Nine BEST Herbs for Supporting Pain Relief (You Probably Already Have Some of These, Too)
There was a time when I suffered from severe back pain. It was centered around my L4-L5 discs, and wow, did it hurt. Actually, I still suffer from occasional back pain, mainly when I'm under a lot of stress. Only these days, I know how to use my herbs to calm the inflammation and soothe the tension.
There are all kinds of pain we suffer in our bodies: muscle pain, headache, joint pain, cramping, and neuralgia to name just a few. When you know how to incorporate herbal medicine into your daily habits, you'll find just how well natural remedies work to help you through a painful period.
I've done a lot of experimenting over the years with both topical and internal herb use for pain management. You see, when I hurt my back over a decade ago, the doctor immediately put me on some really heavy duty pain relievers as well as an anti-anxiety medication. I'll be honest: I could not function at all taking those medications. I was a zombie. Literally.
So, I put those mind-altering, dangerous and addicting prescriptions away in the trash or in emergency storage, and turned to natural remedies, including using yoga postures and meditation along with my herbs.
The herbs on the following list are some of the actual herbs I used back then. Some are newer additions to my remedies. Some are not meant for back pain, but more for a common headache and helping with tension.
Here are my personal favorite herbs for supporting your efforts in dealing with hurting, aching (and worse) body parts. I'll also give you a quick rundown about how to use each of them.
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article. If you click through and make any kind of purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
9 Best Herbs for Soothing & Relieving Pain and Supporting a Pain-Free Life
Herbalism and the plants teach us that every person's body is different. What works for one person may not work for another. In addition, you must factor in the bodily issue. What is the cause of the pain?
Where is it coming from? Are there lifestyle changes you can make to help alleviate the pain? Herbal medicine is all about supporting wellness and health, and for that, you need to think about causes---then take care of them.
With that said, here are my favorite herbs to use when dealing with painful parts, especially my back.
1) Willow Bark:
Willow Bark was the very first herb I ever experimented with as far as being a pain reliever. The reason Willow Bark works so well is because it contains a chemical, salicin, which goes to work quickly in your body to reduce the inflammatory response and calm painful spasms.
Salicin is actually the chemical aspirin is made of, only these days, aspirin's salicin is created in a lab, I have heard, from petrochemical waste. Not the kind of thing I want in my bod, I can tell you. Using Willow Bark is so much better than OTC aspirin because clinical studies have found that aspirin has more negative side-effects than the natural willow. Using herbs as God meant them to be used (in their entire form) is generally much easier on your body.
People who are allergic to aspirin, taking blood-thinners, or are pregnant or nursing should be careful with Willow Bark and definitely consult with a medical doctor about the usage. Like with aspirin, Willow Bark is known to thin the blood, so it doesn't mix well with prescription blood thinners.
I love my Willow Bark Tincture. It's one I am sure never to run out of. For more information about how to make a tincture, you'll like this article.
And, if you want to read about some clinical evidence for Willow Bark, you can find that here.
2) Cayenne (Capsaicin):
Cayenne is another of my favorites because its actions are deeply felt in the body. It has a very hot taste, and this is due to the capsaicin in the pepper. The amount of capsaicin varies greatly among species and types of hot peppers, but cayenne pepper is a true winner in this area.
The way the amount of capsaicin is measured is by heat units, otherwise known as Scoville Heat Units. If the heat unit is 90,000, that's a good hot pepper. Green peppers have as little as 0 heat units, and habanero peppers have upwards of 100,000 H.U.
Regardless, Cayenne is my main go to pepper for helping relieve pain, especially back and joint pain. Cayenne can be tinctured, used in powdered form for wounds, and even added to teas.
However, for external pain relief, creating a salve with a healthy cayenne-infused oil is the best way to go. There is some evidence that over time, the capsaicin can even help clear up arthritic joints as it soaks into the area.
Capsaicin works in blocking pain messages from your nerve cells to your brain. That's why it's a great topical ache & pain relief option.
Turmeric is a lovely yellow root related to ginger. It's pain relieving powers come from the chemical, curcumin, which has been clinically shown to help prevent inflammation. It's especially effective in helping with rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis.
Although turmeric is also a culinary spice, and it has been used for thousands of years, the amount of curcumin you can ingest by using it as a simple food spice is not that great. For best results, it's a good idea to use it in your food, but also to supplement with a standardized turmeric supplement.
One thing to note about curcumin is that it is not very bioavailable on its own to your body. It's best to ingest your turmeric with black pepper, which contains piperine, a substance that helps the curcumin be absorbed by your body's cells. Be sure to look for this in your search for a good supplement.
Here is one I found that seems like a good choice, although I have not tried it myself. I tend to try to eat and drink as much of my herbs with my foods as I can. You can also try Golden Milk, which you can make yourself or purchase. I love this formula from Gaia herbs. You mix this golden powder into a liquid of your choice (many use milk of some type) and enjoy before bedtime.
You may also like my recipe for Golden Beet and Turmeric Kvass, which is deliciously full of probiotics as well as turmeric.
Ginger is AWESOME! First of all, it's delicious for cooking and in teas. It's a known immune boosting herb, and it helps alleviate nausea.
Besides all these wonders, it's an excellent herb for pain relief, especially in terms of muscle aches and osteo-arthritis. Ginger contains compounds that act similarly in our bodies to COX-2 inhibitors, which help reduce inflammation and the pain associated with it.
You can find out more about some of the clinical research done using Ginger here.
I love using fennel for relieving muscle cramping in general and especially for painful menstrual cramps. Fennel is a delicious herb that has wonderful culinary uses all over the world.
Medicinally, though, it's a great herb to have on hand to make up a quick tea in the case of those cramps some folks get!
6) St. John's Wort:
I used to have to purchase my St. John's Wort when I lived in Zone 8. I was able to start growing it in our cooler mountain climate in Southern Nevada about five years ago. Here, in N. Idaho, St. John's wort grows freely and is actually thought of as a weed! Amazing.
Anyhow, no matter where you live and whether or not you are able to grow or forage for St. John's Wort, it is just a wonderful herb to have around for a variety of reasons, and pain relief happens to be one of them.
According to my personal experiences as well as current research, St. John's Wort may help with symptoms of neuralgia and the pain associated with it. It's mood uplifting benefits not withstanding, it's wonderful for helping with pains associated with the nervous system.
With my back pain and sciatica, for example, I've found it helpful for soothing inflamed nerves caused by my L4-L5 problems. According to the Herbal Academy of New England, St. John's Wort is the herbalist's go-to for pain relief associated with the nervous system and emotions.
7) Cloves and Clove Oil:
Cloves and clove oil contains a constituent called eugenol, which is useful for helping numb pain. It's most well-known for helping soothe pain from tooth and gum issues in the mouth. Clove is also very high in anti-oxidants so you'll be getting a great immune-boost when you use clove oil too.
It's also less well-known as a topical pain reliever. You can add the essential oil to salves like my pain relief salve for an extra pain support boost.
8) Wild Lettuce:
Aaah. Wild Lettuce. This stuff grows in many places, and is well-known as a noxious weed. It looks somewhat similar to a large dandelion plant, however, it has spines along it's stems and is much tougher.
The white liquid that oozes out of the stem parts of the plant contains a substance that has similar effects as opium, without the mind-altering issue.
Useful parts of wild lettuce include the leaves, stem, and the accompanying sap. Prior to our move to N. Idaho, I had not used wild lettuce because it didn't grow where I live. Now, I can readily find it out in the yard. I am still experimenting with this amazing herb, so I don't have much personal information (yet) about it, however, it's been used for thousands of years as a pain reliever and is well-known in the herbal community.
9) Wintergreen Essential Oil:
Wintergreen essential oil is one of my favorite ways to soothe painful joint, back, and swollen wounds in which there is no open sore. Wintergreen is for topical use only, so please don't ingest it. It's especially soothing when used along with Peppermint essential oil, but I've found this isn't necessary to feel some relief.
Where Can You Buy Quality Herbs?
There are quite a few great places to purchase your herbs. The links in the article above are for Amazon, and I've tried to choose quality products from there for your convenience. I've purchased from Bulk Apothecary, Mountain Rose, and Frontier Co-op, but my favorite place to buy my herbs is Starwest Botanicals.
I like Starwest best because they have great prices, the quality is wonderful (I've been a customer for about six years and never had one single complaint), the shipping is fast, and customer service is excellent. You can also purchase your culinary herbs, prepared tinctures, and teas, and body care needs there too!
Final Thoughts on Relieving Pain Using Herbs and Natural Methods
I love my herbs and plant medicines. If there is a natural alternative to using prescription or over the counter medications, I'm all in for that. After using all of these herbs (except the wild lettuce, which I'm just starting to experiment with), and finding exceptional relief and management of my own pain, I just can't see going back to using chemicals.
Now, that's not to say there is not a time and place for over the counter or prescription medications. Sometimes there is. But for me and Mr. V., it's a last resort. We have not used Rx or OTC meds in over five years now, and I don't see that changing any time soon.
I recommend trying herbs before turning to more "hard-core" medications that may affect other areas of your life in negative ways due to the side effects. However, it's your personal choice. Just do your research first, and be sure to discuss herbs with your physician (if they know enough to have that discussion). If not, there are many knowledgeable people in the medical community to discuss using herbs with.
Leave a comment if you have any questions, comments, or want to know more! Also, if you are interested in learning more about using herbs for your health, no matter what level you're at, check out The Herbal Academy of New England. I am taking and have taken several of their courses, and they are wonderful for giving you a great foundation in herbalism.
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I would love to hear from you! Do you have favorite natural pain relief methods you love to use? Please share in the comments!
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
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Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical professional of any kind. No statement made here or in any other publication or content is meant or implied to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease or illness. Please be sure to seek medical advice from your doctor before using herbs, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, elderly, or on prescription medications. I am not responsible for your use of herbs, and my statements are simply my own personal experiences and opinions based on study and use,