Arnica oil is a well known herbal remedy for bruises, sprains and muscles strains. It’s surprisingly effective, as well as easy to make at home. An arnica infused oil also quickly converts to a convenient and easy to apply arnica salve.
When we found our off-grid homestead, I was working in an office job just like most people. A career as a project manager wasn’t exactly compatible with a life in the rural wilderness, and I’d been reskilling in a rather unconventional way. I was going to night school training to be a massage therapist, specializing in sports medicine.
Vermont is a rural state, but it’s also a place where just about everyone loves to get outside one way or another. Whether it’s skiing in the winter or just about everything else in the summer, someone’s always overdoing it and in need of a little TLC.
I’d learned in massage school that arnica oil is unparalleled as a treatment for sore muscles, sprains, strains, and bruises. I was regularly purchasing small bottles of arnica oil from Weleda, and while my clients love it, my DIY spirit had other ideas. Why not grow arnica in our herb garden and make my own arnica oil?
Growing Arnica for Homemade Arnica Oil
Arnica (Arnica Montana) is a small perennial herb in the sunflower family. It’s native to Europe but rare in the wild, largely due to overharvesting.
It prefers nutrient-poor soil, which limits competition and allows this tenacious little herb to thrive. We had just put in a new garden bed, and it had heavy clay soil and almost no organic matter. Arnica loved it!
The first year we planted just three small plants from transplants, and even though I harvested most of the flowers, the one of two I missed self-seeded. The following year I had more than 100 plants in just a tiny area, and I was able to harvest literally gallons of arnica blossoms for homemade arnica oil.
Harvesting Arnica for Oil
While the plants are easy to grow, harvesting and preserving the blossoms is a bit tricky. Arnica should never be taken internally, and the first time I harvested the blossoms barehanded I got a good lesson.
The medicinal compounds in the blossoms taste horrible, and when I stopped mid-harvest to pick a few strawberries from a nearby bed I was sorry. I spent the next 5 minutes spitting, after just incidental contact between my arnica covered fingers and my tongue.
Arnica oil isn’t nearly that potent, and I’ve never had an issue with bad-tasting residue on my hands after doing massage work. It washes off quickly, with just a bit of soap and water.
The second problem with harvesting fresh arnica is that the blossoms are very short-lived. They love to self-seed, and once picked those little blossoms will turn into fluffy seed bombs in under 24 hours. If you’re going to store them, the blossoms need to be dried very quickly to prevent degradation and keep them from rapidly converting to seed pod fluffs (think dandelion seed heads).
Infusing Arnica Oil
Generally, I use dried herbs to make herbal infused oils. Since arnica doesn’t dry well at home, I had a lot of trouble making this work.
I couldn’t get the blossoms to dry fast enough, and they almost always turned into fluffy little seed heads well before they’d dried thoroughly. (I now have an Excaliber dehydrator, and I’m hoping to try it with our next arnica crop for better drying.)
While you can just buy commercially dried arnica blossoms for making arnica oil, they’re around $40 per pound. Since arnica is so easy to grow, I was set on using our own homegrown blossoms. That means making a herbal infused oil with fresh blossoms, extracted within hours of harvest.
Fresh blossoms placed in oil need a bit of warmth to help drive off excess moisture, and about an hour in a double boiler on very low accomplishes this nicely. Ideally, the water should be around 170 degrees for 4 to 8 hours. The blossoms dry quickly within the oil, and the excess moisture evaporates out of the top of the open arnica oil jar. (Keep the lids off the jars so that water can evaporate.)
It’s important to make sure the water in the double boiler is low so that it won’t come too far up the sides of the jars and get into the oil. A crockpot set on “low” or “keep warm” usually works well, just check it periodically to ensure it’s not getting too hot. Place a towel at the bottom of the crockpot to keep the jars out of direct contact with the heat source, and then add water to the pot so that it goes about 1/3 of the way up the sides of the herb/oil-filled jars.
After about 4-8 hours infusing, turn off the heat and allow the arnica oil to infuse for another 24 to 48 hours before straining out the herb mixture.
Choosing a Carrier Oil
Since arnica oil is only used topically, you’ll want to select an oil that fits well with your skincare and health goals. I often use olive oil for the most versatility, since it’s not likely to trigger any allergies. Sweet almond oil is a better choice, as it’s more nourishing for skin, but if you’re using it on clients in a massage practice there’s always the potential for nut allergies.
An even better option is jojoba oil, which is especially nourishing to the skin and non-staining to clothing/sheets. The downside is it can be expensive. A little bit goes a long way though, and jojoba oil was the main oil I used in my day-to-day massage practice.
A single 16-ounce bottle would last through about 50 full-body massages, so it’s worth the extra investment in my mind. (Especially since arnica oil is usually reserved for spot treatments rather than full-body massage work.)
Keep in mind that Weleda’s version is about $5 per ounce, or roughly 3 times the price of jojoba oil…and there’s is made with relatively inexpensive sunflower oil.
Using Arnica Oil
So once you’ve made your own homemade arnica oil, how do you use it? Applying oils can be a bit tricky, and sometimes messy if you’re just working out of a jar.
A simple pump bottle, ideally amber colored to block light, is the best way to store your arnica oil. That’ll allow you to squeeze out just a tiny pea-sized amount so you can apply the therapeutic oil without mess.
Generally, arnica oil is applied 2-4 times per day to the affected area to reduce bruising after an injury, or to treat muscle soreness after injury or exercise. As with any new herbal remedy, be sure to spot check on a small patch of skin to check for allergies.
When it’s just for my own use, I’ll often make a simple arnica salve by mixing 8 ounces of arnica oil with 1 ounce of beeswax pistils in a double boiler. I then pour the resulting arnica salve into small salve tins for easy storage.
When packed fully with flowers, a pint mason jar will yield about 8 ounces of arnica oil after infusion. Once the beeswax is added, that in turn yields about 6 salve tins full of homemade arnica slave.
A salve is basically a beeswax thickened arnica cream that’s easy to apply. The only downside of an arnica salve is that it’s applied with the fingers, and double-dipping is a big “no-no” in a professional massage practice. I still make it for my own use at home though, since it’s much more convenient than simple arnica oil.
Benefits of Arnica Oil
So does arnica oil work? That one’s a bit trickier to pin down. Some studies show that it’s only about as effective as a placebo, while others have shown impressive results with reduced pain and inflammation.
One study found that topical arnica oil was just as effective as Ibuprofin as a treatment for hand osteoarthritis, but with a lower potential for side effects. Another study found similar results when patients applied arnica twice daily to treat knee osteoarthritis. Both of these studies were not controlled against placebo, which leaves open the possibility of a placebo effect at work.
A study by the British Association of Dermatologists found that arnica oil had a significant impact on bruise healing, and it worked markedly better than placebo. They used a laser to create multiple small standardized bruises on volunteers and then rated the healing after 2 weeks. Bruises treated with arnica oil healed 20% better according to their dermatologist’s rating system, and just about as fast as common traditional (non-herbal) medicine bruise treatments.
Another randomized placebo-controlled trial found that arnica oil significantly reduced muscle pain in runners if applied every few hours throughout the day for 72 hours after a standardized run.
In treating athletes in my practice, as well as treating myself after injuries, I’ve always had great success. Placebo or not, Arnica oil always has a place in my medicine cabinet.
Hi Ashley 😊 any tips or help with ease of Rhumatoid Arthritis,. Many Regards. Rog. 🤔😊x
No advice for that one, unfortunately, it’s nothing I’ve ever dealt with personally or in my family. Best of luck finding something that works for you!
Danna Lee Tomchick Carlson
Look up Wildflower CBD stick. I think they make it in Canada.
Put it in the freezer, it lasts longer.
My mom had ra . She didn’t use this, but I certainly do.
I have intractable pain, and I can not take orals….it’s a life saver, I had a fall with a seizure and bonked my head hard, lump…even though it was my hair I still rubbed it on my head. Life saver. I also play rough in the garden. Digging holes…my digging hip, knee…rub it on. The pain, but most of the soreness goes.
I want to do arnica oil now.
I use the toothpaste method for bruises, and it works, but still hurts.
Maine med patient
Late comment but maybe can help someone.
I make a coconut oil with cannabis for edibles and also use it to make salves, it’s so versatile and last a long time. I incorporate arnica, and other essential oils and it works really good topically, just thicken with beeswax. The main oils I use are menthol crystals, camphor oil(unless you have seizures), and juniper oil. It’s like icy hot on steroids, people around here pay $60 all day for a small tin of it without the extra oils I add. It works REALLY good. If you can’t do or get cannabis you can always get cbd or cbd flower (just search online), or just the essential oils and arnica, but the THC really helps, and also helps other topicals penetrate deeper. Topical THC won’t get you high or show up on a drug test either. You can look up details further, but I cook the decarbed cannabis, coconut oil and water in a crockpot few hrs then strain and rinse a few times saving it all in a tub, overnight in the fridge and your infused oil will separate from water. Then just add that to a salve recipe, add anything else you want, but telling you arnica, THC, menthol you can’t go wrong. Don’t know if it will help RA but it’s helped other arthritis, back, hip, knee pain. My father does construction and it’s all he’ll use anymore!
My family has been using arnica for years and we swear by it! Plan on growing some this year and buying some dried to make some infusions. They should love our back yard! I think it will pay off for the amount of arnica gel we go though haha! Thanks for the info
I have a cbd salve recipe thats not effective. It has 240 mg cbd. If i melt how much arica should i use per 16 oz
A pint mason jar packed with flowers will yield about 8 oz of infused oil so 16 oz. should cover about 2 jars worth of blossoms.
Jessica D Snowden
Hi! Have you heard of arnica oil used for hair?
LOVE the piece on Arnica Oil. I use Weleda oils in my practice and they’re great but expensive! I’m a year round gardener in central MA and it’s now mid August so too late to plant Arnica. I’d like to acquire some seeds for next year though. Can you recommend a source. Also, I’d like to buy some of your arnica oil and salve to tide me over.
Hi Howard! I don’t sell the arnica oil or any herbal remedies that I make, I just do small batches for my family. For a seed source, try strictly medicinal seeds. For a salve source, try my friend Colleen at Cocos herbals. I’m looking at her etsy shop and it’s on break right now for listings, but she maybe has some inventory on hand anyway, send her a note: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CocosHerbals
Where can you purchase Arnica plants?
Fedco sells both the seeds and the plants. Here’s a link to the plants: https://www.fedcoseeds.com/trees/emarnica-chamissonisem-749
They change their website linking structure pretty often, so if later that link doesn’t work just go to their main site and search arnica.
Hi Ashley, I was looking for 100% pure arnica oil with no additives when I came across your website / article. There is a product on Amazon and it says it is “uncut 100% RNICA” but down further it says that “the extraction method is infusion” So they are soaking flowers in oil like you are. Have you or your readers ever heard of 100% cold pressed Arnica oil? Does it exist in the world? Thanks for your feedback. Alice the Beekeeper from California.
I find this type of listing misleading and would never buy from them:
This article is taking you through the steps to make an infused oil with arnica, which is the standard preparation for this particular herb. The link that you listed here is actually for essential oil. If you scroll down to the product description it says that the method is CO2 extraction which is confusing to me since it lists infusion up top. Arnica essential oil is typically produced through CO2 extraction or steam distillation not cold-pressed. Certainly, be sure that you are purchasing through a reputable company that has good reviews. This one is questionable for sure. I also read that the essential oil should not be used topically without first mixing with some kind of carrier oil and is also not recommended for aromatherapy purposes because it is so strong. Most herbalists use the infusion methods described in this post.
LOVE THIS! Great article and info. Thank you for all of it. I make a canna-arnica salve – just for personal use (bad hip/herniated disks in my lower back and back pains) and to share with family/friends. I wasn’t sure if it was just placebo effect either but everyone I have given it to thus far has legitimate aches/pains and they all swear by it so I will keep on making it! I initially bought dried organic arnica from a local shop because I didn’t have any on hand but I grew my own cannabis for it…. AND I have a giant clay hillside begging for some life so I will definitely be planting some arnica seeds very soon! 🌼 Can’t wait.
That’s great! So glad you enjoyed the article.
Last night I began the infusion of several oils with fresh arnica in jars placed in the crockpot. Today I see the oil is seemingly taken up by the plant material. Should I top off the oils do continue to infuse the next 48 hours? The oil was at the top covering the plant material.
Thank you so much for your advice in this! Als, your website is excellent! Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
I would definitely top off the oils to keep them infusing for the full time period.
Love the article!
When you are using measurements are you talking 8oz cups or 8oz on scale?
I would use 8 oz. on a scale. It is very difficult to get accurate measurements by volume especially when you are measuring a liquid like oil and a solid like beeswax pastilles.
This looks so good! What a great way to build up your natural medicine cabinet!
Yes, it’s definitely a great way to build up your natural medicine cabinet.
Thanks for sharing! Does it keep long?
It should keep for quite a while. Try to buy the freshest oil possible. It should stay good for as long as the shelf life of the oil.
After you make the arnica infused oil are you then diluting the infused oil with a carrier oil then make the salve? I have read that you have to dilute arnica oil but can’t get an answer as to whether they are referring to the essential oil (which is stronger) or the arnica infused oil. Great article and comments too. Thank you!
This recipe does not dilute the infused oil when making the salve. I am going to guess that what you read was referring to an essential oil rather than an infused oil, since essential oils are so much more concentrated.
I have purchased the powder. I attempted to dissolve it in oil. It settles to the bottom. I have used the oil with much success, as I have issues with my knee. Osteo is a problem. Because I live in a townhouse, I don’t have access to doing any gardening. Is the powder as good as the flower itself? According to the packaging, it’s dried and pulverized flower matter. Any advice?
Fresh plants are always going to be the best and the less processed the better. Things tend to break down more quickly when they are powdered. If you don’t have access to a place to grow your own, it’s perfectly ok to buy it dried from a reputable source.
Please let me know if you sell this item. I need to purchase some.
I don’t sell them myself.
For Arnica Oil, I’d recommend Weleda, as I used that brand for years in my massage practice before I started making my own: https://amzn.to/33Xghk2
For salve, try this arnica blend from badger balm: https://amzn.to/33Xghk2
If you want something as I’ve described in this article, there are lots of sources on etsy.
When making the oil in a double boiler, how much carrier oil do you add? ( am i getting this right?) or do you only heat the flowers?
Here is another post specifically on how to create infused oils which will give you a better idea of the amount of oil to use when infusing your herbs. https://practicalselfreliance.com/make-herbal-infused-oil/
Have you ever tried extracting Arnica w/ Ethanol? I was going to attempt this way and purge the ethanol after 6 week slow extraction. What do you think would be a good ratio for Arnica dry flower wt TO carrier oil (after the purge)?
I have not personally used this method. I would just do a bit of research on it and if you find more specific information let us know.
It’s in process rightnow and I have done it multiple times with cannabis. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Sounds great! Thank you.
Can you share a good, reliable source of arnica flowers?
I usually purchase herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs or Starwest botanicals.