As I look back on my childhood, I realize that our household was considered an unmodern one by our neighbors, friends, and some relatives. My parents disdained drugstore first aid. Our "medicine chest" had home ointments, tinctures, liniments, and gargles made from plants. Of course we children resisted this old fashioned concept sometimes, as we preferred to be "modern" just like everyone else.
But when I think of childhood and the gentle ministration of my mother when I had pain from falls, strains, or unbroken bruises, it brings to mind the remarkable plant arnica.
When my grandmother came from Europe, she brought all her knowledge of healing "simples" with her, and arnica was one of her favorites. For the Arnica montana, or leopard's bane of Europe, she found an almost identical American arnica counterpart. Every so often, she stirred her yellow arnica flowers into heated lanolin to make a "bruise" ointment. Sometimes she made an arnica liniment with her own home vinegar, or created a tincture in some inexpensive brandy or, more likely, in the case of arnica (since it is applied externally only), out of a better grade of rubbing alcohol.
Medicine Chest Ideas Arnica montana, or the various wild American arnicas, are just one of the many yellow flowering plants that I love to use for healing, and most especially for first aid. The others that come to mind at this point are marigold (Calendula officinalis, or pot marigold), chamomile, St. John's wort, mullein, Solomon's seal, and comfrey.
I keep some form of all of these flowers in my home medicine chest for first aid emergencies. Chamomile I use in flower form for quick infusions, for its antiseptic abilities, and for its internal quieting abilities. I keep comfrey. in root form for internal or external healing, and I always have a home comfrey. ointment and tincture on hand. One night, recently, I discovered a sore in my mouth, for instance. I couldn't imagine how I got one on the inner part of the lower gum, but I recalled I had been at the dentist that morning for a tooth cleaning and he had probably scraped the gum. I dabbed
comfrey ointment on the sore. By morning, the abrasion had disappeared.
I keep calendula in a lotion, tincture, ointment, and oil form in the medicine chest. Usually I buy these ready made from one of the top herbal or homeopathic pharmacies. St. John's wort is a backup for calendula. Mullein flower oil (available from several homeopathic pharmacies) is a must for earaches.
Arnica Needs As for the arnica, I always have some arnica ointment, arnica lotion, arnica tincture, and arnica vinegar on hand for our family. Other medicine chest suggestions are scattered through the book.
Historical Uses The late Father John Kunzle, an herbalist of the last century, considered arnica one of the important healing herbs, and suggested that it be made into an ointment or a tincture in "case of sprains, dislocation and swellings caused by them." Use the undiluted tincture or arnica vinegar as a liniment. Arnica can be diluted in water. Use it as a tea in a foot or arm bath or dip a three folded cloth into the tincture solution or arnica vinegar, wring it out, and fold the compress over the bruise, pain, or sprain. However, I must warn that arnica i's never to be used on open flesh wounds externally. Arnica may only be used on unbroken skin!
Kunzle, in one of his rare technical suggestions, says to make an "Arnica tincture, use good clean arnica blossoms soaked in alcohol. Place bottle in the sun, or another warm place, for ten days, then strain."
Ointment Note the directions for making an ointment, or pour about fifteen drops of the tincture into an ounce of anhydrous lanolin, and stir or heat slightly until the tincture is completely distributed and absorbed.
Arnica montana was official in various pharmocopoeias in the United States. It was official in the USP, 1820 51, and the flowers were official in USP, 1851-1925 and in the NF 1926 1960. The root was official in the USP, 1882 1905. Remington's Practice of Pharmacy shows arnica plaster recipes and indicates the tincture was used as an embrocation (liniment) for counterirritant purposes (rubefacient). When a substance is used as a counterirritant it brings blood to the surface and breaks up an internal congestion. Mustard plasters are the most famous and widely used of the counterirritants.
Pain Killer There is another use for arnica stemming from another separate branch of medicine: homeopathy. Since this is a book on folk cures, family remedies, and preventive and remedial attributes of certain herbs and foods that are herbs, I do not wish to embark on a discussion of homeopathy. I would like to say, though, that although arnica may never be used internally in its natural form, as a tea, for instance, and should never be used on open cuts, I have found the homeopathic pill form of arnica is useful for first aid shock and muscular pain. I often use arnica in the 6X size, which is one of the usual sizes in home homoeopathic kits. I have used it myself and for family members for shock after accidents. The British physician Dr. Dorothy Shepard has written two splendid books* on her use of various homoeopathic remedies, and she considers the 6X pill form the "homoeopathic pain killer." In these books she notes case histories of her successful use of arnica in its special homoeopathic form (reduced in a special way so that only a vibration of the plant is left for use). She claims it to be successful for pain and swelling from dentistry. Dr. Shepard notes her use of 6X arnica for childbirth, to relieve pain in setting an arm, for concussions, injuries, falls, blasts, fractures, and dislocations.
While I am describing my own experience with such homeopathic standbys, and I am quoting Dr. Shepard, I in no way suggest that you use homoeopathic medicine until you have studied it further, and conferred with a homoeopathic practitioner physician.