Most people with joint pain reach first for over-the-counter inflammation reducers like ibuprofen or aspirin.
But these drugs can cause mild side effects (and occasional severe ones such as ulcers or heart trouble). If you’re seeking an alternative, consider herbal remedies. In fact, an herb is the original source of aspirin, and it’s still available in its herbal form.
Willow bark has been used for thousands of years to treat aches and pains, and it’s effective for osteoarthritis, gout, bursitis, and lower back pain. It can be taken in capsules or made into a tea. (You may need to drink a few cups before feeling the benefits. Add some cinnamon or honey to temper the woodsy taste.)
You probably have some herbal inflammation fighters in your kitchen cabinet. Ginger, turmeric, and cayenne aren’t just flavorful spices; they have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, too.
Ginger “will reduce any inflammation in your body,” says Jekka McVicar, author of The Complete Herb Book. It’s widely used in traditional Chinese medicine and is effective for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Better still, it has no adverse effects.
Try it in tea
Turmeric, the orange/yellow spice so popular in Indian cooking, is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine to reduce inflammation. Curcumin, the potent substance in turmeric, is available in supplement form.
Powdered cayenne (the hot red pepper) can be taken in capsules, tablets, and tinctures to fight inflammation. Topical creams containing cayenne are effective for arthritis pain. (But don’t use it on broken skin.)
The roots, flowers, and leaves of nettles contain anti-inflammatory substances. The leaf extract is particularly helpful for osteoarthritis of the hip, thumb, and back. “In some cases of rheumatism and arthritis, they can be astoundingly successful,” writes herbalist David Hoffman, AHG, in Herbal Prescriptions After 50.
The resin from the bark of the boswellia tree is another inflammation fighter. It’s known for reducing morning joint stiffness and is effective for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and tendonitis. It helps improve blood flow to joints, which then decreases pain and improves mobility. Taking boswellia in combination with ginger, turmeric, and ashwagandha has been found to work well for osteoarthritis of the knee.
“In many cases, herbal anti-inflammatories provide the same kind of relief as pharmaceuticals—without the scary side effects,” writes Martha Schindler Connors in The Everything Guide to Herbal Remedies. She singles out chamomile, rosemary, sage, and yarrow for gentle, effective relief.