Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks








Herbs for Arthritis
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc

Brian is the founder of the Pulse of Oriental Medicine. He teaches at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and maintains a private acupuncture and herbal practice in San Diego, California, and is the author of Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure.
What are the best herbs for arthritis?


Because most people assume we can just suggest a few single herbs, let me first explain that…

Time-Tested Herbal Combinations are Best

Chinese herbal medicine is a sophisticated medical system at least 1800 years old. It uses formulas of herbs individually modified for each person. It also can integrate modern pharmacologic knowledge of each herb for specific diseases. There are thousands of single Chinese herbs, though only about 400 are commonly used (and few of them are familiar to westerners). Similarly, there are hundreds of formulas of herbs, but about 100 are commonly used and modified.

Herbal Self-Prescription is Dangerous

It is the wisdom of Chinese herbal medicine, confirmed by popular experience (witness the ephedra deaths), that single herbs self-administered by the public are not safe. It is better to see a trained and licensed herbalist. Classical formulas are safer than single herbs and less likely to interact with drugs. (More info on drug herb interactions)

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Different Kinds of Arthritis

With arthritis, we have to first differentiate between osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA)- OA is a natural part of aging, and RA is an autoimmune disease. In Chinese herbal medicine, we always sub-diagnosis the person's particular imbalance, called a "pattern." So, there are easily 8 types of OA, and 5 types of RA. These have to be diagnosed by a professional. That way, you get the best healing faster and with much less likelihood of adverse effects.

Some Single Herbs for Arthritis

I know you're looking for 5 single herbs, so I will try to give you that. I can also give you a profile of the most common herbal formulas for OA and RA. These are meant to be educational only. I suggest you hook up with a Chinese medicine herbalist for a one on one consult, diagnosis, and prescription.


  • Upper limb pain: cinnamon twig
  • Lower limb pain: angelica pubescentis root
  • Lower back pain: eucommia cortex
  • Mild pain worse with cold: jujube dates, ginger root, cinnamon twig
  • Pain from blood and qi deficiency: dang gui, astragalus, poria, rehmannia
  • With fatigue and diarrhea: cinaamon twig, astragalus, white peony root, licorice root
  • One general herb formula for OA is called juan bi tang (Alleviate Impediment Decoction)

The above herbs may help for mild and simple joint pains- but for stronger cures, see a Chinese herbalist.

Rheumatoid Arthritis:

  • For autoimmune disease, proper diet is essential. Avoid the "nightshade" vegetables (green peppers, etc.). Most RA patients have weak digestion, so they should avoid too much sugar, raw foods and chilled drinks, and instead eat soups, rice, and other easy to digest, nourishing foods.
  • Avoid astragalus, since it may boost an already overactive immune system.
  • RA patients may be taking steroids (like prednisone) that have serious long-term adverse effects, and short term cause symptoms like insomnia and anxiety. This can be soothed with three herbs: Raw rehmannia, cooked rehmannia, and licorice root. [There are other good examples of herbal formulas soothing the side effects, or boosting the therapeutic effects of pharmaceutical drugs. On the other hand, single herbs are more likely to interact poorly with drugs.]
  • Many of the most effective Chinese herbs for RA are strong and could be harmful if misused or applied to the wrong person. For this reason, the best herbal RA treatment would come from a very advanced Chinese herbalist, and I think it would be irresponsible to mention these herbs in a general public article. (But, for example, some forms of aconite are used, but aconite is rather toxic and quite strong - perhaps not like the mild, natural, nice substances most westerners think herbs are.)
  • One of my favorite examples of a bad acupuncture study was for RA. The scientists used only one point (Liver 3) on everyone - not a point that any competent acupuncturist would use. Of course, it didn't work, and they wasted all that time and money trying to prove something no trained acupuncturist would expect to work.

Hope this is helpful. If you have any questions, as above, feel free to email back.

All the best!

About The PULSE
All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International, Brian Carter, MSci, LAc, Editor