Mountain Arnica (Arnica montana L.) is a perennial plant belonging to the Asteraceae family. In Italy it grows wild in the Alps and in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines at a height which goes from about 500 to 2200 m above sea level. It is widespread throughout Europe, except for the British Isles.
Mountain Arnica, a natural remedy
It is easily recognisable during the summer season by its orange-yellow flowers, it grows in the mountains on acid or sub-acidic soils, in rhododendron heathlands and in dry meadows.
The populations of the European Alps have always known mountain Arnica as a natural remedy, especially for trauma and muscle and joint pain.
Over the last thirty years, scientific research has identified the active substances contained mainly in the flowers and, to a lesser extent, in the stems, leaves and roots, and has carried out a variety of investigations on their pharmacological activities.
Which substances characterise Arnica
The substances which mostly characterise mountain Arnica are the sesquiterpene lactones contained in the flowers. Among these, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties are attributed to Helenalin and, to a lesser extent to Dihydrohelenalin.
Studies show that the presence of these molecules is influenced by the climate, the altitude and the time of harvest, the cultivar planted and the variability of the wild populations.
In addition to sesquiterpene lactones, as many as 150 active therapeutic substances present in Arnica such as flavonoids, essential oils, carotenoids and caffeic acid have been identified to date. Mountain Arnica is recognised for its numerous assets, including those referring to its anti-tumour, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and antioxidant ones.
A few precautions
However, a serious obstacle to the development of Arnica medicines is the toxicity of the plant if ingested, particularly of the helenalin. For internal use, Arnica is widely used only in homeopathy, provided it is widely diluted.
For external topical use, however, there are no specific contraindications, apart from the recommendation not to use it on injured skin or bleeding wounds. There are numerous clinical studies on the efficacy of mountain Arnica and publications on the methodological quality of these studies are also available. For external topical use, studies confirm that mountain Arnica is a valuable aid in case of bruising, contractures, fatigue, and muscular pain.
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