Arthritis is a common autoimmune disorder that affects many people. It is largely associated with the elderly but can strike at any age. The disorder is either classed as Osteoarthritis (OA), a condition where the joints harden and wear away, or Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) where the joints become swollen, inflamed and painful. RA runs in my family and consequently I have always been interested in how to avoid its early onset in case I have inherited the dreaded gene. Many people with arthritis are likely to have high uric acid levels which can also cause gout.
I once read that the Anglo Saxons introduced the illness into this country and there have been a myriad of herbal treatments for arthritis stretching back through the centuries. I don’t know how true this is but it does give us an insight into how long people have been trying to cure it.
One of the first natural RA treatments I can recall was used by an elderly lady I knew as a child called Dot Almond. She was a great eccentric and although I have forgotten the exact details I remember being aware that she had travelled the world and led a very interesting life. Other than being fascinated by how sophisticated and different she seemed I always associated her with a certain odour. It hung around her like an exotic cloud, its source an ‘embrocation’ made by a local herbalist. She applied this oily rub onto her sore joints every morning with the help of the local milk woman who also helped her on with her ‘foundation garments’. I later discovered these garments to be a liberty bodice almost as old as its owner but, to this day, the contents of her magical embrocation remain a mystery.
There are plenty of common and easily accessible plants growing all around us which have been used for centuries as arthritic cures. Two of the most common plants to feature in these folk and herbal remedies are nettle and dandelion. Taken regularly, both can act as a tonic for the entire system by slowly and gently cleansing the body of uric acid and metabolic waste. If you don’t enjoy eating nettle or dandelion leaves, they are just as valuable in tea form. This can be made with either a few handfuls of fresh leaves or a few tablespoons of dried herbs in a teapot full of boiling water, taking half a cup of the cooled liquid three times a day.
In one of my older herbal books it claims that nettle should be used in the treatment of arthritis by stinging the affected area – therefore stimulating the blood flow. Although I am sure this would increase circulation I should imagine the discomfort far outweighs the benefits: please do not try this at home. Meadowsweet also features heavily in herbal arthritic remedies due to its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. Along with white willow, meadowsweet was one of the original plants used to create aspirin. This wild herb can be taken as a tea to relieve inflammation and pain or be made into an oil and used as a rub to the effected joints.
Another wild plant which I consider useful for RA, OA and osteoporosis is horsetail. It contains massive amounts of silica and calcium and is known to help rebuild the body’s tissues such as collagen. Horsetail also eliminates uric acid and cellulites from the body. It can be taken as a tea and capsules of the freeze-dried plant are sold in health food shops as a supplement.
Personally I prefer to absorb horsetail’s benefits through my skin with a salve or oil. People suffering from arthritis often suffer from dry and tight feeling skin and I believe that body oils can help with mobility. With that in mind, and in homage to that wonderful lady Dot Almond, I have a recipe for my own version of her liniment oil which you can make at home.
Mrs Almond’s Embrocation
1 pint of oil – I use cheap olive oil but if you can afford it almond oil is good too
2 handfuls of fresh chopped rosemary
1 handful of chopped lemon balm or peppermint
3 handfuls of chopped horsetail herb
2 tablespoons of fresh ginger root grated
if you can find, it a handful or two of fresh meadowsweet
Heat the oil in a pan until you hear it bubble. Take all the fresh ingredients and drop them into the hot oil. Allow to cook for less than a minute then remove from the heat. Do not allow it to overcook as a burnt odour will spoil it. Allow the herbs to sit in the oil while it cools then strain the mixture through a sieve and some muslin into a bowl. Pour the clear oil into sterilised jars and screw on the lids. Remember to label with the contents’ name, ingredients and date. You can use the embrocation immediately and pop extra jars in a cool dark cupboard where they should keep for more than a year.
Main image: horsetail
- Dandelion – do not use if you suffer from low blood pressure
- Horsetail – prolonged use (in very high doses) can lower vitamin B1 levels – should be avoided by pregnant or breast feeding women – if you have a nicotine allergy do not use this herb.
- Meadowsweet – do not take if you have an allergy to aspirin – do not take if you are taking any anti-coagulants such as warfarin – not to be taken by people suffering from asthma
- Nettles – do not take during pregnancy – avoid using stinging nettles if you are taking medication for blood thinning, high blood pressure or diabetes or if you are already taking water retention/diuretic medication
DISCLAIMER: These are some of my personal experiences combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate; in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult a herbalist or your GP. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the herbs mentioned above please stop using them immediately. Always take care when identifying plants.