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All Pain Is Not Equal

Sep 01, 2021 05:08PM ● By Kathleen Gould and Madalyn Johnson

Body pain is definitely not a one-size-fits-all thing, especially when working with herbs. As herbalists, we look to find the underlying reason for the pain and not just cover up the symptoms. Symptoms are not the problem; they are our body’s way of letting us know it needs something. Pain helps us to identify the location, severity and type of problem so we can treat the correct area. The intention is to identify the cause of the pain and thereby reduce it so the body no longer needs to get our attention with that particular symptom.

The beautiful thing about working with whole plants is you can mix and match herbs to get all (or many) of the healing properties you need within one formula. You might want pain-relieving herbs (analgesic), like white willow bark or passion flower; anti-inflammatories, like white willow bark or chamomile; nervine or calming herbs, like valerian root or passion flower; muscle-relaxing herbs, like valerian root or kava; or antispasmodic herbs, like cramp bark, passion flower or valerian root—and the list goes on.

Let’s say you’re having lower back pain. Depending on your unique physiology and pain tolerance, you might want muscle-relaxing herbs, antispasmodic herbs and analgesic herbs. Your herbal formula might look something like this:

Lower Back Pain Formula

  • 3 parts valerian root (nervine, muscle relaxing, antispasmodic)
  • 2 parts passion flower (nervine, analgesic, antispasmodic)
  • 2 parts St. John’s wort (nervine, analgesic)
  • 1 part hops (nervine, analgesic)
  • 1 part white willow bark (analgesic, anti-inflammatory)
  • ¼ part ginger root (circulatory)

Now, let’s look at what a headache formula might contain. Of course, all headaches aren’t the same either and can range from a dull, nagging throb to a full-blown, lights-out migraine. Try something like this:

Headache Formula

  • 2 parts ginger (great for tension-related headaches)
  • 2 parts chamomile flowers (anti-inflammatory, analgesic)
  • 2 parts feverfew (for prevention and relieving migraines, nausea, and light or noise sensitivities)
  • 1 part peppermint (vasodilator, antispasmodic)
  • ½ part lemon balm (nervine and mildly sedative)

*If you have a fever, you might add 1 handful of meadowsweet.

Another common complaint is joint/arthritis pain. CBD (cannabidiol) is wonderful for inflammatory conditions, but that is a topic for another article—stay tuned! The herb or herb blend you use will likely depend on what type of arthritis you have, but here is a basic inflammatory blend that might help with several types of joint pain:

Arthritis Pain Formula

  • 4 parts turmeric (anti-inflammatory)
  • 3 parts ginger (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory)
  • 1 part devil’s claw (anti-inflammatory and may reduce uric acid in gout, analgesic)
  • 1 part white willow bark (analgesic, anti-inflammatory)
  • Lemon juice and honey to taste

These formulas can be made into a tea. Mix all herbs together and steep 1 teaspoon of herb blend with 1 cup of water. Drink 3 to 4 cups a day until pain subsides. If you find one of these blends works great for you, maybe consider making a tincture for long-term use.

There are additional easy, inexpensive, at-home ideas that we should always consider when experiencing pain. Diet and exercise, stretching and yoga could help. Reducing inflammatory foods in our diet, like dairy and red meat products, could assist as well. Any of these aforementioned formulas could be used in a bath. Steep 3 to 4 cups of tea and let cool slightly, and then pour in your prepared bath. Slide deep down in the tub to get all of your body immersed and soak for 25 to 30 minutes. This done right before bed might lead to a good night’s sleep.

Essential oils are a great option as well. They are very condensed and work wonders on pain. Oils include marjoram (antispasmodic and used for chronic neck/back pain), lavender (mildly sedative and analgesic), eucalyptus (warming and comforts aches and pains), clary sage (used for menstrual cramps and abdominal pain), clove (mildly numbing, and great for tooth pain and teething babies), and the list goes on. Always use a good carrier oil when applying these essential oils to the body. When two or more of these are blended together, their strength is multiplied and powerful. A drop or two in your bathtub is an easy and quick way to get relief. Remember, these are highly concentrated, so always be sure to stir them around in the water before stepping in. 

Let’s not forget to look in our kitchen for help. Garlic, garlic, garlic. It can be consumed, applied topically, can be found in capsules, and combined with extra-virgin olive oil for a great toddler ear oil. 

Skip the side effects of pharmaceuticals and unleash the power of plant medicine. Your aches and pains will be a thing of the past!

Kathleen Gould, registered herbalist, and Madalyn Johnson are proprietors of SW Herb Shop and Gathering Place. Gould has been an herbalist for 30-plus years and has extensive experience in herbal medicine. For more information, call 480-694-9931, or visit or