Warming Greetings !
Please note: the information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not to be used to replace the advice and care of a qualified medical practitioner and do please seek suitable advice if you are pregnant or taking any medication.
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The Natural Approach to Pain Relief & Healing

This month’s topic in focus is about the herbal approach to treating and managing pain. There are several common local plants such as daisy, meadowsweet and St John’s Wort that can be used to ease certain types of pain in a variety of ways and I think you’ll find this less well-known use of them very interesting and helpful.  Last autumn I had a wisdom tooth removed under a local anaesthetic. Afterwards I managed the entire process without any painkillers or antibiotics (much to my dentist’s astonishment), using a simple and inexpensive herbal tea instead. It healed quickly and well without any difficulty. I was delighted. This led me to discuss the topic of herbal painkillers with students in my online course and they were fascinated.

The herbal approach to treating pain is very different to the pharmaceutical one. I’m often asked if there’s an herb that can relieve pain. The answer is usually yes, but it depends on what is causing the pain. Treatments differ greatly depending on the reason for the pain in the first place. As is usual with my recommendations, you won’t find anything expensive or exclusive here!

Methods of trying to ease pain using medicinal herbs contrast greatly with the culture of taking pharmaceutical pain-killers to simply block out whatever pain it is that we are experiencing for whatever reason. We seem to be encouraged to take painkillers for all sorts of things and television is full of adverts regularly promoting them. I want to make it clear at this stage that I am NOT against people having painkillers in their homes or taking them to relieve pain! Should you need to do this, then please do and don’t feel guilty about it. In fact last century, it was common for households to have opium extracts such as laudanum (a very strong painkiller but of course a highly-addictive one) in their home-medicine cabinet. Codeine-based painkillers available from shops and pharmacies are our modern-day equivalent of these and are much safer to have at home. However, pain is a message from our body that something is wrong and working out what is causing the pain, rather than simply using something to temporarily block it out, is the key to finding an herbal medicine that is likely to not only relieve the pain but also helping to treat the source of the pain so that long-term relief can be achieved. Herbal treatments have the added bonus of being non-addictive, we don’t build up a tolerance to them thus needing higher and higher dosages to be effective and they don’t have the serious impacts on liver and kidney health the way that pharmaceuticals do (in contrast, many herbs support and improve liver and kidney function).

So which herbs can we use and in which circumstances can we use them?

Some common, safe herbs that can be used as excellent pain-killers.


Symphytum officinale

Comfrey is also known as ‘bone-knit’ because it is traditionally used to help bones to heal. It actually speeds up the rate at which cells divide so it literally does make healing happen more quickly. It’s great to ease pain from strained tendons and ligaments. I use it to treat sports injuries. It can be taken internally as a tea or tincture [please note that internal use of comfrey leaf has been banned in Ireland but this is still permitted in other countries, including Northern Ireland and Britain] and also works really well when it is applied externally.  You can make great injury treatments from comfrey by making an infused/macerated oil or an ointment or balm [Not sure how to make these? I teach these in my online course and at my workshops].

My favourite way to use comfrey is to apply it as a poultice: I find it much more beneficial this way and I think this is partly down to the soothing warmth and comfort that comes from applying warm herbs directly on to the body. Poultices can be used to treat many conditions e.g. sprains, bruises, broken bones, first aid, muscle pain, sciatica, neuralgia etc. They can be made from fresh, dried or powdered herbs.

To make a comfrey poultice use fresh or dried comfrey, pop it in a pan, pour on enough cider vinegar or water to cover it. Gently simmer it for 5 mins. Remove the herbs with tongs (don’t burn your fingers!) and spread the contents (the wet herbs and the liquid) on to a on to a clean tea towel or a piece of muslin cloth just big enough to cover the affected area that you want to apply the poultice to (e.g. your ankle). Check the temperature of the poultice. When it’s at a temperature that you would be comfortable on your skin, apply this directly to area. Bandage round with towels to retain the heat. The heat is very healing, aiding the herbs to penetrate more deeply into the body. Sit or lie down, leaving the poultice in position for 30 mins  - 1 hour.

As I’m sure some of you know, some injuries benefit from heat treatments while others need treatment with ice or cool packs. If you are unsure which treatment would be the right one for you please consult an injury specialist or physical therapist to get the right advice.

What I’ve found great about the comfrey poultice is the pain relief that people have told me it has given them. I’m fortunate enough to so far not have ever broken a bone so it fascinates me to get feedback from people who use it when they have. A couple of years ago one of my students fractured her rib coughing when she had a bad cough and she was in terrible pain from it. I posted her some dried comfrey and she made this poultice. Only two days later she then came to a weekend of classes with me and we were astonished by the improvement that she’d made in such a short time. The comfrey was easing the pain by supporting the system where the damage was and helping it to repair itself more quickly. What a contrast to taking a painkiller! In this type of situation people doing this often prolong their injury because they can’t feel the pain when the painkiller is active. This means that they often over-stretch and worsen their injury and that ultimately it takes longer for the whole thing to heal.

St John's Wort

Hypericum perforatum

St John’s Wort became famous when its use to help people with depression was popularised about 20 years ago and it became widely-available in shops. I regularly use St John’s Wort in my clinic but not for every person I see who has depression: more frequently I use it to try to help to ease pain. St John’s Wort is traditionally believed to nourish and support the nervous system and I find it invaluable when trying to help someone who is suffering from nerve pain e.g. trapped nerve, sciatica, shingles etc. I use the tea or tincture internally and I find that applying an infused oil or balm externally can help to bring some relief too. If you haven’t made St John’s Wort infused oil, do give it a go. Although St John’s Wort flowers are a beautiful sunny yellow, the oil made from the flowers, leaves and stems turns this beautiful deep red colour. Really stunning! St John’s Wort can sometimes help with other pains too, such as the ‘aches & pains all over’ of fibromyalgia. As always with herbal treatment, if you are taking any pharmaceutical medicines or are unsure of your diagnosis then please consult a qualified healthcare professional before trying any DIY treatment yourself. And if you do make this beautiful oil, then don’t plaster yourself in it and then go out and sunbathe because it can make the skin more sensitive to the sun and you could burn (not often I have to give this warning in Ireland but we’re now having freak hot weather here, having had a winter that seemed to last until May!)


Filipendula ulmaria

This common wild plant will flower very soon if this fine weather keeps up. Keep a eye out for it in July. Meadowsweet is the original course of salicyclic acid, better known as aspirin. Back in the mid-1800s researchers at Bayer (a German pharmaceutical company) started to look at this plant because elderly people used to take it to relieve the aches and pains of rheumatism. The researchers discovered the anti-inflammatory chemical salicyclic acid and when Bayer patented the drug as ‘aspirin’ they actually named it after meadowsweet because back then its Latin name was Aspirea (where I live some local people still refer to meadowsweet as ‘wild spirea’). When taken long-term and at the correct dosage, meadowsweet can help to reduce inflammation and ease some types of arthritis. However, I find it a wonderfully effective pain-killer when people have a temperature and the accompanying headache from a virus. Back in January I had a tummy bug and a high temperature. I took a few drops of meadowsweet tincture in water and it brought down the temperature and relieved my pounding headache very quickly. It was so gentle and effective. I don’t think it will ever fail to amaze me the way that we are surrounded by all these plants that can help us so easily and simply with the common ailments that can make life miserable! Using them and getting so much relief so easily is a lovely and humbling experience.


Rosa spp.

I find rose to be a remarkable pain-killer. I truly do. As some of you have probably already noticed, I completely and utterly adore roses: they are without doubt my favourite plant (medicinal, edible, cosmetic: simply beautiful for the body and soul). I love the tincture [tinctures are herbs that have been extracted in alcohol] and use it in my clinic. Drops of it in a little water can be very helpful to soothe away tension headaches. I’ve also seen this help pain in other parts of the body where there is some sort of emotional stress trigger that sets off and/or aggravates the pain. Again, drops of rose tincture in some water can be very helpful and bring relief: so simple, tastes beautiful and is non-addictive too.

Rose applied topically can be brilliant too and it has a beautiful uplifting aroma. I love to make infused oil from rose petals. This smells heavenly and is inexpensive to make, especially if you have roses (make sure they are unsprayed!) in your garden that you could use. When people are tired, stressed or have a tension headache, applying a little rose infused oil on to the temples and pulses can soothe away your troubles and work wonders. I absolutely adore this oil! Do try making some yourself.


Calendula officinalis

Now I’m finally coming on to what I used to heal up the wound from having my wisdom tooth removed. I used calendula: an herb that I’m sure most of you will already know, but perhaps would not think of using in a situation like this. I made a tea from calendula petals. When it was tepid I sipped it and swirled it around my swollen gum. It kept the pain totally under control [I must admit here that I am quite tough though!] and helped it to go away really quickly because the calendula worked on the two key sources of pain:

1. It reduced the inflammation from the injury of the extraction.
2. It kept the area clean and helped to prevent any infection (I didn’t take the prophylactic antibiotics I was supposed to, remember?).

I got the tooth out on Monday morning and was back in my clinic seeing patients on the Thursday (i.e. able to talk for hours on end). Not bad methinks.

This treatment wouldn’t suit everyone, especially depending on how invasive the surgery is for the tooth, but I include it here to show you what is possible. Obviously because of my clinical training and experience I would have known if something were wrong and would have sought out further help and treatment if necessary. It simply wasn’t because it healed so well and so quickly.

Cramp Bark
(Guelder Rose)

Viburnum opulus

Cramp Bark is a tree and the bark from it makes a very effective muscle relaxant, so as a painkiller it can be very useful if there are any sorts of muscle cramps or spasms. It’s the best thing I know to try to relieve period cramps because it helps to relax the cramping of the muscle of the womb: again treating the cause of the pain instead of simply blocking it out with a tablet. I include it in medicines for people with muscle tension, tension headaches, tight shoulders etc. I don’t know what I’d do without this plant. I find it very, very effective. Lots of people grow it in their garden because it looks pretty and are oblivious to its wonderful medicinal properties. I have a video in my online course showing how to strip and prepare the bark from this tree,making it ready for use as a medicine. It makes a lovely deep red extract and I think this should take its place in every home medicine cabinet (not least because it’s much safer than laudanum!!).


Bellis perennis

Our local, friendly equivalent of arnica, daisy is finally getting the recognition it deserves as being a wonderful and safe treatment to help to relieve the common bumps, bruises, aches and strains of minor ailments and injuries. Adults and children alike usually relish this treatment! If you have a lawn full of daisies then why not try making a poultice, infused oil or balm from it? I’ve been showing people how to make this extract for years and it’s very popular with people who attend classes and courses (they report that it works brilliantly too!). It grows abundantly and the extract is very simple and joyful to make. I think it’s impossible not to be cheered up by picking a basketful of these happy flowers!


Combining some of these herbs can be an even more effective means of helping to relieve pain. For example, I’ve used mixes of comfrey, daisy (or arnica) and cramp bark applied topically to children with bad growing pains. Mixing cramp bark (muscle relaxant) and St John’s Wort (nerve tonic) together can be very helpful to relieve some types of nerve pain. And where there is any kind of emotional stress then using some rose alongside any of the above treatments can really help to relieve pain on another level altogether (emotions are often the source of so many things). People can be anxious about mixing herbs together in case they clash. However, herbs are not drugs: they don’t come with serious risks of interacting the way that drugs do. Instead they are much closer to (and usually literally are) foods. Think of using herbs like you would if you were cooking: blending them together to enhance each other, not simply sticking to one herb for one dish.

Where it comes to chronic pain in particular e.g. arthritis etc., the longer we can manage pain with natural herbal treatments the better, because this means that when the pain gets very bad you can resort to using pharmaceutical painkillers (let’s face it, they are highly effective when taken at the right time!). However, start these too early and people build up a tolerance to them meaning that they have to take higher and higher dosages and that the pharmaceuticals become less and less effective. I have seen many people in this situation and it is not funny (this is when they come to herbal medicine as a last resort, instead of early on or preventatively: hence one of the many reasons that I teach so much to raise awareness so that people become aware that there are other options out there).
This was just a little overview for you of some of the different approaches to treating and managing pain using local herbal medicines.

It’s not supposed to be a medical guide, but I hope it’s opened you up to the potential of using some of the safe, abundant, local plants around you in a whole new way.

There are videos in my online course showing how to use Cramp Bark, Roses, St John’s Wort, Calendula, Daisy, Calendula and Meadowsweet (including making poultices, infused oils and ointments):
and I really must to get my act together this year and
a lesson about comfrey too!


I cover how to make your own herbal extracts at home from seasonal local plants* in my online course.  With this good weather we've finally got there are dozens of medicinal and edible plants growing around you right now. Where I live the elderflower, silverweed, red clover, daisy, cleavers, nettle, hawthorn flowers, plantain, lemon balm, cramp bark and rosemary are all thriving and summer herbs such as St John's Wort, roses, honeysuckle, calendula, chickweed, meadowsweet and self-heal will be along shortly too. My students are already discovering the joy of making things from the plants grow around them. Why not hop in and join us? You can enrol at any time but now is a great time to do this because you are literally surrounded by this stuff right now! Students get a chance to ask me questions during live Q&A webinars with me. Our next one will take place on Wed June 6th (all webinars are recorded so that people can watch them back if they missed the live session).
*NOTE: Does not cover plants in tropical climates.

If you’re in Ireland (or fancy a visit to Ireland) and would like to come to a class then please CLICK HERE to see my upcoming events.

Thanks again for tuning in and reading my newsletters (especially since the GPDR apocalypse!). Remember if you have any herb-related topic that you’d like me to write about in the future then please do reply to this email with your suggestions.
I’m like a band, depending on my mood I have been known to do requests!

With warm wishes,


Vivienne Campbell BSc (Hons) MNIMH
Medical Herbalist
Mob.: 086 88 99 168
Int'l: 00 353 (0)86 8899168
Herbal Medicine Clinic, Co Clare, Ireland:

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