Herbs for arthritis can be an important part of your relief plan. Unlike osteoarthritis drugs that just deaden pain, many plants have compounds in them that repair the damage of an injury or degenerative disease and provide relief.
Some act as natural muscle relaxants and others as anti-spasmodics or anti-inflammatories. I’ve presented information here on the herbs most widely used in the U.S. (since that’s where I’m located). Feel free to use the search bar over there on the right if you need information that isn’t covered here.
Herbs can be used in cooking, and many foods help arthritis pain. You can use these herbs in your cooking for an added anti-inflammatory boost.
A comfrey ointment may help repair damaged and degenerating bone and anti-inflammatory herbs like willow, devil’s claw or meadowsweet may help relieve pain. There are also cleansing herbs that can detoxify the joints, like yellow dock or celery seed. The Chinese have been using herbs for arthritis for centuries, and they are generally classified as warming or cooling, depending on their actions inside the body and what “evils” (like heat, cold, or damp) they are counteracting.
Angelica – a good herb for arthritis that can be used topically as a compress or added in a hot bath. It’s a warming and stimulating herb, good for “cold” types of osteoarthritis (if you have circulation problems for example). It’s available in tincture form (recommended) or you may purchase the dried leaves or root (not recommended).
To use, dilute the tincture in hot water and apply to a cloth to use as a compress. You may also dilute 10 drops of Angelica oil in 25 mL of almond or sunflower oil to use as a massage oil for arthritic joints. For a bath, add 5 drops of the oil to the water in the tub.
Do NOT use Angelica during pregnancy.
Devil’s Claw – is a potent anti-inflammatory and its action has been compared to that of cortisone. It’s better for degenerative arthritis than for RA. This herb is best taken internally, but do NOT take it if you have stomach or duodenal ulcers, as it increases gastric juices production.
Devil’s Claw is supplied in capsules. Take between 1-3 grams per day in divided doses during flare ups. Capsules normally contain between 400-600 mg each.
It can also be made into an infusion by using 1 teaspoon (about 4.5 grams) in 300 mL of boiling water. Steep this for 8 hours and strain. It can then be taken up to 3 times a day or used as a compress.
Bogbean – is a “cooling” herb, so it’s good for flare ups with hot, aching joints. This herb is used primarily in Europe for loss of appetite and and stomach discomfort, but it is also known an aid for gout and swelling; so I’m listing it here in herbs for arthritis.
In tincture form, you can take up to 8 mL three times a day. You may also use it as an infusion. To make a tea, pour boiling water over 0.5 to 1 gram of the finely chopped dried herb, let steep for 5-10 minutes and then strain. You may drink 1/2 cup, unsweetened, before each meal.
White Willow – is rich in salicylates (the active ingredient in aspirin) so it is well known as an anti-inflammatory. It’s useful during flare ups and for associated muscle pain. It’s available in powder and tincture form.
Take up to 5 mL tincuture three times a day. It may also be combined with other herbs for arthritis like angelica or yellow dock. To make an infusion, put 2-3 grams of finely chopped or powdered herb in cold water, bring to a boil, then turn off heat and steep for 5 minutes. Strain. You may drink 1 cup 3-5 times daily.
Caution should be used if you’re already taking NSAID’s or other salicylates (like aspirin). Do not take if you are on anti-platelet medication or any medicine that prolongs the PT time. White willow should NEVER be given to children with flu like symptoms due to the association between salicylates and Reye’s syndrome.
For a great resource on common herbs I recommend reading this information on using medicinal herbs.
Herbs and spices can be easily integrated into your life to help ease arthritis pain. Using them in cooking is a great, easy way to get the healing properties of these plants into you. Spices are full of antioxidants and phytochemicals and some have anti-inflammatory effects.
A reference I like is by Helen Anderson and is called Herbs, The Natural Alternative. She can really show you how to use herbs and spices to decrease pain and boost your health. She covers baths, ointments, tinctures and recipes for other herbal preparations to help you feel better.
Here are some herbs for arthritis you can start using right away.
Turmeric – this comes from the curcumin plant and helps inflammation. A study in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism showed turmeric slowed down cartilage destruction, blocked inflammation and reduced swelling.
Eat dishes made with curry several times a week or take in capsule form.
Ginger – This spice is used in traditional Chinese medicines and inhibits inflammation. It’s especially good for people whose symptoms get worse in cold weather since it increases blood flow.
Ginger can be drunk as a tea daily or you can take it in supplement form. The root is good grated and used in soups and stocks or even added to juices (but use it sparingly).
Rosemary – This herb contains antioxidants that reduce inflammation and helps block pain.
You can use it in cooking as a dried or fresh herb or you can use essential oil in a bath or mixed with almond oil and massage it into your sore joints. Do NOT use rosemary during pregnancy.
Saffron – This herb is handpicked from crocus blossoms and is a powerful antioxidant. True saffron is expensive, but it doesn’t take much in cooking to release it’s scent and color.
Mix 1/2 teaspoon of saffron into boiling water and you can drink it as a tea. You can also mix saffron essential oil with some almond oil and rub it directly into your joints. It’s also excellent when added to rice dishes and soups. You don’t want to use more than 2 grams a day, though, as that might cause nausea.
Cayenne – Cayenne pepper is best known for the heat it adds to chilis and other spicy dishes. The active ingredient, capsaicin, can block pain signals to the brain when used topically.
Use it as you would any pepper, but it doesn’t take much to go from warm to burn your mouth hot, so be careful. It is sold in capsule form, but may cause nausea. Many over the counter pain relieving creams have capsaicin in them to ease arthritis pain and you can use those on painful joints as directed.
The statements found about herbs for arthritis have not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.