Chapter 9 : Herbs for pain relief

There are plenty of herbs and herbal remedies that are believed to have pain killing qualities, although it is generally accepted that most of these natural remedies are not as powerful as the pharmaceutical alternatives.

Hence, whilst the herbs and herbal treatments recommended in this section of the report will provide relief from some pains and aches, they are unlikely to be effective if you are in extreme, acute or severe chronic pain. Nevertheless, all of these remedies are worth trying if you are in some pain and want to solve the problem naturally and quickly.

Willow bark

It should perhaps be no surprise to know that willow bark is an effective herbal pain killer when you realize that the main active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is a derivative of salicylic acid which is one of the three main ingredients of the willow bark herb.

It was this connection between the active ingredient in what is still the world’s most popular over-the-counter painkiller and the active ingredient in willow bark that originally suggested that it would be a successful herbal painkiller. Unfortunately however, because the absorption rate of salicylic acid from willow bark is somewhat slower than the absorption rate of its chemical cousin and because there is a longer duration, the herbal remedy is not quite as effective as the chemical version.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that a sustained dose of willow bark over a week or so will start to reduce back pain (a daily dosage of 120 to 240 mg a day is recommended), while other studies suggest that a regular dose of willow bark can help to bring some relief to those suffering osteoporosis without any noticeable side-effects.

However, this is a herb that should be avoided if you have a high level of sensitivity to aspirin or suffer peptic or gastric ulcers. Moreover, if you are susceptible to diabetes, gout or have any form of kidney or liver disease, you should not use willow bark.


Peppers or capsicums are a common foodstuff pretty much all the world nowadays, with various varieties of peppers such as jalapenos, cayenne, chili, pimento, paprika and bird’s eye chilies being available almost everywhere all the year round.

Peppers of this nature contain a substance called capsaicin and the hotter the chili that you can assume is, the more of this substance it contains. In effect, capsaicin is what gives it its heat, and it is a known fact that eating hot peppers can help to improve circulation, strengthen the nervous system and heart, relieve indigestion and increased appetite as well.

However, it is capsaicin that makes peppers interesting for someone who suffers from constant chronic pain because it is believed that this particular substance has the ability to reduce the levels of the protein that is believed to transport pain signals from the nerve endings to your brain. If the levels of this transporter protein which is known as substance P can be reduced, it stands to reason that your pain will also be reduced in a similar manner, a fact which seems to be borne out by the evidence collected so far.

For example, in clinical tests, creams containing less than one present capsaicin applied topically to a pained area have been shown to ease the pain associated with shingles and cluster headaches as well as post-amputation and post-mastectomy pain.

Taken internally, capsaicin has been seen to assist in managing various gastrointestinal problems as it stimulates the flow of digestive juices and there is some evidence that the antibacterial qualities of capsaicin can help reduce colds and infections such as flu too.


Boswellia is a tree that is noted for it’s fragrant resin and it is believed by many that frankincense (the incense mentioned in the Bible) was probably a by-product of one of the four main types of Boswellia tree.

Boswellia resin or extract has long been a staple of Ayurvedic medicine, with some evidence that it is an strong anti-inflammatory and can be used as a natural treatment for asthma as well.

Most importantly from a pain point of view, in a study of 30 patients suffering from osteoporosis of the knee, 1000 mg of Boswellia extract given over a period of eight weeks was shown to produce significant improvements when compared with the group who had been given a placebo.

In fact, the improvement was in some subjects noted to cause pain to recede by as much as 90% with an attendant increase in mobility and usage of the knee. On the other hand, no significant improvement was noted in the group using placebos.

Whilst most researchers believe that more studies need to be done before the case for Boswellia as a natural painkiller is established beyond all reasonable doubt, the results so far seem extremely encouraging.

Cherry fruits

The beneficial effects of the fruit of the sour cherry (Prunus cerasus) in humans have not been studied to any great extent so far, but the fact that the fruit contains substances that inhibit the growth of inflammatory enzymes in exactly the same way as does ibuprofen suggest that there are some pain killing possibilities here.

In addition, it is believed that sour cherries possess antioxidant qualities and that they may be effective for helping to inhibit the growth of colonic cancer and perhaps other forms of cancer as well.


There is some evidence that including significant amounts of ginger in your diet (naturally or in the form of supplements) will help to offset the pain of osteoporosis and of course, including additional ginger in your diet has no adverse side-effects either.

In tests, it was indicated that including ginger extract in your daily diet may lower pain levels from osteoporosis by a reasonable amount whilst standing and walking and that overall levels of stiffness caused by the condition should decrease as well.

However, there is no evidence that including additional ginger in your diet is likely to reduce other forms of pain by a significant margin or improve your overall quality of life for anyone who does suffer chronic pain.


Curcumin is the main polyphenol ingredient that gives turmeric its yellow color and flavor. Turmeric is in turn is a member of the ginger family, which we have already seen possesses some painkilling qualities.

From the point of view of herbal medicine, curcumin has been shown to have very powerful anti-inflammatory qualities at least partially due to the fact that it is believed to contain a powerful COX-2 inhibitor. Indeed, in one study, curcumin was shown to be every bit as effective as cortisone when it came to dealing with acute inflammation whilst it was half as effective as the drug in dealing with chronic inflammation.

Given these powerful anti-inflammatory qualities, it is perhaps no surprise that curcumin has been shown to help relieve pain in conditions where inflammation is a integral factor in causing pain. Included in this list of conditions where curcumin may be able to help reduce pain are osteoporosis, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Although there are no known side effects from using curcumin as a natural painkilling treatment, it is not suitable for those who have hyperacidity problems, stomach ulcers or gallstones.

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