A group of common nonarticular rheumatic disorders characterized
by pain, tenderness, and stiffness of muscles, areas of tendon insertions,
and adjacent soft-tissue structures.
This is a notoriously vague and misused description of aches and pains in
the musculature of the body. As a common sign of the early stage of many
infections and a range of auto-immune conditions are such symptoms, careful
diagnosis may be called for. As this will often go beyond the usual expertise
of the Herbalist, a safe guideline is that if symptoms cannot be eased to
some degree within two weeks, consider the problem more deeply.
Actions indicated for the processes behind this disease:
Anti-Rheumatics will help through their general
value for this body system.
Anti-Inflammatories are especially indicated if there is much sensitivity
Alteratives would be indicated if there is suspicion of a systemic
Anti-Spasmodic will ease any associated muscular tension, often the
core of this problem.
Circulatory Stimulants may help through increasing local circulation,
however they are usually best used in the form of rubefacients.
Rubefacients will stimulate circulatory activity, thus increasing
removal of tissue waste and the supply of oxygen and nutrients locally.
Analgesic are of limited symptomatic use only.
Diuretics appear to be very effective in easing vague `rheumatic’
aches & pains.
Nervines will help if the need is indicated.
The musculo/skeletal system must be aided, as must general body elimination.
Beyond that it is difficult to say here as so many other parts of the body
can be involved, depending upon the individual involved. For example:
- If it is the result of long standing sports injuries, then connective
tissue must be strengthened, whilst using antispasmodic’s to ease the musculature.
- If the patient has a history of digestive problems, then the use of
digestive tonics of the appropriate kind is indicated.
- Cardio-vascular tonics should be used if there is any hypertension or
even overt heart disease. The balance between herbs for active treatment
of the rheumatism & the C-V problem is upon to the professional judgment
of the Herbalist.
- Long term stress may lead to tense & tight muscles, this in turn
may hold the joints too tightly thus resulting in friction. Over the years
this will potentially develop into wear tear arthritis (O.A.), but short
term will cause pain and stiffness.
Most of the salicylate containing anti-inflammatories are considered specifics
in the various folk traditions of the world. Especially important are
Filipendula ulmaria, Gaultheria procumbens, Populus tremuloides, Salix spp..
In addition we can add Angelica archangelica, Apium graveolens and
in fact all the anti-rheumatics mentioned above! External applications will
often help. These may be rubefacient, circulatory stimulants, salicin containing
oils or even anti-spasmodics. It all depends upon what the patient responds
One possible prescription:
Salix spp. 2 parts
Angelica archangelica 1 part
Urtica dioica 1 part to 5 ml. of tincture 3 times a day
Viburnum opulus equal parts of tincture rubbed into the painful muscles
The internal treatment provides a basic range of anti-rheumatics that give
salicylate anti-inflammatory action along with support for the digestive
process as well as a more generalized alterative. External treatments are
so numerous that it is as much a matter of cultural preference as therapeutic
Broader Context of Treatment
Dietary factors must be considered. Please see suggestions given in the
section on Osteo-arthritis. A careful review of life-style will help clarify
issues around posture, work conditions, stress etc.. Chiropractic, Osteopathy,
Aromatherapy, massage and attention to appropriate exercise may prove most
External applications for musculo/skeletal problems.
External applications of various kinds can help relieve discomfort. These
may be anti-spasmodic, rubefacient or anti-inflammatory in nature. There
are many varieties depending upon plants available and local tradition.
Below is a brief listing, organized by primary herbal component, taken from
many different sources.
Balm of Gilead Populus candicans
3 l/2 oz. Castor Oil
l/2 oz. Eucalyptus Oil
l lb. Anhydrous Lanolin
Oleo-resin from 2 oz. of the buds of Populus candicans
Heat the oil, Eucalyptus oil and Lanolin until the mixture is uniformly
mixed. Add the oleo-resin and stir until well dissolved. When the bubbles
are removed, pour into preheated jars and allow to cool in a refrigerator
for one or two hours. Ointment may be massaged on the joints in cases of
arthritis or rheumatism. Bay Tree Laurus nobilis
The oil is used externally in the treatment of rheumatic and arthritic aches
and pains. Black Mustard Brassica nigra
Mustard seeds are used externally to ease acute local pain, sciatica and
gout. A poultice may be prepared by mixing the powdered seeds with warm
water to form a paste. Spread onto brown paper and apply to affected area.
In cases of rheumatic pain, Mustard oil, a powerful local irritant, may
be incorporated into liniments and applied. White Mustard Brassica
Poultices made with Mustard flowers, bread crumbs and vinegar are used in
treating rheumatic and sciatic pains. In making such applications, the white
seeds may be mixed with the black and although this may redden the skin,
it is very stimulating and efficient.
Placing the feet in a bowl of hot water with Mustard seed or powder, will
greatly alleviate rheumatic pain and may even prevent impending rheumatic
conditions if this remedy is employed as quickly as possible when the symptoms
are noticed. Cayenne Capsicum minimum
A stimulating application for arthritis and rheumatism is as follows:
l part Cayenne Pepper
Equal parts: Mullein Leaf,
Slippery Elm powder
Apple Cider Vinegar to dampen the mixture
Make a poultice; if the application of Capsicum gives too much of a burning
sensation, use a vegetable oil over the surface. Equal parts of Capsicum
and Glycerine can be shaken together and applied to painful Joints. As in
the above application, if the application of Capsicum gives too much of
a burning sensation, use some vegetable oil over the surface. Cayenne powder
or tincture can also be rubbed on swelling and inflammations for added relief.
Chickweed Stellaria media
Chickweed may be applied in the form of a poultice, fomentation, or ointment
to give relief in some cases of rheumatism, just as in many skin problems.
A stiffness may respond with a poultice of the following:
Equal parts: Chickweed
Thyme leaves and flowers,
l teaspoonful Cayenne Pepper
Blend the above ingredients with powdered Slippery Elm and Fenugreek, and
moisten with hot cider vinegar until the mixture has the desired consistency.
Spread on a cloth and apply warm. Cover the poultice with a piece of plastic
to keep warm longer.
l lb. fresh cut Chickweed
lbs. vegetable shortening
2 oz. bees wax
Place all of the ingredients in a stainless steel pot. Cover and place in
the oven for 3 hours at 200 degrees; strain; when cold, it is ready for
use. Apply the ointment as needed. It should be applied after bathing any
external part with the infusion. Lavender Lavandula officinalis
A small amount of the essential oil of Lavender, added to bland oils, makes
a useful anti-inflammatory in the treatment of rheumatic conditions. Lobelia
For cramps, relief of rheumatism, or inflammation, the following anti-spasmodic
tincture has been recommended:
l oz Lobelia, crushed seed and herb, powder
l oz. Skunk Cabbage
l oz. Skullcap
l oz. Gum Myrrh
l oz. Valerian
l/2 oz. Cayenne
Infuse for one week in one quart of brandy in a closely corked, wide-necked
bottle. Shake well daily. After one week, strain and press out the clear
liquid. Rub on affected areas. Marshmallow Althaea officinalis
The powdered or crushed fresh root makes an excellent poultice and the leaves
are best as a fomentation for inflammation. An ointment may be prepared
with the following:
8 oz. Marshmallow leaves, fresh
8 oz. Elder flowers, fresh
l lb. lard
l l/2 lbs. bees wax
Bruise the herbs and place them with the lard and bees wax in an appropriate
vessel; cover and simmer in the oven at l50deg.F until the herbs are crisp;
strain through a wire strainer and stir until cold. If a stronger salve
is desired, add a second batch of herbs and repeat the entire process. Mullein
Mullein combines well with Black Cohosh and Lobelia in liniments. For swollen
joints and to relieve the aches and pains of arthritis and rheumatism, rub
Mullein oil in well or apply on saturated cotton and cover. It may be prepared
with two oz. of Mullein flower and Olive oil. However, do not use on any
swellings where it would be injurious to have a deposit absorbed. To treat
painful and swollen joints, cover a small quantity of Mullein with boiling
vinegar, cover, simmer slowly for 20 to 30 minutes, strain & add a little
tinctures of Cayenne and Lobelia.
For arthritis, stiff joints and rheumatism; a fomentation of the following
2 oz. Mullein
l/2 oz. Lobelia herb
l teaspoonful Cayenne
2 qts. apple cider vinegar
Simmer for l5 minutes, strain, and foment as warm as is convenient over
the affected parts. Myrrh Commiphora mol-mol
A liniment is has been recommended in treating rheumatism.
l part Myrrh, tincture
l/4 part Cayenne, tincture
2 parts Echinacea, tincture
Mix thoroughly. l0-l5 drops in plenty of water applied externally.
Sassafras Sassafras albidum
A traditional liniment for rheumatic problems can be made thus:
l oz. Sassafras, tincture
l oz. Prickly Ash, tincture
l oz. Cayenne, tincture
l oz. Myrrh, tincture
l oz Camphor, tincture
8 oz. distilled water
Shake the ingredients well together and apply to the affected parts.
Wormwood Artemisia absinthium
Combined with Rue, Wormwood is a powerful anti-rheumatic treatment. A traditional
European ointment is made thus:
2 parts Wormwood, whole herb
2 parts Celandine, whole herb
2 parts Cabbage leaves
l part Horsetail
l part flowering Thyme
l teaspoonful Ginger root or Cayenne
Preparation: Prepare a salve. This preparation will relieve muscular pain
and discomfort due to rheumatism. In rheumatism, apply fomentation of the
herb or use the oil as a liniment. The oil is valuable for external use
as a very stimulating liniment.
This is an example of the many poultice combinations mentioned in the books:
3 grams powdered Plantain
3 grams powdered Comfrey
l gram powdered Marshmallow root
l gram powdered Lobelia
l/8 gram powdered Cayenne
Relieves painful, swollen joints. The poultice may be applied throughout
the day & night.