Winter aches and pains

Liniments and embrocations, salves and ointments…all different kinds of vehicles for herbs that ease rheumatic aches and pains. They feature very largely in the older herbals, and in those few books of housewives’ recipes that survive. There’s a good reason for that; people are naturally most interested in remedies for what ails them, and in the days before central heating and insulation, the cold and damp got into people’s bones much more than they do now, even allowing for the rise in rheumatoid arthritis in modern times.

What can you use? The rubbing in of whatever preparation you choose is beneficial in itself, stimulating circulation and beginning to ease pain. The choice of carriers is vast, from lard to avocado oil, and some have an activity of their own, while others – the ointments – stay on the skin and allow the slow release of the active ingredients. These are often essential oils such as juniper, rosemary, pepper or myrtle, all of which are warming, easing muscular spasm and calming inflammation. You can use fresh ginger root in a poultice, or add cayenne pepper to a plain ointment, or stir tincture or tea of yarrow or meadowsweet into an aqueous cream. There’s an endless variety of carriers, surpassed only by the choice of healing herbs themselves.

And they really do help. Preparations like Deep Heat rely for their action on essential oils. A steroid cream will only suppress the inflammation; it will not help it to resolve by stimulating blood flow, nor will it gently unclench tense muscles. Herbs may be our oldest remedy for aches and pains, but they are still the best.

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