Herbs for Bones and Muscles

In part 1 we covered some of the rheumatic diseases and recommended several means of self-help to avoid or relieve the conditions. Now in Part 2 we will introduce some actual herbal approaches to relieving these conditions.

Herbal treatments

In most cases successful herbal treatments for the musculoskeletal system will be based on support for the whole body. This is because whole body factors are at the foundation of degenerative conditions such as rheumatic and arthritic diseases.

Thus the most effective anti-rheumatic herbs are primarily alteratives (gradually restore the proper functioning of the whole body thus increasing health and vitality) and diuretics (increase the production and elimination of urine). Anti-inflammatory herbs help to reduce the symptoms of swelling, pain and redness but do not usually improve the underlying condition, except in the case of arthritis in which an active inflammation is making the pathological changes in the bone tissue worse.

Common herbal antirheumatics

Antirheumatic Herbs
Anti-inflammatories Alteratives Diuretics Circulatory
Birch Bogbean Bleary Berry Bayberry Black Cohosh
Bogbean Burdock Boneset Cayenne Cramp Bark
Celery Seed Devil's Claw Celery Seed Ginger  
Devil's Claw Guaiacum Dandelion Horseradish  
Feverfew Kelp Gravel Root Mustard  
Feverfew Kelp Gravel Root Mustard  
Guaiacum Mountain Grape Parsley Prickly Ash  
Meadowsweet Nettle Yarrow Rosemary  
White Poplar Poke      
Wild Yam Sarsaparilla      

These remedies have been shown to provide relief for people with a variety of rheumatic conditions. The relief is not always because of the direct effect of the herb on the disease or the musculoskeletal system. While the primary action of the herb is important it is the synergy of the plant's various actions that makes these herbs successful in providing relief.


Rheumatism and arthritis

With rheumatic and arthritic problems, more than with any other it is essential that the whole body is treated, otherwise healing will only be slight or temporary. There are a number of possible herbal mixtures for arthritis and rheumatism. Which specific herbs are used will depend on the individual and their particular needs. One possibility is the following mixture:

  • 2 part bogbean
  • 1 part black cohosh
  • 1 part celery seed
  • 1 part meadowsweet
  • 1 part yarrow

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour over a cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup three times per day for a long period - about 4-6 weeks.

However if a lot of inflammation or pain is involved anti-inflammatory herbs, such as black willow, guaiacum or wild yam may be included in the herbal mixture.

If there is the lack of sleep due to pain then it is necessary to do something about this. The following herbal combination will assist sleep and reduce pain.

  • 1 part Jamaican dogwood
  • 1 part valerian
  • 1 part passion flower

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour over a cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup about half an hour before going to bed. It is a safe mixture and may be used in a stronger dosage than the normal 1 or 2 teaspoonsful if required.

In addition external remedies can be applied to the affected areas to reduce inflammation and at the same time stimulate circulation to the area to assist with the removal of toxins. A liniment of equal parts of a tincture of cayenne and glycerine can be rubbed into the affected area. You need to take care that you don't get the liniment onto broken or sensitive skin. The burning sensation or 'heat' that this liniment produces is what relieves the pain in cold, aching joints and stiff muscles. The 'heat' won't do any harm, it is the effect of the volatile oils and the burning will stay until the oil fades or is washed away.

If there is pain in the muscle tissue or any nerve pain a liniment based on St John's wort oil can be most effective.

To make this liniment:

  • Place 100gms (4 ounces) fresh, just opened flowers into a tablespoon of olive or sunflower oil and crush the flowers well.
  • Pour 1/2 litre (1 pint) of the same oil over the crushed flowers and mix well.
  • Place the mixture into a glass container and leave in a warm place for 3 - 5 day then seal the container and place in the sunshine or other warm place for 3 - 6 weeks shaking daily - until the oil becomes bright red.
  • Press the mixture through a cloth and allow it to stand for a day or two to separate the oily part from the watery part.
  • Use the oily part which should be stored in a dark airtight container.

Bursitis and tendonitis

Bursitis is associated with strenuous activity, particularly among athletes and manual labours. When bursitis is chronic it may be associated with the gradual development of rheumatic problems.

Bursitis that is mild and short term can generally be treated by applying a warm compress to the area or by applying a stimulating liniment. These will reduce the inflammation and ease the pain. If the problem persists then internal treatment such as those for arthritis may be necessary.

Don't ignore chronic bursitis - if it is left untreated it can lead to the formation of calcium deposits in the soft tissue. This may cause a permanent reduction in the range of movement of the joint.

Tendonitis is characterised by inflammation in or around the tendon. Tendons which are overused or have disease or traumatic injury can become painful and inflamed. The pain can be significant and will worsen if the joint continues to be used.

Most cases of tendonitis heal in about 2 weeks but chronic tendonitis can last more than 6 weeks - often because the tendon is still being used and hasn't been given sufficient time to heal.

Willow bark (anti-inflammatory), cramp bark (antispasmodic), celery seed (anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic) and prickly ash (vasodilator) will be most useful.

  • 2 parts willow bark
  • 2 parts cramp bark
  • 2 parts celery seed
  • 1 part prickly ash

Finely chop or grind the herbs and place 4 ounces of the herb blend into a jar that has a good seal. Pour 1 pint (600 ml) of vodka over the herbs and cover tightly.

Keep the container in a dark warm place for at least 2 weeks and shake it once a day.

Strain to remove the herbs and pour the contents into a dark glass bottle. Close the bottle tightly. Label all the ingredients and date the bottle. Stored properly it will last for many years.

Take 5 ml (1 teaspoon) of the tincture three times per day.



Everyone experiences cramps from time to time, they are painful but not too much to worry about. However, when they are persistent they need to be treated - not just because the symptoms are stressful, but because the problem is suggestive of circulatory system problems and the subsequent lack of oxygen. It can be treated with the following herbal mixture:

  • 6 parts cramp bark
  • 2 parts prickly ash
  • 1 part ginger

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on a cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup three times per day for a number of months.



This is a specific type of joint problem due to the build up of uric acid which causes extremely painful inflammation. The body needs help in elimination, especially via the kidneys. The use of diuretics as well as anti-rheumatics will provide the assistance needed. The following remedy should prove to be helpful.

  • 1 part burdock root
  • 1 part celery seed
  • 1 part yarrow

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on a cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup three times per day over a period of time.

Your diet is very important in the treatment of gout. A low acid diet with an avoidance of foods that contain purines which are metabolised in the body to uric acid. These foods include:

  • fish, such as sardines and anchovies
  • fish roe
  • shell fish
  • crab
  • liver
  • kidney
  • sweetbreads and
  • beans

Alcohol needs to be totally avoided and so should coffee and tea. Any over indulgence in general is out.



Osteoporosis is the loss of bony tissue resulting in brittle bones. This is a common cause of fractures in the elderly.

Although heredity does seem to be a factor you can reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life through a proper diet, adequate exercise and taking vitamin and mineral supplements, especially while you are young but also later in life. At any age you can improve your diet, have adequate exercise and take nutritional supplements to improve the strength of your bones. Exercise is probably the single most important factor in preventing osteoporosis. Include weight bearing exercises in your regime.

You need to eat plenty of calcium rich food such as:

  • collard and turnip greens,
  • yogurt,
  • dried figs,
  • spinach,
  • kale,
  • broccoli, and
  • tofu.

Herbal sources of calcium include:

  • parsley leaf,
  • dandelion greens, and
  • watercress leaves.

You may also want to include other mineral rich herbs like:

  • nettles,
  • alfalfa, and
  • horsetail.

Besides calcium you need vitamin D, magnesium, silica and zinc to build strong bones. All of these can be obtained in supplement form.

You need to avoid coffee, refined sugar and soft drinks which rob your bones of minerals and therefore strength. This is especially the case if you already have weak bones.

The following herbal formula will be useful:

  • 1 teaspoon oat straw
  • 1 teaspoon nettles
  • 1 teaspoon parsley leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dandelion leaf 4 cups water

Place the herbs and water in a suitable sized saucepan and bring to the boil. Then allow the mixture to stand for 20 minutes. Drink 1 cup of the tea 2-3 times per day.



This is a form of neuralgia characterised by intense pain and tenderness felt along the length of the sciatic nerve. The nerve extends from the back of the thigh to the lower calf. There is often a misalignment of the spine and hips which in turn presses on the nerve and causes the pain. If this is the case then osteopathic or chiropractic therapy would be of assistance. When there is neuralgia or nerve pain relaxing nervines and tonics are useful. It is often found that abdominal congestion lies at the base of this painful condition. It is necessary to ensure that the bowels are free of constipation and that the kidneys are working well.

For constipation use yellow dock.

For kidneys use bearberry or dandelion.



Muscles can be pulled and ligaments and tendons sprained through accidents. Hot baths that have stimulating herbs added will help to increase the circulation to the area and thus speed healing. Rosemary or thyme make an excellent addition to the bath.

  • 30-40 grams (1-2 ounces of the dried herb are added to 1/2 litre (1 pint) of boiling water and allowed to stand for 10-15 minutes and then strained.
  • the infusion is added to the bath or used as a compress on the affected area.

Arnica (unless the skin is broken) can be used as an excellent compress.


Airola, P. 1984, How to get well. Health plus publishers.

Bland, J. C1996, Contemporary Nutrition. J & B Associates.

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Hoffman, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

Hoffman, D. 2001, Healthy Bones and Joints. Newleaf.

Holden, S., Hudson, K., Tilman, J. & D. Wolf, 2003, The Ultimate Guide to Health from Nature. Asrolog Publication.

Jacka, J. 1997, A-Z of Natural Therapies. Lothian.

Sullivan, K. 2002, Vitamins and Minerals: A Practical Approach to a Health Diet and Safe Supplementation. Harper Collins.




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