Historically herbs, being known as "useful weeds", have been used for pain control. Herb tinctures, creams, teas, herbs ingested in foods are primarily indicated to be used for pain. The pharmaceutical industry tries to find the natural botanical herbs that are being used for pain control and model synthetically the compounds found for a marketable pain control drug. Even today in many parts of the world certain societies are dependent upon using herbs medicinally simply because they do not have access, or money, to purchase synthetic drugs. A chronic pain patient, or a patient who was recently injured, should consider as part of their nutrition the addition of fresh or dried herbs to the diet.
The list below is a very small part of the herb plants used for pain control. Many, if not most, topicals use capsicum ( makes the peppers hot), or menthol (mint oil) as the primary ingredient in the topical pain relieving gels. Capsicum isused for heat therapy and mint for cold therapy, depending on the process of inflammation going on.
Consider these herbs:
• Arnica (Arnica spp.), available in creams and tablets,relieves osteoarthritic pain in the knee and pain following carpal-tunnel release surgery. It contains helenin, an analgesic, as well as anti-inflammatory chemicals. Apply cream twice daily; use tablets according to package directions.
• Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic boswellic acids that can soothe pain from sports injuries and also can help osteoarthritic knee pain. Take 150- to 400-mg capsules or tablets (standardized to contain 30 percent to 65 percent boswellic acids) three times daily for two to three months.
• Clove oil (Syzygium aromaticum) is a popular home remedy for a toothache. Apply a drop or two of this excellent anti-inflammatory directly to your aching tooth or tooth cavity.
• Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seeds are stocked with 16 analgesic and 27 antispasmodic chemicals. It makes a pleasant licorice-flavored tea and is especially good for menstrual cramps. But avoid the herb while pregnant or nursing because of its estrogenic effects.
• Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a remedy many people swear by for headaches, including migraines. Feverfew can reduce both the frequency and severity of headaches when taken regularly. It is available in 60-mg capsules of fresh, powdered leaf (1 to 6 capsules daily), or 25-mg capsules of freeze-dried leaf (2 capsules daily). You can also make tea—steep 2 to 8 fresh leaves in boiling water, but do not boil them, since boiling breaks down the active parthenolides.
• Gingerroot (Zingiber officinale) has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate digestive cramps and mild pain from fibromyalgia. You can take 1 to 4 grams powdered ginger daily, divided into two to four doses. Or make tea from 1 teaspoon chopped fresh root simmered in a cup of water for about 10 minutes.
• Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is great for stiff muscles—it has nine muscle-relaxing compounds, more than just about any other plant.
• Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is recommended by the German Commission E for sore throat. Not surprising, considering its nine anesthetic, 10 analgesic and 20 anti-inflammatory compounds. To make tea, simmer about 2 teaspoons of dried root in a cup of water for 15 minutes; strain. Do not take licorice if you have high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, kidney disease or glaucoma.
• Oregano (Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris) are herbs you should be sprinkling liberally onto your food, as they are replete with analgesic, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory compounds. (Oregano alone has 32 anti-inflammatories!) Mix and match these garden herbs into a pain-relieving tea: Pour a cup of boiling water over a teaspoon of dried herbs, steep 5 to 10 minutes and strain.
Time-tested Herbal Aids
White willow bark is one of the oldest home analgesics, dating back to 500 b.c. in China. Modern research confirms old-time wisdom, showing it helps back, osteoarthritic and nerve pains. Willow bark contains apigenin, salicin and salicylic acid, which provide anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-neuralgic actions. At the end of a four-week study of 210 individuals suffering from back pain, reported in the American Journal of Medicine in 2000, 39 percent of those who had received 240 mg of salicin daily were essentially pain-free, compared to 6 percent of those given a placebo.
Individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip also are helped. Willow bark can be purchased as standardized extracts and teas. If you have access to white willow and wish to make your own, collect bark from a twig (never the main trunk). Use about 2 teaspoons of bark to a cup of water, boil, simmer for 10 minutes and cool slightly. Because salicin concentration is low and widely variable in willow bark, you may need several cups to obtain the equivalent of two standard aspirin tablets. A word of caution: Willow should not be given to children, due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, nor used by individuals with aspirin allergies, bleeding disorders, or liver or kidney disease. Willow may interact adversely with blood-thinning medications and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Also, willow tends not to irritate the stomach in the short term, but long-term use can be problematic.
Peppermint is a famous antispasmodic for digestive cramps, while its essential oil is used as a local topical anesthetic in commercial ointments (Solarcaine and Ben-Gay, for example).
Germany’s Commission E authorizes use of oral peppermint oil for treating colicky pain in the digestive tract of adults. However, peppermint oil shouldn’t be used for colic in newborn babies, as it can cause jaundice.
Several double-blind studies of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome demonstrate peppermint can significantly relieve painful abdominal cramps, bloating and flatulence. In the largest study, reported in the Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers administered either enteric-coated peppermint oil or a placebo to 110 individuals three to four times daily, 15 to 30 minutes before meals, for four weeks. The study found peppermint significantly reduced abdominal discomfort.
Take a 0.2- to 0.4-ml enteric-coated peppermint capsule three times daily. (Enteric coating prevents stomach upset.) For mild stomach discomfort, try a tea from fresh or dried peppermint leaves. The menthol in peppermint relaxes the muscles. Its antispasmodic and analgesic effects also can help relieve headaches, possibly including migraines, when applied to the forehead or temples—dilute about 3 drops of essential oil in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
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