hippocrates when patients were advised to chew on the bark to reduce fever and inflammation.
White willow bark contains salicin, a chemical similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) and in the 1800s, salicin was used to develop aspirin. Combined with the herb’s powerful anti-inflammatory plant compounds called flavonoids, salicin is thought to be responsible for the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects of the herb.
2. Cayenne pepper
Open your cupboard, and you may find a spice that you can eat or apply locally to reduce joint pain. Spicy-hot cayenne contains the active ingredient capsaicin, the substance that makes chili peppers hot.
When you apply it to your skin, it tricks your brain by mildly irritating your skin along the nerve pathways where pain signals travel. This distracts your brain from the true source of pain.
Nearly 40 percent of arthritis patients reduced their pain by half after using a topical capsaicin cream for a month, and 60 percent of neuropathy patients achieved the same results after 2 months.
You can also find ready-made ointments in health food stores and drug stores. To make your own topical homemade remedy, mix 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper with 1/2 cup of cocoa butter or coconut oil. Apply it directly to the sore joint. When you use it regularly, this mixture should reduce arthritis pain. However, it can cause skin irritation, so don’t overdo it.
3. Stinging nettles
A traditional treatment, stinging nettles is an herbal tonic with antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. It stimulates circulation and gets the blood flowing to the extremities.
Components in nettle’s leaves are thought to enhance the response of the immune system, and also contain biologically active compounds that reduce inflammation.
These effects make nettles a good tea for reducing joint pain and stiffness associated with arthritis and rheumatism.
You can make a tea from the dried herb or the fresh leaves, and drink it hot or cold. You can also soak a compress in the cold tea to apply to painful joints.
Boswellia has been used for centuries in Asia and Africa to treat inflammation and pain. Today it is praised by alternative health practitioners for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Also known as Indian Frankincense, this herbal extract from the boswellia serrate tree is thought to work by blocking leukotrienes, which are substances that can attack healthy joints in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Available in tablets or topical creams, this herbal remedy may be useful in treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Check with your doctor first, especially if you are taking other pain medications to treat inflammation, as it may interact with or decrease the effects of other medications.
When you eat Indian food, you’re eating one of nature’s most potent healers, curcumin. Turmeric is a yellow-orange powder used in cooking to make curry.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, and has been used in China and India for thousands of years as both a food and a medicine.
Now modern research is showing turmeric to be one of nature’s most powerful healers. Methodist Research Institute in Indianapolis reports a “significant anti-inflammatory action. Curcumin eases inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis”.
You can buy curcumin inexpensively as a cooking spice and add it to almost any cooked food such as vegetables and meats, and even to salad dressing. To get the optimal effects for joint pain, it’s best to get it from a supplement.
Ginger warms and comforts your body, and increases blood flow to cleanse toxins and promote healing. Ginger is a staple in many alternative medicine cabinets because the compounds that give ginger its strong flavor are also the ones with anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginger has a good reputation as a remedy for arthritis, rheumatism, and osteoporosis. In one study, Indian researchers gave three to seven grams of ginger a day to 18 people with osteoarthritis and 28 people with rheumatoid arthritis. More than 75 percent of those participating in the study reported at least some relief from pain and swelling.
Get creative to enjoy ginger’s spicy flavor. You can grate fresh ginger into stir fries, steep ginger to make tea, and add it to salad dressings, smoothies and baking. You can also make a compress from cold ginger tea to apply to arthritic joints.
Arnica (Arnica montana) is a traditional homeopathic remedy with natural anti-inflammatory properties. This herb has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500s and is still popular today.
It is commonly applied to the skin, to soothe muscle aches and reduce inflammation, especially for injuries such as sprains and bruises. You can buy it as a cream, ointment, or salve to apply to your skin. Don’t take it orally, except as a Homeopathic remedy where you take it as pellets under the tongue, because it can cause serious side effects.
Licorice is a natural steroid, which means it reduces inflammation without the side effects of steroid drugs. It does this by decreasing free radicals at the site of inflammation and inhibiting the production of an enzyme involved in creating inflammation. This helps ease pain and the frequency of arthritis flare-ups.
You can drink licorice in a tea, take it in a tincture, or use it in supplement form. Licorice is not for everyone. If you have high blood pressure, avoid this herb altogether.