Sep 262015

Medical herbalist Deanne Greenwood in search of the opium poppyMany people are surprised to learn that some herbs/medicinal plants have powerful analgesic effects. That is, pain-killing properties. They associate herbal medicine with a gentle and subtle approach, which is indeed correct. But gentle and subtle can also be powerful.

The strongest pharmaceutical painkiller is morphine. Morphine, along with many other opiate-based analgesic drugs, is derived from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) . Aspirin (Salix alba), another well-known and powerful anti-inflammatory and painkiller, was also originally synthesized from a plant – the bark of the willow tree. We still use the latter in herbal medicine, and it is renowned as a safe and efficacious painkiller. There are many others: Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia erythrina); St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, which is particularly good for nerve pain); Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium, best known for headache and migraine relief); Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens, a popular remedy for arthritis); and Corydalis (Corydalis species, commonly used for menstrual pain). There are others that can be highly toxic and are restricted to use by herbalists, including Yellow jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Thorn apple (Datura stranomium); Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus); Arnica (Arnica Montana) and even deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna).

Selecting the most appropriate herb for the job, by ascertaining the nature of the pain – muscle spasm, nerve pain, damaged tissue or bones, for example – the cause of the pain and the patient’s personal, individual profile, is paramount for maximum efficacy. As is selecting the right dosage. Some of these herbs may legally only be prescribed by a qualified medical herbalist under Section 20 Part 2 of the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) guidelines.