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Wolf's Bane

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Background & General Info

Arnica montana is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial herb whose importance comes from being a medicinal plant extensively used as an herbal remedy. [1] It also goes by common names of wolf’s bane, leopard’s bane, mountain tobacco, and mountain arnica. [2] The plant should be distinguished and not be confused with aconitum, an extremely poisonous herbaceous flowering plant that is similarly labeled as “wolf’s bane” and “leopard’s bane.” Widely distributed and endemic across most regions of Europe, especially the continent’s alpine meadows, moors, and clay soils, Arnica montana is a flowering plant belonging to the sunflower family (Asteraceae). [3]

Wolf’s bane extract can be acquired chiefly from the plant’s dried flower heads, but plant materials can be obtained from roots or rhizomes of Arnica montana as well. Wolf’s bane extracts can be prepared via hydroalcoholic maceration and gentle disintegration in soybean oil and have been reported to be present in approximately 100 cosmetic formulations across different product types. [4]



Botany

Reaching a height of 30 to 60 centimeters, wolf’s bane is a perennial characterized by one or two pairs of bright green, toothed leaves that form a flat rosette. The leaves’ upper surface is blanketed with some “hairs.” The ovate, ciliated lower leaves are clustered and own rounded tips, whereas the smaller, lance-shaped upper leaves are opposite and affixed to the stem directly. A round and hairy stalk emerges from the rosette’s center and terminates in one to three flower stalks that each hold one orange-yellow daisy-like blossom. Wolf’s bane fruits are bristly achenes and its dark brown cylindrical rhizome is typically curved and has delicate thin rootlets on the under-surface. [2]

History & Traditional Use

In several countries where wolf’s bane is indigenously found, the plant, especially its roots and dried flowers, has long been traditionally utilized as an herbal remedy. American Indians produce healing ointments and tinctures out of wolf’s bane as well as its related species (Arnica fulgens, Arnica sororia, and Arnica cordifolia). [2] In temperate countries of Europe such as Romania, wolf’s bane is an available medicinal plant for the treatment of skin wounds, bruises, and contusions. [5]

General Herbal Uses

Broadly applied in pharmacy, homeopathy, and cosmetics, wolf’s bane is a medicinally essential herb whose various plant parts are collected for curative purposes, especially the inflorescences, rhizomes, roots, and leaves. [1] Homeopathic practitioners employ Arnica montana to treat injuries because of its purported ability to control bruising, lessen swelling, and promote recovery. This plant possesses anti-inflammatory and tissue healing properties, which are beneficial in cases of trauma, bruises, or tissue injuries. [6] Homeopathic arnica is particularly prevalently advised for patients undergoing surgery as an alternative means to reduce postoperative complications. This claim however remains to be lacking in terms of solid scientific evidence despite favorable anecdotal reports. [7] Some studies also mention antiseptic, antibacterial, antisclerotic, antifungal, and antioxidant activities for wolf’s bane. [1]



Constituents/Active Components

Wolf’s bane extracts comprise a variety of components, depending on the plant’s location of growth, including fatty acids (especially palmitic, linoleic, myristic, and linolenic acids), essential oil, triterpenic alcohols, sesquiterpene lactones, sugars, phytosterols, phenol acids, tannins, choline, inulin, phulin, arnicin, flavonoids, carotenoids, coumarins, and heavy metals. [4]

Content of phenolic and flavonoid compounds in Arnica montana extract (in mg/g) is illustrated below, as found through HPLC analysis by Craciunescu et al. (2012). [5]

Wolf's Bane Compounds

Medicinal/Scientific Research

Antioxidant

Because of its rich composition of flavonoids and phenolic acids, wolf’s bane also shows antioxidant activity. In the study of Craciunescu et al. (2012), the extract of Arnica montana displayed high antioxidant capacity in different assays, revealing significant activity toward scavenging of free radicals. It also significantly affected the growth of NCTC cells at a concentration of 10–100 mg/L, protecting fibroblast-like cells against oxidative damage caused by hydrogen peroxide. Furthermore, pretreatment of fibroblast-like cells with wolf’s bane extract at the same concentrations hindered any hydrogen peroxide-induced morphological changes and restored the proportion of cells in each phase of the cell cycle based on data from flow cytometry analysis. [5]

Anti-inflammatory

Wolf’s bane extracts serve as a widely accepted homeopathic remedy to treat a number of inflammatory conditions, especially in postoperative units. [8] A 2004 preclinical study using animals as models of acute and chronic inflammation pointed out the anti-inflammatory action of Arnica montana 6cH. For the acute model of inflammation (carrageenin-induced rat paw edema), a 30% inhibition was observed among animals treated with Arnica montana 6cH in comparison to control, whereas for the chronic model (nystatin-induced edema), pretreatment of Arnica montana 6cH 3 days before resulted in decreased inflammation in the treated group 6 hours after application of inflammatory agent. Additionally, blockade of histamine-stimulated increase in vascular permeability was observed when Arnica montana 6cH was preadministered. [9]

Tissue Healing And Repair

According to a 2016 review on the therapeutic use of wolf’s bane, Arnica montana has been demonstrated to be more effective than placebo as management to a variety of conditions in postsurgical setting, such as posttraumatic and postoperative pain, edema, and ecchymosis (black-and-blue or purple skin discoloration). In fact, this plant has been suggested by cumulative evidence to be a worthy alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in terms of treating some specific conditions. [8]

Wolf’s bane has been demonstrated in the study of Chaiet and Marcus (2016) to accelerate postoperative healing and to decrease the degree and intensity of ecchymosis after osteotomies in rhinoplasty surgery, leading to improved patient satisfaction. This double-blinded trial compared rhinoplasty patients receiving oral Arnica montana perioperatively and those with placebo. It was observed that patients treated with Arnica montana had 16.2%, 32.9%, and 20.4% less extent of ecchymosis than patients on placebo at three postoperative time points. A 13.1% increase in intensity with respect to color change was initially observed with wolf’s bane treatment, but there were 10.9% and 36.3% decreases in color change on the 7th and 9th postoperative days. [10]

The results of Marzotto et al.’s work elucidated the action of wolf’s bane with regard to tissue healing and repair and pinpointed the regulation of the extracellular matrix by macrophages as a therapeutic target. Utilizing an in vitro model of macrophages polarized towards a “wound healing” phenotype, Marzotto et al. (2016) evaluated the effect of wolf’s bane on gene expression and found 20 differentially expressed genes in cells treated with Arnica montana (7 upregulated and 13 downregulated genes). The protein assay also validated a statistically significant increase in the production of fibronectin and further examination of wolf bane’s healing potential in a scratch model of wound closure revealed an accelerating effect on cell migration in this system. [6]

Pain Relief

A 2002 double-blind, randomized trial evaluated the effect of arnica administration on the recovery of patients following hand surgery at a specialist hand surgery unit at the Queen Victoria NHS Trust. This study involved 37 patients undergoing bilateral endoscopic carpal-tunnel release who received homeopathic arnica tablets and herbal arnica ointment, and placebo. Arnica-treated patients reported a significant decrease in pain after 2 weeks, although there was no difference with respect to grip strength or wrist circumference between the treated and control groups. [11]

Osteoarthritis

A 2002 open multicenter trial concluded, based on their findings, that 6-week topical application of Arnica montana gel is a safe, well-tolerated, and effective treatment of mild to moderate osteoarthritis of the knee. This trial enrolled 26 men and 53 women suffering from mild to moderate osteoarthritis of the knee in whom fresh plant gel of Arnica montana was applied two times a day. The study results indicated a significant decrease in median total scores of the “intention to treat” and “per protocol” patients on the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) after 3 and 6 weeks. This index has been broadly applied by health professionals to assess different aspects of osteoarthritis in patients such as pain, stiffness, and joints’ physical functioning. Scores on such pain, stiffness, and physical functioning subscales decreased, and there was only one allergic reaction noted, with an overall local adverse event rate of 7.6%. The Arnica montana gel was tolerated by the majority of patients (87%), with 76% agreeing to use it again. [12]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

A number of acute toxicity tests in rabbits, mice, and rats designated nontoxicity for wolf’s bane extracts and have further added that these extracts are not irritating, sensitizing, or phototoxic to mouse or guinea pig skin and do not produce substantial ocular irritation. Evidence of these extracts’ carcinogenicity or reproductive/developmental toxicity is absent, and clinical tests did not reveal irritation or sensitization due to wolf’s bane use. Consumption of products with of Arnica montana as an ingredient has been reported to elicit severe gastroenteritis, nervousness, accelerated heart rate, and muscular weakness. [4] It should be noted also that some individuals may react to helenalin, which wolf’s bane contains, leading to dermatitis. In rare occasions, internal use may also result in cardiac toxicity and tremendous increases in blood pressure. [2]

References:

[1] D. Sugier, P. Sugier and U. Gawlik-Dziki, "Propagation and introduction of Arnica montana L. into cultivation: a step to reduce the pressure on endangered and high-valued medicinal plant species," The Scientific World Journal, vol. 2013, p. 11, 2013. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2013/414363/

[2] J. Ladner, "Arnica montana L.," Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 13 February 2010. http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpc/doc/gbase/data/pf000462.htm

[3] L.R. - Giovedì, 6 Luglio 2017 - S. MARIA GORETTI. http://luirig.altervista.org/flora/taxa/index1.php?scientific-name=arnica+montana

[4] "Final report on the safety assessment of Arnica montana extract and Arnica montana," International Journal of Toxicology, vol. 20 Suppl 2, p. 1–11, 2001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11558636

[5] O. Craciunescu, D. Constantin, A. Gaspar, L. Toma, E. Utoiu and L. Moldovan, "Evaluation of antioxidant and cytoprotective activities of Arnica montana L. and Artemisia absinthiumL. ethanolic extracts," Chemistry Central Journal, vol. 97, p. 6, 2012. https://ccj.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/1752-153X-6-97

[6] M. Marzotto, C. Bonafini, D. Olioso, et al., "Arnica montana stimulates extracellular matrix gene expression in a macrophage cell line differentiated to wound-healing phenotype," PLoS One, vol. 11, no. 11, p. e0166340, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27832158

[7] C. Stevinson, V. Devaraj, A. Fountain-Barber, S. Hawkins and E. Ernst, "Homeopathic arnica for prevention of pain and bruising: randomized placebo-controlled trial in hand surgery," Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol. 96, no. 2, p. 60–65, 2003. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539394/

[8] T. Iannitti, J. Morales-Medina, P. Bellavite, V. Rottigni and B. Palmieri, "Effectiveness and safety of Arnica montana in post-surgical setting, pain and inflammation," American Journal of Therapeutics, vol. 23, no. 1, p. e184–197, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25171757

[9] S. Macêdo, L. Ferreira, F. Perazzo and J. Carvalho, "Anti-inflammatory activity of Arnica montana 6cH: preclinical study in animals," Homeopathy, vol. 93, no. 2, p. 84–87, 2004. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1475491604000098

[10] S. Chaiet and B. Marcus, "Perioperative Arnica montana for reduction of ecchymosis in rhinoplasty surgery," Annals of Plastic Surgery, vol. 76, no. 5, p. 477–482, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25954844

[11] S. Jeffrey and H. Belcher, "Use of Arnica to relieve pain after carpal-tunnel release surgery," Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine, vol. 8, no. 2, p. 66–68, 2002. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11892685

[12] O. Knuesel, M. Weber and A. Suter, "Arnica montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: an open, multicenter clinical trial," Advances in Therapy, vol. 19, no. 5, p. 209–218, 2002. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12539881

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for herbs-info.com. © herbs-info.com 2018

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