The Top 25 Herbal Remedies for Pain Relief
Are you on the lookout for a more natural way to curb chronic pain and bring down levels of inflammation? If so, in this post we have you covered.
If you’re wary of the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs and you’re looking for some natural alternatives, we’ve done the hard work for you and scrawled across the web to bring you twenty-five of the most effective herbal remedies to combat pain and inflammation.
Whether you’re suffering from an autoimmune condition like arthritis or IBD, or if you’re simply experiencing aches and pains, combining a few of these herbs with a healthy lifestyle should hopefully provide you with relief.
1. Thunder God Vine
We’ll start off this list with an herb that has possibly the coolest name in the plant kingdom. It’s certainly up there with ‘Devil’s Claw”, which we’ll come onto a little later… Aside from its powerful name, thunder god vine is a potent medicinal herb that can be used to treat a wide range of ailments. It is in fact, one of the oldest herbs used in the Chinese medicine system.
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As the guys over at the Healthline iterate, extracts from the skinned roots of the thunder god vine are thought to help suppress an overactive immune system, making the herb a possible alternative candidate for the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and IBD. Although it is available in various forms, thunder god vine extract is most commonly found in a topical cream that can be applied directly to the painful area.
It’s important to make sure that you acquire the extract from a reliable source, as other parts of the plant can be poisonous. Even if you do get a quality extract, some studies suggest that the herb does not come without its side effects, which may include stomach upset, skin reactions, temporary infertility in men and amenorrhea (lack of menstruation) in women. So if you do choose to experiment with thunder god vine, please do so with caution!
Arnica is an herb derived from the European sunflower. It is most widely known for its effectiveness in reducing the severity of bruising after medical and cosmetic surgical procedures.
A 2006 study confirmed that an arnica extract cream can help to bring down swelling and bruising following corrective knee surgery.
Although the exact mechanism behind the healing power of arnica is not fully understood, it contains the compound helenin, which has been proven to be an analgesic. It is also rich in anti-inflammatory chemicals that help to reduce swelling and associated pain.
For these reasons, it is commonly used by athletes to improve their recovery times after injuries or tough bouts of exertion.
Like thunder god vine, arnica does not come without its share of controversy. Some claim that the herb has no effect on pain or recovery, and there is research to suggest that it may even worsen symptoms.
Again, by all means, experiment, but do so with caution!
Fennel is a flowering plant species that interestingly belongs to the carrot family. Aside from being used to flavor a number of Mediterranean dishes, extracts from the plant have been shown to provide a range of health benefits, including pain relief.
A 2012 study looked at the effects of a 30mg fennel extract on painful cramps during menstruation. Based on their observations, the researchers concluded that fennel is an effective herbal drug for menstrual pain.
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Although the exact mechanism is not entirely understood, fennel contains both antispasmodic and analgesic compounds that help the body to relax.
4. Licorice Root
Licorice root has been used in Chinese medicine and the Indian Ayurvedic healing system for thousands of years to treat a range of pain-related conditions. Licorice contains a selection of natural anesthetic and analgesic compounds. Studies have also confirmed that the root also has anti-inflammatory properties, which may play a key role in reducing arthritic pain.
In addition to its role in treating arthritis, the root is sometimes chewed raw or boiled into a tea to help ease sore throats and gastrointestinal issues.
5. St. John’s Wort
Native to Europe, St. John’s wort is a natural herbal remedy that is most commonly associated with treating depression and other conditions related to mental health. Some claim that it is also an effective pain reliever, and can be used to treat sciatica, arthritis, and neuropathic pain. It should be noted however that there is not yet enough scientific data available to back up these claims.
As the guys at the Mayo Clinic highlight:
“Early study shows that St. John's wort may help nerve pain. Further research is needed to confirm these results. It is unclear whether St. John's wort is an effective treatment for pain after surgery. More research is needed.”
6. Oregano, Rosemary, and Thyme
Oregano, rosemary, and thyme are three common garden herbs used all across Europe and North America to flavor a range of savory dishes.
As well as their great taste, they are all potent medicinal herbs.
As the guys over at Mother Earth Living point out:
“Oregano (Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris) are herbs you should be sprinkling liberally onto your food, as they are replete with analgesic, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory compounds”.
Because of their medicinal characteristics, the herbs can be used to treat pain stemming from a variety of conditions, including arthritis, acute injuries, and menstrual cramps.
A study from 2014, in fact, showed that thyme performed just as well as ibuprofen in reducing pain associated with primary dysmenorrhea.
Sage is another popular herb that as well as providing a great flavor can also be used to combat a variety of pain and inflammation-related ailments. The most common conditions it has been known to combat include arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, and joint pain.
The guys at Herb Wisdom have an even more impressive list of conditions that sage may help to ease:
“It was used by herbalists externally to treat sprains, swelling, ulcers, and bleeding. Internally, a tea made from sage leaves has had a long history of use to treat sore throats and coughs; often by gargling. It was also used by herbalists for rheumatism, excessive menstrual bleeding, and to dry up a mother's milk when nursing was stopped. It was particularly noted for strengthening the nervous system, improving memory, and sharpening the senses”.
Sage can be consumed in an extract or supplement, but also works well fresh or dried in a number of savory dishes.
8. Aloe vera
Aloe vera has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years to help treat a range of illnesses and ailments.
Today it is still popular all around the world for its soothing, medicinal benefits. Although the whole leaves of the plant can be used, aloe vera is commonly found as an extract in gels and topical creams. These are often used to treat joint pains, skin abrasions and burns (particularly sunburn).
When asked about the potential benefits of the plant, one Reddit user had this to say:
“I know that I've found Aloe to work wonders for sunburns. I am very pale with red hair so I know what it's like to have bad sunburns and have had them range from redish-pink for a day to second degree burns resulting in the most painful minor movements. I've found in personal use that Aloe can help heal a sunburn and prevent it from resulting in peeling and such”.
9. Boswellia Serrata
Boswellia Serrata originates from the Middle East, India, and Northern Africa. The tree is found primarily in dry, mountainous regions.
The part that is of most interest to us is the gum-resin that is typically extracted from the bark. It is stored and processed into an extract, often referred to as Indian Frankincense. Like many of the herbs already mentioned, boswellia has been used for thousands of years in the Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine systems to treat a range of pain-related ailments.
It is commonly used to help reduce inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. A 1993 study examined its effectiveness in managing symptoms of the disease and found that it was indeed effective in bringing down joint swelling and pain.
Because of its potency and lack of harmful side effects, more and more research is being conducted to examine whether boswellia extract could be used as an alternative treatment to NSAIDs, which have been known to cause a number of unwanted issues.
10. Devil’s Claw
Native to South Africa, devil’s claw gets it conspicuous name because of the characteristic hooks that cover the fruits of the plant. When animals pass by, these hooks attach to their skin or fur. It is a clever system of symbiosis, whereby the animal spreads the seed of the plant, allowing it to proliferate.
Smart survival tactics aside, devil’s claw is also a potent medicinal herb, particularly the roots of which contain a number of anti-inflammatory compounds.
The guys at Medicine Hunter do a great job of explaining how it all works:
“Devil’s claw root contains a group of compounds called the iridoid glucosides, which include harpagoside, and are anti-inflammatory. The root contains several other anti-inflammatory compounds as well. Other agents in devil’s claw root, including flavonoids and phytosterols, are antioxidant, choleretic (stimulate bile production) and antispasmodic.”
Because of its effectiveness in bringing down inflammation, there is an increasing interest in devil’s claw with regards to treating conditions such as arthritis.
Over at the AltMedicine they outline that in a 2007 study of 259 people with rheumatic conditions, researchers found that 60% of study members either reduced or stopped their pain medication after eight weeks of taking devil's claw. The herb also appeared to improve the participants' general quality of life.
11. Cat’s Claw
Similar in name to devil’s claw, cat’s claw is another anti-inflammatory herb that can help to reduce pain and swelling associated with conditions such as arthritis.
The herb is thought to have been used by the powerful Inca civilization to recover from injuries and illnesses.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, research has shown that cat’s claw can help to reduce pain from arthritis; although other sources suggest that the herb may cause an increase in immune system simulation, leading to more pain.
Again, proceed with caution if you do decide to give cat’s claw a try.
12. White Willow Bark
White willow is a tree commonly found in Europe and Central Asia. The bark of the tree is sometimes referred to as “Nature’s aspirin” due to its natural pain relieving properties.
The bark contains the compound salicin, which as the guys at the Natural Society point out:
“…lowers the body’s levels of prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that can cause aches, pain, and inflammation. What’s more, white willow bark doesn’t upset the stomach or cause internal bleeding like many over-the-counter aspirins. Turn to this herb for relief from menstrual cramps, muscle pains, arthritis, or after knee or hip surgery as it promotes blood flow and reduces swelling.”
The Eucalyptus tree is native to Australia. As well as being the food of choice for Koalas, it is the source of an extract that has numerous medicinal uses, including medicines and essential oils.
It is thought that the aboriginal people have used some form of eucalyptus oil for thousands of years to treat conditions such as joint pain and arthritis.
As outlined by Dr.Mercola:
“Research indicates the analgesic properties of this essential oil. A study in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation applied Eucalyptamint on the anterior forearm skin of 10 subjects, and found that Eucalyptamint produced significant physiologic responses that may be beneficial for pain relief and/or useful to athletes as a passive form of warm-up".
Feverfew is an herb that belongs to the daisy family and has been used for many years in both its fresh and dried form to treat a variety of pain related issues.
It is most commonly used to help prevent and treat headaches and migraines. A survey of 270 people with migraines in the UK found that more than 70% of them felt much better after taking an average of 2 to 3 fresh feverfew leaves daily.
It’s not just great at combatting head pain. Feverfew can also ease the symptoms of a number of other conditions. As noted by the guys at Herb Wisdom:
“Used for the prevention of migraines & headaches, arthritis, fevers, muscle tension and pain, Feverfew is also used to lower blood pressure, lessen stomach irritation, stimulate the appetite and to improve digestion and kidney function. It has been indicated for colitis, dizziness, tinnitus and menstrual problems.”
Cinnamon is used to flavor recipes from all around the world, but it also provides a number of health benefits.
It is often used by athletes and those who suffer from inflammation-related conditions to help reduce swelling and pain.
A 2011 study demonstrated that cinnamon extract could help to bring down inflammation of the colon in mice. As human systems behave somewhat similarly to those of mice, this led researchers to believe that it may have similar anti-inflammatory effects.
Coriander is another popular spice that is commonly used in a variety of Indian and East Asian dishes. It can be consumed fresh, or ground up into a powder to add a unique flavor.
We’ve mentioned this before here on the Eu Natural blog, but it’s worth repeating – coriander is one of the top sources of chlorophyll available to us. Chlorophyll helps to promote alkalinity, aids with digestion, promotes a healthy hormone balance and helps to rid the body of excess heavy metals that can cause harm.
Although all of these benefits are great, with regards to reducing pain and inflammation, the alkalizing nature of chlorophyll may be the most significant.
Due to our fast-paced lifestyles and Western dietary stressors, the human body typically exists in a slightly acidic state, which allows inflammation and disease to thrive – causing pain.
By consuming alkaline forming foods and chlorophyll-rich foods such as coriander, the body is encouraged towards a more alkaline state, which makes it much more difficult for inflammation and pain to exist.
17. Birch Leaf
The birch tree is found all across Europe and North America. Although it may seem like just another normal tree that you find in a park, the leaves of the birch tree have powerful medicinal uses.
As the Natural Society explains, one of the main chemical compounds found in Birch leaves is methyl salicylate, which is similar to the salicylic acid found in aspirin.
“Methyl salicylate is anti-spasmodic, analgesic, astringent, antifungal, diuretic, detoxifying, reduces oxidative damage to skin (stopping wrinkles), and enhances circulation. It also promotes enzymatic secretions in the body.”
Like many of the other herbs already mentioned, birch leaves act in a similar way to NSAIDs, helping to reduce pain and bring down inflammation. For that reason, it is often consumed in supplement form to help manage symptoms of arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and acute injuries.
Ginger is a staple root vegetable that is used in entrees all across the world. Whether it is consumed fresh or in supplement form, it also presents a wide range of health benefits.
Like birch leaves, research suggests that ginger may rival non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications when it comes to reducing pain and bringing down levels of chronic inflammation.
As the people over at Prevention.com point out, it is the main active compound gingerol that may lie at the root of ginger’s anti-inflammatory benefits:
“Studies have linked the root to lowered post-exercise inflammation and a drop in joint pain caused by the chronic inflammatory conditions osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. While researchers haven’t pinpointed its anti-inflammatory effects to a single component, it’s likely one of the culprits is the plant’s active compound ginger.”
Turmeric is one of the most well known herbal remedies for pain and inflammation. It has been used for centuries in the Ayurvedic medicine system to treat a variety of ailments, including inflammation, and it’s something we’ve talked about many times before here on the Eu Natural blog.
Although it is made up of many different compounds, the one that is the most important to us is curcumin, which provides turmeric with its characteristic yellow hue, and has been proven to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
As stated over at Authority Nutrition:
“Curcumin actually targets multiple steps in the inflammatory pathway, at the molecular level. Curcumin blocks NF-kB, a molecule that travels into the nuclei of cells and turns on genes related to inflammation. NF-kB is believed to play a major role in many chronic diseases.”
Just like ginger and birch leaves, turmeric may be a great alternative to anti-inflammatory medications, without any unwanted nasty side effects!
20. Black Pepper
Black pepper makes a great addition to almost any main meal you can think of, but also has some powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
The guys over at Livestrong explain why it is such a useful remedy to many inflammatory conditions:
“Black pepper contains piperine, a chemical similar to capsaicin found in hot chili peppers. Piperine helps to reduce pain, triggering transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1, TRPV1, receptors in your body, which respond to counteract pain, according to an article published in the October 2010 issue of “Molecular Pain.” Piperine extracted from black pepper is combined with other emollients and natural ingredients into an analgesic cream that is applied to your skin at the site of pain.”
Aside from providing its own cocktail of anti-inflammatory benefits, black pepper also increases the bioavailability of turmeric, further increasing its potential to reduce pain and bring down inflammation levels. Consuming both together means you get the best of both worlds.
21. Valerian Root
Just as white willow bark is otherwise known as “nature’s aspirin”, valerian root is sometimes referred to as “nature's tranquilizer”. The medicinal plant has been used for hundreds of years as a sleep aid, and as a way to help regulate the nervous system and relieve tension, irritability, stress, and anxiety.
It may also play a role in pain reduction, as explained by Herb Wisdom:
“Valerian is used in Europe as an antispasmodic, particularly for abdominal cramps due to nervousness and for uterine cramps and menstrual agitation. It helps relieve dysmenorrhoea and it can be of benefit in migraine and rheumatic pain. It may also be applied locally as a treatment for cramps and other muscle tensions.”
Valerian is also sometimes used to help people transition away from traditional pain relieving medications. People who are on benzodiazepines, for example, can be eased off by taking valerian as an alternative.
Cloves are one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic spices available.
Cloves contain the active compound Eugenol, which has powerful anti-inflammatory capabilities. As the guys at World’s Healthiest Foods explain:
“Eugenol, the primary component of clove's volatile oils, functions as an anti-inflammatory substance. In animal studies, the addition of clove extract to diets already high in anti-inflammatory components (like cod liver oil, with its high omega-3 fatty acid content) brings significant added benefits, and in some studies, further reduces inflammatory symptoms by another 15-30%.”
They also contain a large concentration of flavonoids, namely kaempferol and rhamnetin, both of which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Cayenne pepper is to add spice to a variety of dishes around the world. It also presents a number of health benefits, including helping to dampen symptoms of chronic pain and inflammation.
The spice is used as a remedy for a number of inflammatory conditions, including joint pain, arthritis, migraines and digestive disorders.
The secret to cayenne’s anti-inflammatory properties is thought to lie in its main active ingredient, capsaicin. Although the compound is an irritant to most mammals, in humans it seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect, as demonstrated in numerous scientific studies.
Peppermint is a mixture of the water-mint and spearmint plants. It is commonly taken orally in a supplement form for its medicinal properties, and it is also made into an oil to apply to specific areas that have become inflamed, to reduce swelling and pain.
As the guys at Livestrong point out, peppermint has a number of uses:
“With its anti-inflammatory properties offering a calming and numbing effect, peppermint can be used to treat digestive disorders such as upset stomach, headaches, viral and bacterial infections, skin conditions, depression and menstrual cramps.”
Basil is another popular herb in the West, commonly utilized in both its fresh and dried form in a variety of Italian style dishes.
As well as providing an aromatic flavor, the herb also presents some brilliant analgesic and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Like many of the healthy herbs and spices already mentioned above, basil has been shown to be as strong as many traditional anti-inflammatory medications when it comes to bringing down pain and inflammation levels.
Research has shown that when taken orally, concentrated basil extracts can reduce joint swelling by up to 73 percent within 24 hours, making it of particular interest to those who suffer from arthritis, and those who regularly experience inflammation and joint injuries as a result of sport and exercise.