Learning with Arnica in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
By Kristie Nackord, Spirit Horse Herbals
I’ve been walking the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for over 6-years, slowly getting to know the different plant friends and rhythms as the seasons wax and wane. June is definitely the month I keep my eyes open for Arnica. It’s one of my favorite herbs to add to my Spirit Horse Herbals and our region offers the perfect climate for an abundant summer harvest. But Arnica makes only a brief show each season and if you are out to get a pot of gold, your timing has to be perfect. Believe me, there have been many years when I have been disappointed. Often I thought she would be up and blooming only to find myself out on a cold trail, out of step with my early arrival. Other years, I found she had already bloomed and was returning her energy back to her roots. But this year, after weeks of anticipation, I woke up one morning with a clear knowing that I would find her. It was a “Go, NOW!” kind of feeling that had me out of bed and on my mission. I was not going to ignore that kind of herbal intuition. I packed up the dogs and opened my heart. I was off to connect to my calling and meet up with Arnica in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Westcliffe, Colorado.
And sure enough, I did!
Here in the Rocky Mountains we have Arnica cordifolia. Or, as I just learned from herb teacher, 7Song, “Arnica’s can be difficult to key out to species and that there has been a good bit of hybridization between A. cordifolia and A. latifolia”. So, in the spirit of 7Song’s teaching, what I probably harvested the other day was A. cordifolia-like—potentially a hybrid of A. cordifolia and A. latifolia. Either way, she’s gorgeous!
Part of the joy of this experience was simply finding Arnica in the midst of the forest. To my hearts delight, she offered quite a display this year. For medicinal use, it is the blossoms we want to harvest. Her flowers provide a powerful topical pain reliever when infused and extracted. It is the beautiful organic oils loaded with her essence that I include in many of my salves.
When I harvest, I work slowly; with intention and gratitude. I only take what I need. This year, my supply needs to be enough to make enough medicine for my own personal apothecary and to share with my local friends and community so I tread especially lightly.
Once home I set her out to dry on a screen for about 12-hours. Like dandelion, part of her strategy of survival is to quickly go to seed once harvested. Our timing has to be ‘right’ to capture her essence in the oil while still having an opportunity to allow as much moisture to evaporate off the flowers. Moisture on the flowers will potentially contribute to mold in your preparation but if you wait too long you will miss the potency you get from setting it before it goes to seed.
The Medicine Making:
Much like timing the expedition to gather, timing is everything when attempting to collect the medicine from these flowers. And for the reasons I mentioned above, it is tricky!! This year, I was determined to start with moisture-free oil. (There is nothing worse than finding your supply rancid after only a few months.) So, I let her dry a little bit longer—overnight. I get up early every day to tend my ranch but even that did not help. Darn if when I awoke, she had already started going to seed.
I decided there were plenty of petals remaining for me to feel that I could still make strong medicine. I chose to infuse her in almond and apricot kernel oil and trust that the seeds would impart their healing wisdom into the oil as well.
The Lessons Learned:
With every experience, I learn something new about myself. This year I was reminded to listen to that voice from within. Trust that voice and then act accordingly. You just maybe rewarded by the sunny flowers of the Sangre de Cristo’s!
We’d love to hear your experiences working with Arnica. Leave a comment here!
And make sure to check out 3 full pages of Poppy Swap products all infused with the healing power of Arnica!
*Special Precautions* (from People’s Pharmacy)
Arnica flower preparations are appropriate for external use only.
Arnica is considered a poisonous plant. Arnica flower extracts have serious toxicity if taken internally. Please be cautious and know the proper use of each plant and always keep an eye on the kids if they are out harvesting with you and have a fancy for popping flowers in their mouth!!