The adulteration (or contamination) of Arnica montana (and related species) is due in large part to global harvesting of bulk Arnica for commercial uses, which include:
- Medicines – Arnica is heavily used in the preparation of homeopathic and herbal products. Europe is the largest producer/distributor of medicinal Arnica, with the U.S. and Canada not far behind.
- Cosmetics – makeup; fragrances; bath soaps
- Food products – flavorings; textures (like gelatin)1
Where Does Arnica Come From?
Romania is the top source of Arnica plants, followed by other European nations, including Norway and Spain.2
Europe-Grown Vs. Mexico-Grown “Arnica”
There is a major difference between Arnica grown in Europe and “Arnica” from Mexico: That grown in Mexico is not Arnica at all. The species name for Mexico-grown “Arnica” is actually Heterotheca inuloides. Although both plants share similar uses, Heterotheca is not an Arnica plant species. Additionally, this plant is more readily available and far less expensive.3
Global Status of Arnica
Major threats to the Arnica plant include physical changes to the environment and land, the prevalence of farming chemicals, and a decrease in native animal populations (for grazing, etc.). In various areas of Europe, Arnica montana is considered “endangered,” “vulnerable,” “extinct,” and/or “protected.”4 These implications have led to greater restrictions pertaining to the harvesting of Arnica plants. As such, preservation organizations have begun research potential solutions to the problem and improve Arnica populations across Europe, the native home of the species.
Increasing Arnica Plant Populations
In a recent 6-year study aimed at the propagation of Arnica, experimental growing practices were implemented in effort to determine effective ways of growing and maintaining Arnica crops. Soil areas were tested and three different seed forms were planted:
- Clone seedlings – encapsulated genetic materials from an Arnica plant.
- Rosettes – a grouping of Arnica plant leaves.
- Sowing seeds – Arnica seeds placed directly in soil.5
The Study’s Results
Throughout the duration of the study, plants were monitored and measured, and records were kept of findings on a regular basis. The results of the 6-year study showed that sowing seeds produced the highest number of Arnica flower heads per plant, the largest flower heads, as well as the tallest plant stems – an overall healthier plant population for the long term. On the other hand, clone seedlings produced larger, healthier plants during the first 2-3 years of the experiment – an overall faster short-term growth (that peaked at this point of the study). Therefore, the researchers determined that best practices for true propagation of the Arnica species would be to sow seeds in proper soil and environmental conditions. However, when growing Arnica plants for quick harvesting, they recommended clone seedlings.6
Global awareness of this problem, stricter manufacturer regulations, and beneficial research (like the aforementioned study) will likely assist the population of Arnica montana in future years, but there is still much ground to cover (literally) before the species can be removed from protected status.