Arnica montana – botany, history, present and future
Arnica montana is part of the asteraceae plant family. Some of the more known plants in this plant family are sunflowers, daisies, and dandelions. The asteraceae family is one of the largest families of plants, and many plants of this plant family have culinary or medicinal properties. There are many subspecies of arnica, but for this presentation we are going to review the main species known for its medicinal properties: Arnica montana.
This plant is native to Europe, and grows in medium-to-high altitude alpine meadows— up to 3,000 m, or about 9,000-10,000 feet, in altitude. The Carpathian Mountains in Romania are one of the most pristine and clean natural habitats for arnica. The beautiful, yellow flowers make for the perfect landscape on these lesser-known areas. Because arnica grows on high altitude mountain landscapes, the natural soil requirements are very particular-- nutrient poor and acidic soils. This herb is very rare— some parts of Europe have even declared it extinct. Romanian arnica is growing in abundance in very few mountainous locations, with a very short season. Arnica loves the cool alpine during the late spring, and early summer temperatures. The beauty of these yellow flowers last only for around two to three weeks a year every summer. Arnica is a rhizomatous perennial. It bears bright flowers with a light botanical scent. Arnica’s rhizomes have a two-year cycle, the flower (rosette part) grows at its front (up), while the other part dies.
The history of arnica goes back to the ancient Greeks. It is assumed that the name originates from the Greek word “arnakis,” meaning soft lamb skin, referring to the way the leaf of the arnica plant feels when touched. Other common popular names are mountain arnica and mountain tobacco. The plant is well used in European Herbalism for hundreds of years, and it’s a favorite in many traditional uses in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.
Saving Arnica for future generation can be done with responsible wildcrafting and with establishing new habitats in areas known to fit the soil, air, and altitude. Because Arnica is a rhizomatous root, the easiest way to grow it is to propagate by division, or grow it from a piece of the root of an established plant. Arnica can be grown from seeds as well, but this could be more challenging as about 20% of the seeds planted will not germinate. Better outcomes with established plants from seeds could be done in a nursery setting and use transplanted plants to establish a new habitat. Seeds may sprout in the correct conditions between two to three weeks. They grow slow, so correctly planning to succeed in transplanting is a must.
High quality dried arnica is hard to find, due to high demand and decreasing feats of production. The environmental wildcrafting of head flowers only is a must to maintain the established meadows for the future. Some herbalists use the Arnica roots as well, but in the effort to preserve arnica for the future, you should use only the flower’s heads for herbal preparation. Our wildcrafted arnica is a powerful healer for herbalists around the world and a highly regarded plant for its medicinal proprieties by the modern pharmaceutical industry. The bioavailability of the chemical compounds in Arnica can vary greatly based on the location where the herb is growing, the altitude of the site, and the air quality/climatic conditions. The importance of quality of the raw material used for clinical preparations of arnica can not be overestimated. The chemical compounds of the herb can vary greatly and could potentially alter the final clinical product.
It is important to maintain and sustain the natural habitat of arnica. We contribute to the conservation practices by having a responsible approach to the wildcrafting techniques. Our arnica is sustainably wildcrafted by hand from people that know when the herb is ready to be harvested at peak performance on chemical levels. These people are trained from generation to generation on how to take care of this natural treasure, and know how much to wildharvest and how long the harvesting should last. Our trained Arnica wildcrafters know this herb needs to regenerate for a new season, as it has for thousands of years. With the emphasis on the importance of the pure raw materia medica for the efficacy of the natural herbal medicine, we need to protect and enjoy this beautiful plant and the lovely places it grows in.