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Su B Winter

Liniments and embrocations, salves and ointments…all different kinds of vehicles for herbs that ease rheumatic aches and pains.

They feature very largely in the older herbals, and in those few books of housewives’ recipes that survive. There’s a good reason for that; people are naturally most interested in remedies for what ails them, and in the days before central heating and insulation, the cold and damp got into people’s bones much more than they do now, even allowing for the rise in rheumatoid arthritis in modern times.

What can you use?

The rubbing in of whatever preparation you choose is beneficial in itself, stimulating circulation and beginning to ease pain. The choice of carriers is vast, from lard to avocado oil, and some have an activity of their own, while others – the ointments – stay on the skin and allow the slow release of the active ingredients. These are often essential oils such as juniper, rosemary, pepper or myrtle, all of which are warming, easing muscular spasm and calming inflammation. You can use fresh ginger root in a poultice, or add cayenne pepper to a plain ointment, or stir tincture or tea of yarrow or meadowsweet into an aqueous cream.

There’s an endless variety of carriers, surpassed only by the choice of healing herbs themselves

And they really do help. Preparations like Deep Heat rely for their action on essential oils. A steroid cream will only suppress the inflammation; it will not help it to resolve by stimulating blood flow, nor will it gently unclench tense muscles.

Herbs may be our oldest remedy for aches and pains, but they are still the best.

EDITOR: The Herb Handbook by Su Bristow can be bought here or contact Su direct via her website.

Meet The Author...
Su Bristow
Who Am I?
I studied at the School of Herbal Medicine for four years, and qualified in 1989, becoming a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists ( The road to herbal medicine led from my early interest in organic gardening and healthy eating, through the study of social and physical anthropology at Cambridge, where I specialised in medical anthropology. What fascinated me was how people deal with their health problems when they have only the natural resources around them, and their own ingenuity. I went on to learn massage and reflexology, and worked at a residential naturopathic clinic, where I learned about the use of diet and other natural ways of healing. After qualifying as a herbalist, I set up practice in mid-Devon. Since then I have continued to expand my expertise, with counselling skills, first aid, and knowledge of the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of herbal medicine. Besides one-to-one consultation, I have also taught evening classes, students of the Westcountry Massage Association, and various private courses.
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