Arnica/Wolf’s bane – characteristics, cultivation and use

Arnica plant with yellow flower
Arnica plant with yellow flower

Arnica is considered one of the best alternative medicinal herbs for poorly healing wounds and external injuries. In traditional medicine, it is often given before and after surgery, achieving good results in wound healing. Due to its excellent healing properties, arnica is almost extinct in its natural range, which is why today it is strictly protected.

Profile of arnica:

Scientific name: Arnica montana

Plant family: composite, asters (Asteraceae)

Other names: wolf’s bane, leopard’s bane, mountain tobacco and mountain arnica

Sowing time / Planting time: March – May

Flowering period: May – September

Harvest time: from July

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: acidic, well-drained and nutrient-poor soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: joint problems, wound healing, bruises, postoperative care, sore throat, angina pectoris

Use as aromatic herb: no use

Plant characteristics and classification of arnica

Origin and occurrence of arnica

The arnica is today found mainly in northern and southern Europe. Partly, however, the plant is also found in some Eastern European countries or in the Balkan region. It mainly colonizes lime-poor landscapes, which have a certain acid milieu (for example coniferous forests, marshes). The plant is more common in hill and hill areas than in the lowlands. It can populate altitudes up to about 2,300 meters (7,500 feet).

The occurrence in wild nature of the plant have declined massively in recent years, which is why arnica is now a strictly protected species in many European countries.

Plant order of arnica

The arnica (Arnica montana) is a typical representative of the aster family (Asteraceae). It is related to herbs such as the marigold, the alant or the dandelion. For the genus Arnica today more than 30 different species are known, the common arnica is the most significant species. In higher mountain areas, the narrowleaf arnica (Arnica angustifolia) is still important. The Chamisso arnica (Arnica chamissonis) is native to North America (US and Canada).

arnica flowers
arnica flowers

Look and characteristics of arnica


Arnica is a characteristic herbaceous and perennial plant that can reach stature heights between 20 and 60 cm (8 and 24 in). In the ground, it forms cylindrical, dark brown to almost black rhizomes, which serve as reproductive organs and can be several feet long. In addition to the rhizomes there is a fine dense root system consisting of numerous root hairs.


The leaves of the wolf’s bane are light green in color and usually show an ovate to lanceolate form. The leaf margins are round. The surface of the leaves is sporadic to completely hairy. The upper leaves are usually slightly more hastate than the lower leaves. Usually two leaves form a leaf rosette. Often, the lower leaves of the arnica are slightly serrated and wavy. Striking are the leaf nerves of the plant, which always run vertically from top to bottom.


During the flowering period, which is to be expected between May and early September, the yellow basket blossoms appear, which can reach a diameter of up to 9 cm (3-4 in). Each flower is made up of yellow to light orange petals as well as honey-colored disc florets in the middle. Each plant can carry up to three flowers, often only one flower is formed.


Following the flowering period, the stemmed fruits (achenes), which bear a white umbrella (Pappus), form. From the center of the fruit the black, long-stemmed seeds come out. Arnica is mainly spread by wind.

Arnica – cultivation and care

The well-known plant is for some gardeners a popular ornamental perennial. However, the cultivation or sowing is not necessarily something for beginners. At the location and also during the sowing, there are some important points to consider if the cultivation is to succeed.


In its natural habitat, arnica mainly grows on sunny locations, whereby even partially shaded sites are tolerated. It requires imperatively low-lime soil, that has acidic to almost neutral pH values. On calcareous soils, the plant would simply starve to death due to its root physiology. Helpful are fresh, well-drained and nutrient-poor soils.


The sowing of seeds must be carried out in acidic potting compost. Rhododendron or peatbogs soil, which should be mixed with a little sand, are the best choice here. The best sowing time in the field are the months in late March to mid-May. The seeds of the plant should only be pressed lightly. Arnica is a light germinator. In the field, a planting distance of at least 25 to 30 cm (10 to 12 in) per plant should be respected, as otherwise nutrient competition may occur. A preculture of the plant is possible, but not mandatory. The young plants should then be replanted at the end of May in the field or in a larger pot.


Arnica is a very robust plant, which gets along with relatively few nutrients. If the plant grows in a typical garden soil, usually no additional fertilizer is necessary. Problematic are over-fertilized garden soils, which tend to damage the roots.


Arnica is adapted to drier locations and does not need to be watered regularly in the field. However, on consecutive hot days without significant rainfall, the plants should be extensively watered in the evenings.


Wolf’s bane is a hardy plant. The overwintering of the plant take over the rhizomes in the soil, which serve as hibernating organs. The superficial plant parts die off towards the winter and shoot again in the spring.

Diseases and pests

Common pests of the arnica are various lice.


Depending on the application, the flowers, leaves, roots and fruits can be used. These should be harvested only in the second year after cultivation.

some arnica on a meadow
some arnica on a meadow

Use of arnica

Arnica in the kitchen

Arnika is not used in the kitchen. This is primarily due to the fact that both leaves and flowers have no appreciable taste and some ingredients of the plant could cause indigestion.

Arnica as a medicinal herb

Arnica is one of the best herbs for various skin diseases, for the relief of rheumatic complaints and for better wound healing.

To what extent the arnica was used already in antiquity and the Middle Ages can not be said with certainty today. In the herbal books of the Middle Ages there are only very contradictory descriptions. A certain notoriety received the arnica not until the beginning to mid-17th century. First descriptions were found in new herbal books, where wraps against bruising were mentioned.

Only in the middle and late 19th century, arnica was such a popular medicinal plant that many natural resources were quickly harvested. Especially in the mountainous regions, the stand could hardly recover. At the beginning of the 20th century, arnica was cultivated to meet the huge demand of the plant.

For medicinal purposes, only the flowers are used.

Arnica can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • aching
  • badly healing wounds
  • boils
  • bronchitis
  • bruises
  • canker sores
  • cold
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • flu
  • eczema
  • gingivitis
  • gout
  • heart failure
  • heart problems
  • hematoma
  • hoarseness
  • inflammation caused by insect bites
  • joint inflammation
  • joint pain
  • neuralgia
  • pulled muscels
  • phlebitis
  • rheumatism
  • seasickness
  • skin inflammation
  • sore throat
  • sprains
  • stomach cramps
  • stomatitis
  • strengthening the circulation
  • swelling in fractures
  • thrombosis
  • tonsillitis
  • varicose veins
  • venous insufficiency

Medicinal properties

  • analgesic
  • antibacterial
  • antispasmodic
  • anti-inflammatory
  • blood purifier
  • diuretic
  • irritating to the skin
  • sudorific

Some recent scientific studies have shown that taking arnica tinctures can help for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Arnica is used homeopathically after surgery in many hospitals. There are already studies which indicate that homeopathic extracts with the dilution D4 are in no way inferior to a treatment with the usual diclofenac. In addition, there are fewer side effects associated with the administration of arnica than diclofenac.

There are several ways to administer. The most common forms to apply the medicinal plant are:

  • oil
  • infusions for envelopes
  • ointment
  • globules
  • tinctures

Arnica pads and envelopes are traditionally used as a home remedy in many external conditions, such as painful bone and joint disorders. Typical complaints are joint and muscle pain and bruises, swelling or classic sports injuries such as muscle strains or ligament problems. Arnica is a very powerful medicinal plant, which exerts a certain irritant effect. Therefore, you should use them internally and externally only with great caution and highly diluted.

It can also be used in ointments and creams to prevent injuries, such as muscle and joint pain, pinched nerves and rheumatism. The ointments can usually be processed better.

Arnica is also used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The herb has warming properties and has an effect on the heart and lung organ systems. The herb is used in TCM especially for heart problems (heart failure, low and high blood pressure) and pulmonary complaints (asthma, whooping cough).

Side effects

Arnica is considered to be well tolerated. Nevertheless, skin complaints may occur with prolonged use. If used internally, diarrhea or even heart rhythm disturbances may occur. In homeopathic applications, these reactions are usually not expected. But it can cause allergies (e.g. if one is allergic to plants of the aster family) to many people, so careful use of arnica should be sought. If sied effects occur you should stop the treatment and the application should then be discussed with a doctor or pharmacist.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Arnica – What is there to pay attention to?

Arnica enjoys a great demand in natural medicine. There is now a wide range of different products that primarily serve the treatment of blunt or external injuries.

Who wants to grow the plant in the garden, both species arnica (Arnica montana) and the Chamisso arnica (Arnica chamissonis) can be found only as seeds or fresh plants.. The Chamisso arnica is easier to cultivate than the common arnica. This one can also be used as a medicinal herb.

If you don´t want to produce your own remedies at home you can purchase tinctures, ointments and essences at pharmacies, drugstore and online.

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