Herbs for Pain


Pain is probably about the most disruptive thing you can have in your life. A simple tummy ache can make it seem like you'll never feel right again. Many excellent new pain-relieving drugs are available, but they all have side effects.Herbal medicines can give you the relief you need, without the concern for future problems or unwanted effects.
Willow bark (Salix alba and other species)

A traditional pain reliever, willow has an outstanding reputation. It contains salicin and other related compounds (salicylates), which are the herbal predecessors of aspirin. Plant salicylates relieve pain, reduce fever and curb inflammation. The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia says, "in modern herbal therapy, willow is predominantly used as an anti-inflammatory for symptomatic relief of gouty arthritis and as an analgesic for mild neuralgic pains, toothaches and headaches."

In Europe, willow is extensively used for low back pain treatment. An Israeli blinded study from 2000 substantiated this benefit. The 191 back pain sufferers took a willow extract, standardized to contain either 120 mg or 240 mg of salicin, per day. The herb turned out to be a great deal more effective than a placebo in this trial, with the higher dose being considerably more effective. In the high-dose group, the response was apparent after only 1 week of treatment.

Willow bark does not thin the blood like aspirin, so don't use it for heart disease. Fortunately, though, it won't cause the bleeding problems common with aspirin. You won't go through aspirin's characteristic digestive disturbance when using willow.

Use a tea brewed from up to 1 oz., dry weight, of the raw herb, per day, or an extract containing 240 mg total salicin per day. Use willow for as long as necessary.
Saint Johnswort flowering tops (Hypericum perforatum)

Exploding from anonymity to become a household name in a few short years, Saint Johnswort has become a pillar in the self-care armamentarium. Saint Johnswort flowers are frequently used for mild to moderate depression. It is an ancient medicine, though, and has been used for hundreds of years in Europe. European and North American herbalists use the herb to treat mild painful conditions including arthritis, neuralgia, sciatica and muscle inflammation.

Europeans know this herb more as an external remedy, which is where it really excels. Yellow Saint Johnswort flowers contain red pigments, so the oil is a beautiful deep red. Prepared as an oily preparation, such as an ointment, it is one of the most popular European remedies for wounds, muscle pain, bruises, varicose veins and burns, and most especially sunburn, all of which are confirmed by Commission E.

The usual dose is 2-5 g of raw herb, 10-15 ml of tincture, or 900 mg of standardized extract (0.3% hypericin), per day.
Feverfew leaf (Tanacetum parthenium)

This popular decorative relative of the daisy, sometimes called "the aspirin of the eighteenth century," has been rediscovered. Traditionally used in European herbalism for all types of pain, such as menstrual cramps, headache and arthritis, this remedy has gotten serious attention recently as a migraine preventive. Taken daily, it significantly reduces the incidence of migraine attacks, according to several studies.

Some herbalists are now reviving the historical use, recommending feverfew for acute headache. Often it is taken in doses of 300 mg every 15 minutes for an hour when the headache starts. Feverfew can produce a little queasiness, so work the dose up cautiously.

For migraine prevention, begin with 125 mg per day, and work up to the dose that gives the best prevention. Larger doses may control arthritis pain.
Turmeric root (Curcuma longa)

Turmeric, which we know as a kitchen spice, is a mainstay in Asian herbal medicine, particularly in Ayurveda, where it is thought to benefit the musculoskeletal system.

Turmeric curbs inflammation. Curcumin, the pigment that gives this herb its characteristic yellow color, is an anti-inflammatory comparable to cortisone and phenylbutazone, the standard anti-inflammatory drugs. Curcumin is nonsteroidal, so it has none of the destructive side effects of steroid anti-inflammatories.

Curcumin directly treats pain, as well. Like cayenne, another medicinal spice, it depletes substance P, the pain receptor neurotransmitter, in the nerve ending. Research now shows that curcumin and related compounds suppress pain through a mechanism similar to many drugs (COX-I and COX-II enzymes). Historically, turmeric has been used externally as an poultice for sprains and sore joints.

Turmeric is a mild herb. For acute inflammation, such as a sore knee after a long bike ride, the dose can be as high as one ounce (4 Tbs.) per day. Stir the powder into water and swallow, or make it into a paste with honey or a bite of oatmeal.

For continuing health benefit, use 1 gram per day as a spice, or in capsules. Standardized extract is available. The dose is 1500 mg of total curcumin content per day.

With all these effective herbal medicines available, you don't have to live with pain. You truly can feel the way you would like, day after day. If pain strikes, give it the boot. Herbs can help.


By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, C.N., A.H.G.

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