Jan 052014

Muscle Aches and Tension:

Materia Medica, Part 1

by Kiva Rose


Pedicularis procera

Pedicularis procera

The cold moons are a time when many longstanding aches and pains worsen, and also when recent injuries often become more problematic. The low temperatures seem to make the pain  and stiffness seep into the very bones and can make free movement difficult indeed.

In part one of this post, I’ll be covering a few important herbs for internal use. In the next post, I’ll cover herbs for external use, and in the third, I’ll cover a few herbs specific to muscular pain related to joint issues.

This first post is a quick and dirty overview/breakdown of herbs that can be used internally to loosen up skeletal muscles, thereby making movement easier and also potentially bringing longer standing healing to the area.  All of these suggestions are intended to bring about fairly quick, if not entirely instant, gratification. Dealing with longstanding or chronic muscular pain often requires a different approach, and will usually incorporate lifestyle and nutritional changes. While I touch on this here, this post is meant to address the symptoms in a general way

There are many more herbs that can be useful within these parameters, but I have chosen the ones I am most familiar with and that grow in my bioregion.

For a greater understanding of the anatomy being referenced here, please see:





Nutrition is often a primary element in healing muscular issues, particularly if they’re of a chronic or reoccurring nature. Vitamin D3, magnesium, and omega 3s are just three very important nutrients for musco-skeletal well being that many of us are deficient in. Jim McDonald’s article on Herbs for Back Pain is a great one, not only covers herbs, but also provides a look at relevant nutrients. http://herbcraft.org/backpain.html


Internal Approaches


Betony – Pedicularis spp.

Overview: Pedicularis is a general relaxant for the skeletal muscles, making it highly useful in many skeletal muscle oriented formulas, and plays well with many of the other herbs referenced here.  Pedicularis is excellent for overall tension being held in the muscles, and may even result in a “limp noodle” effect if taken in the appropriate situation where there’s a great deal of muscular tension. The benefit of its overall and generally mild effect is that it can help in almost situation where there are tense, painful muscles. Especially if the pain is worse with stress and/or anxiety, as it’s also a relaxant nervine.  Keep in mind that ingesting it in reasonable doses will cause many folk to feel quite relaxed and even potentially sleepy or lethargic, depending on one’s response to nervines.

Hint: When I have an abundant supply of Pedicularis I tend to include it in most of my formulas that I create for folks with aches and pains that either result from or result in tension, including overworked or strained muscles from physical activity.

Dosage: 10 drops – 2 teaspoons of tincture (usually above ground parts in flower) every 3 hours or as needed. I usually begin with a dose of 1 ml and work up or down from there depending on how the person responds. A small percentage of people respond very strongly to Pedicularis and may suddenly become very sedated/sleepy.

Note: Please realize that Pedicularis is not a weedily abundant plant and that care should be taken to either wildcraft it with consideration, or to purchase it from a responsible and ethical source.


Black Cohosh/Baneberry – Actaea racemosa/Actaea rubra

Overview: We don’t necessarily think of it in this way, but Actaea is an excellent muscle relaxant, having an effect on both skeletal and smooth muscles and working to effectively alleviate many kinds of muscular and join pain. Actaea can even help manage the pain of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is not a cure, but it can be helpful with pain management and relaxing the muscles.

Hint: Actaea can work as a great general muscle relaxant, but is sometimes especially effective for the sort of deep, constant aching that can cause the person’s entire emotional outlook to become gloomy and depressed.

Dosage: 3-20 drops of fresh root tincture. The two species listed can be used interchangeably and should be dosed similarly as well.

Consider: Actaea can cause frontal headaches in sensitive individuals or in excessively large doses. If the headache occurs even at a low dose, discontinue its use.

Silk Tassel – Garrya wrightii 

Overview: While most folks generally familiar with Silk Tassel tend to think of it as a smooth muscle relaxant, I learned from my friend and mentor, 7Song, that it can also be quite useful in the treatment of skeletal muscles. I have utilized it numerous time in situations where someone has hot, acute pain after aggravating an old injury in a muscle or the spinal column as a whole.

Hint: Silk Tassel is a cooling herb usually best suited to to hot, acute pain so I don’t suggest it’s continued use in cold, chronic conditions where the pain has turned achy and low grade unless thoughtfully formulated with warmer healing herbs. I personally tend to use it only during the acute phase and then switch from damage control (reducing pain and spasms) to more active healing.

Dosage: 10 drops-1/2 ml tincture (usually leaves or leaves and twigs) every 3 hours or as needed.

Consider: Some herbalists consider Silk Tassel to be an anticholinergic with an affinity for the pelvic area. Be careful exceeding the suggested dose and if dry mouth or dilated eyes accompany usage, reduce or stop ingestion.

More: You can read more about Silk Tassel here: http://bearmedicineherbals.com/silktassel-shining-from-the-shadows.html


Vervain – Verbena spp./Glandularia spp.

Overview: In some ways similar to Pedicularis, Vervain is an excellent herb for relaxing tension, easing pain and anxiety, and cooling heat/inflammation. It is equally versatile, but also has a very specific action on neck tension, especially when rooted in the trapezius and then spreading through the neck and shoulders.

Hint: Where Vervain is very specific, a low dose (just a few drops) can sometimes entirely relax the muscles, significantly reduce pain, and initiate healing in the area. It is especially helpful where the muscular tension is related to a larger pattern of poor digestion and emotional tension.

Dosage: 2 drops – 2 ml of tincture (flowering tops) every three hours or as needed.

Consider: Be aware that Verbena and Glandularia spp. can cause nausea or even vomiting in some sensitive individuals, so start with a low dose.

More: Read more about Vervain here: http://animacenter.org/verbena.html


Lobelia – Lobelia inflata

Overview: Lobelia is one of the best antispasmodics for acute muscular spasms that I know of, especially for the type of spasms that clench and freeze and just won’t let go. This is one of the few plants that doesn’t grow in my region that I always keep on hand as I find it invaluable for all sorts of spasmodic and wind type afflictions.

Hint: Lobelia is an acrid herb, and tends to work exceptionally well on spasms that come and go, and may even move through the affected area instead of being centered in one particular spot. I have seen three drops entirely stop spasms that were previously rippling across someone’s entire back and had them writhing in pain.

Dosage: 1-25 drops of fresh flowering/seeding tops tincture.

Consider: At high dosages or in very sensitive individuals, Lobelia can cause nausea and vomiting. This is much less likely to happen if you start with the smallest dose and go from there.

Credit, References, and Resources

7Song – personal correspondence and http://7song.com/blog/2012/02/pedicularis-lousewort-monograph-pedicularis-as-a-skeletal-muscle-relaxant/

Howie Brounstein – conversation

Jim McDonald – personal correspondence and http://herbcraft.org/backpain.html

Michael Moore – Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West

Matthew Wood – Book of Herbal Wisdom

  2 Responses to “Muscle Aches and Tension: Materia Medica, Part 1”

  1. Thank you Kiva, this post could not of come at a better time. My significant other is dealing with a fractured spine, and numerous muscular & skeletal issues. I had reread all the blogs that are out there, especially Jim McDonald’s great article on back pain, just to recheck what I was already doing for treatment. I had never thought of garrya, my using it for self and others had always been for GI, tell me, is there really anything more bitter? 🙂 Pedicularis is an ally, absolutely amazing, and have used it for muscle relaxing, but, the uniqueness of this incredible friend showed me something new when I took Pedicularis when in fear from a minor heart attack, when I was in the wilds, with no chance of getting medical attention anytime soon, due to the extreme remoteness of where I was. The Pedicularis almost immediately centered me, removing the fear, allowing me to do what I could in a calm and clear manner. I haven’t much Pedicularis, about an ounce left from wildcrafting at Chucara Pass area in Colorado. I haven’t found a sustainable picking site where I live in WNC, however, a new year is upon us, so perhaps the Plant Spirits will lead me to a nice stand. I have never used Silk Tassel, looking forward to it. Thank you again, I always get so much wisdom and insights from your blogs.

  2. I meant I had never used garrya outside of GI situations. A valuable teaching here for me once again. The plants continually show us so much more, no matter how much we had known and how one herbalist’s experience with a plant gives us new and deeper understanding from their experience, that we have not had. Thank you Kiva and thank you 7Song.

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