‘Knock it out! Five Pain Relieving Plants found in Nature.’
Contributor: Michelle Tonkin ND
Pain… it’s not pleasant and unfortunately every one of us will experience some type of Acute pain during our lifetime, be it a headache, menstrual cramps, joint muscle pain or even the occasional minor athletic injury. There are also those individuals that experience Chronic ongoing pain, from perhaps a past injury, illness, genetic anomalies, or a predisposed condition.
According to a survey done in 2012 by the National Health Institute, 11.2 percent or 25.3 million Americans had suffered from some form of pain Every day for a period of three months or longer and 17.6 percent more suffered from extreme pain. Chronic or extreme pain can greatly hinder people’s quality of life along with their ability to function and perform daily activities, especially in this fast paced, high stressed world we live in.
These Five Plants found in nature have been shown to help provide some degree of relief from pain and inflammation whether it be occasional or chronic/severe.
Most people are aware of Aloe as a natural remedy for sunburn or even as a natural laxative, but it has also been demonstrated to have pain relieving properties that can benefit the body, ranging from heartburn to arthritis. Aloe Vera has been used medicinally for thousands of years as far back as ancient Egypt. It is native to North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Canary Islands. For heartburn or GERD, Aloe Vera has been shown to provide relief and or reduce the severity of symptoms. It is also known to have some laxative inducing properties so is not recommended for those with IBS, Colitis, or Chron’s disease.
Aloe Vera is now harvested worldwide in tropical environments. Because of the harsh conditions this plant encounters, it holds its water supply in its dense leaves. This combined with its enriched complex carbohydrates are what make it an effective moisturizer and pain reliever. For centuries Aloe has been used to reduce inflammation in arthritis.
A study done on rodents in 2014 (published in the International Journal of Inflammation) showed Aloe’s potential benefit as a natural anti-inflammatory treatment for arthritis. More research will need to be done to confirm these benefits as a possible alternative for those suffering from this often-painful inflammatory condition.
This substance found in chili pepper plants is what gives them their ‘kick’. Capsaicin works to reduce pain by “triggering a signaling cascade that results in the inactivation of mechano-sensitive transmembrane channels in neurons”. (according to a study published in Science Signaling.)
What does that mean? Initially this substance will produce a burning sensation. However, when used topically on a consistent basis it produces a numbing effect on local tissue.
According to David Keifer MD, clinical professor of medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, “Capsaicin works by depleting substance P, a compound that conveys the pain sensation from the peripheral to the central nervous system. It takes a couple of days for this to occur.”
This is wonderful news for those suffering from any number of pain- causing ailments including those involving neuropathies, neuralgias, as well as muscle and joint pain.
Ginger has also been used for thousands of years medicinally and shares its family tree with Cardamom and Turmeric. Hailing from the Zingiberaceae family, it is commonly produced in parts of the world like India, Jamaica, Fiji, Indonesia, and Australia. The part of Ginger used is known as its root or underground stem (rhizome) and can be used raw, powdered, dried as spice or extract, oil or even as a juice. Tinctures, capsules, oils, and even lozenges can be made as well as a wide variety of foods from cookies to drinks, e.g. Gingerbread cookies and Ginger ale.
Ginger extract may help with muscle and joint pain because of its phytochemicals. These phytochemicals are what help stop inflammation. There has also been new research (Journal of Pain) showing Ginger as an effective natural anti-inflammatory which also helps to reduce pain. Both raw and heated Ginger were used in this study which focused on muscle pain with similar results.
It has been used to help treat nausea, loss of appetite, and motion sickness as well as pain. Ginger appears to be safe with very few adverse side effects when taken in small doses. With its availability in a variety of forms and its broad health benefits, Ginger is one root that would add value to your diet on a regular basis.
Peppermint is a widely popular plant being used in everything from teas and tinctures, to toothpaste and cosmetics. Peppermint, also known as Mentha x piperita is actually a hybrid mint or cross between watermint and spearmint.
Peppermint is indigenous to Europe and the Middle East but now is widely cultivated in many parts of the world. It also can be found occasionally in nature with its parent species. Medicinal peppermint is available in leaves, capsules, and oils.
Some of Peppermint’s health benefits are helpful in relief for IBS, Gas, Bloating, Indigestion, Nausea, Headaches, Nerve Pain, Common Colds, and the Flu.
Peppermint essential oil is used in tinctures, chest rubs, and creams. This essential oil is a concentrated oil that comes from the whole fresh or partly dried plant before it flowers. To extract the oil steam distillation is used. Peppermint essential oil should not be used orally and must be diluted with a carrier oil (like olive or coconut oil) as it can be too harsh on the skin and may cause burning or a rash like appearance.
In an article in the American Family Physician, two trials showed how the application of peppermint oil helped relieve the symptoms of tension headache and was as effective as Tylenol or even paracetamol for relief of pain. For pain such as headaches, or migraines, use the essential oil of peppermint with a carrier oil on the forehead to help relieve a tension headache
Precautions: Peppermint should not be used by young children. It should also not be applied directly to the face as it can cause possible life- threatening breathing problems. It should also not be used by those who have hiatus hernia, GERD, or by diabetics as it may lower their blood sugar. The oil form of peppermint should be avoided by pregnant mothers as it can induce menstruation. The capsule form of peppermint should not be combined with antacids as this combination may cause the coating on the peppermint capsule to break down too quickly increasing risk of heartburn.
Used as recommended, Peppermint has many wonderful benefits be it in a tea, cream, tincture or oil. It’s a great herb to have on hand to help ease the occasional headache and stomach upset.
Valerian has been around since ancient times and is used medicinally in a variety of ways including relief of insomnia and nervousness. There are over 250 varieties of Valerian but V. officinalis is the one most commonly used in the West.
Of all these species there are only two that are commonly used medicinally (Himalayan V. wallichii and Mexican V. edulis). This flowering plant is also known as all-heal or garden heliotrope and is native to Europe and parts of Asia. Valerian root is used mainly for insomnia in the U.S. while in Europe it is used to treat restlessness, tremors, and anxiety.
The flowers of valerian were once used in perfumes as it has a delicate smell.
The root has an ‘earthy’ aroma that is largely due to the volatile oils and compounds and is responsible for valerian’s sedative effects. The Supplement form of valerian comes from its roots and stems and are made into a variety of tinctures, teas, capsules and tablets.
Valerian is said to help inhibit prostaglandins in the body which can cause excessive contraction in the smooth muscle. Based on cell-based studies it can also suppress muscle spasms related to uterine muscle contractions. Because of this it has shown to be helpful in treating cramping from painful menstrual cycles.
Precautions: Although Valerian has no reported short-term side effects, long term use adverse effects have been reported to include headaches, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, strange dreams and liver toxicity. Therefore, it is suggested to only be used for a short period of time of 4-8 weeks at the recommended dosages for healthy adults.
These Five Powerful Plants all have wonderful and varied usages to aid the body in treating inflammation and pain. Most of these can be found in health food stores or even your local grocer. The next time some pain tries to sneak up Give one of these natural approaches a try and … Knock It Out!