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Arnica: Nature's Magic Eraser

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This weekend, I went to lunch with a friend who had recently broken her nose. Halfway through the conversation, I realized something strange—she had no bruising! No faded purple marks reminiscent of a Rorschach inkblot; not even residual puffiness that would be an understandable side effect of crushing your face into the sidewalk after a fall. In fact, she looked no worse for the wear at all. So what had she done? Smushed a full stick of Cle de Peau on her face? Offered her first born to the satanic gods of the underworld?

“Arnica!” she proudly proclaimed. Cheap enough at her local Duane Reade, she picked up a tube of Arnica gel, applied liberally, and, as if by witchcraft, she was restored to her unblemished, beautiful self within the span of a week.

Upon further investigation, it seems the homeopathic remedy, derived from the Arnica montana plant, can be used to cure any number of maladies, from muscle tension to pre-Fashion Week bloating. The Midol of the plant world, if you will.

Homeopathic cures can talk a big game, so for some intellectual insurance, I visited Dr. Gabrielle Francis, holistic physician at the Herban Alchemist. She explained that Arnica, much like a vaccine, is actually derived from a plant that, in toxic doses, causes all sorts of bad things like bruising, swelling, and muscle spasms. However, diluted hundreds and hundreds of times, it becomes an “energetic medicine' bereft of active ingredients, but somehow incredibly adept at curing everything it used to cause. Still with me? No? That's alright. Even doctors are amazed by Arnica's effectiveness.

'How energetic things work is a little bit mysterious,” Dr. Francis admits. “The idea is like cures like. Something that is poison in toxic doses and causes symptoms of an illness in a healthy person can treat the same symptoms in someone who is ill. Dilution leaves only the energetic blueprint around it. It’s the likeness between the illness and the remedy that stimulates the self-healing,”

Arnica, if nothing else, is a simple solution for what used to seem like a complicated problem. What's simpler? The fact that you can get this stuff in a variety of different forms. Find what suits you and reap the even-toned, non-swollen rewards.

Pills: Small, dissolvable, and effective, Arnica tablets don't interfere with any other oral medications. I've been popping Boiron Arnicare tablets because I like puns and hate doing awkward, seated stretches that are often useless in eliminating tension. I am also too lazy to get a standing desk.

Gels and Creams: The best of the best is Traumeel, a completely homeopathic cream with no odor, sting, or residual greasiness. Before surgeries, Dr. Francis advises her patients to apply the cream to any affected areas. “We’ll start three days before the surgery and for two weeks after. People’s surgeons always tell them, 'We've never had anybody heal as fast as you,'' she says. For the uninjured, Jurlique Arnica Cream is more your typical moisturizer, meant to soothe any minor swelling.

Oils: The messiest option, Arnica oil can be massaged into damp skin for similar results as are listed above, with the added benefit of application massage. Herb Pharm Arnica Oil is a simple, unfussy version that has olive oil for added moisture. Weleda Arnica Massage Oil is, as the name suggests, more of a true massage oil and has sunflower oil along with a pleasant but light parfume (note: avoid it if you're sensitive).

—Emily Ferber