Herbs offer effective treatments for pain of all kinds, often as effective as Western pharmaceuticals, with dramatically fewer side-effects and risks. These are three of my favourites, but there are literally hundreds of herbs and combinations with pain relieving abilities. As always, I’m sharing information, not providing medical advice. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.
It’s a food, it’s a spice, it’s a healer. Ginger is effective internally and externally for a wide variety of problems, including pain. Stomach pain, discomfort, indigestion and nausea respond rapidly. Sip ginger tea, chew candied ginger or try a topical application on your tummy. I created a topical ginger based treatment for just this type of problem, Ginger Belly Soother Oil with infused ginger and fennel oil and essential oils of patchouli and sweet orange, all of which act to relax the digestive system and relieve gas and bloating, common causes of stomach pain. Ginger oil + massage = relief.
Muscular pain, acute or chronic, also responds well to ginger, (Source). I use straight infused ginger oil with pure menthol and ginger essential oil in Ginger Menthol Balm, and ginger with cinnamon and mugwort with menthol in Warming Menthol Balm for pain that responds especially well to heat (read Should You Apply Ice or Heat for Pain by Lynn Palmgren L.Ac)
Ginger also relieves menstrual pain - better than ibuprofen with added anti-nausea benefits (Source). Make a tasty and gentle menstrual cramp relieving tea by mixing chamomile and dried ginger half and half and steeping in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Use about a tablespoon per cup of water. Externally, both Tranquil Palace Oil and Warm the Palace Oil use ginger’s pain relieving and warming power to relieve menstrual and abdominal pain.
Turmeric has gotten lots of attention as an anti-inflammatory superpower. In Chinese medicine it ‘moves the blood’ ‘moves the qi’ and ‘cools the blood’ indicating its effectiveness for pain related to constraint like digestive and menstrual pain and to chronic internal inflammation and bacterial and viral infections. Here’s a massive overview of research into the abilities of turmeric for stomach pain, arthritis pain, post surgical pain, dental pain, hemorrhoid pain and more!
A meta analysis of research on the zingiberaceae family, ginger, turmeric and galangal, for chronic pain treatment finds them to be effective and safer than NSAIDs (Source)
Turmeric can be taken daily as a capsule for joint health, but check in with your health practitioner before launching into it - it has some contraindications and you don’t want it to interact with an existing health condition or medications you may be taking.
You can get the benefits of turmeric in food form without the worry that comes with large doses or extracts. Add a teaspoon to lentils while they cook, sprinkle a tablespoon onto sauteed veggies for a soup or pilaf base, or make chai or golden milk, the traditional combination with black pepper which modern research has shown increases the bioavailability of active components in turmeric
Here's a golden milk recipe I like.
I love mugwort! Called Ai Ye in Chinese, the latin name is artemisiae argyi (although western mugwort, artemisiae vulgaris, is sometimes substituted). Mugwort is the herb used to make moxa - a phenomenal pain relieving technique from traditional chinese medicine, where a cigar or cigarette of packed herbs is lit and held over the painful area or acupuncture points. Moxa powers up all Angelica & Peony’s Healing oils when used together with them, (here’s Denise Cicuto L.Ac explaining how to use moxa at home especially for menstrual cramps)
A device called a tiger warmer or lion warmer is another safe and easy way to get the power of moxa at home. We did a TCMTalk about that as well!
Mugwort makes a great warming and pain relieving bath if you have achey joints in cold, damp weather. It’s also a beneficial addition to a ‘v-steam’ blend for vaginal steaming, especially for pain and heavy bleeding. I infuse mugwort into sesame oil along with ginger and cinnamon to make my Warming Blend, the base of both Warming Menthol Balm and Warm the Palace Oil
There are safety and health considerations with using moxa, so be sure to speak with your acupuncturist or health practitioner before folding it in to your pain management routine. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.
You can get ginger and turmeric at most grocery stores, and certainly healthfood stores. You can ask your acupuncturist about bulk mugwort, moxa sticks and tiger warmers. This is the type of moxa stick I especially like.
Tune in to TCMTalk on Thursday August 4th and 18th at 4 pm PST on Periscope for more discussion about natural pain relief and management, ask your questions while we're live, or email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Kirsten Cowan L.Ac is a Physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine and CEO and Chief Alchemist at Angelica & Peony, Radiant Natural Health and Beauty. She lives and works in Oakland California.