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Arnica montana (Asteraceae)

Plant of the month (©Pierre Laszlo, all rights reserved)

Arnica montana (Asteraceae)

Neandertals may have known and used it. The Iceman may have done likewise. Arnica montana, arnica from the mountains, has long been used for its health benefits — or its supposed benefits. Unfortunately the etymology for the name ‟Arnica‟ is unknown, lost in the dark of long bygone times. The comon name in English is Mountain Tobacco, although it is also known as Leopard’s bane and sometimes Wolfsbane. The latter two names are inaccurate and apply to an altogether different plant.
A pithy description now. A rhizomateous perennial aromatic herb, Arnica montana is a flowering plant about 18–60 cm tall. It used to be widespread across most of Europe. The species is found from the southern tip of Norway to the Apennine mountains of Italy and to the southern Carpathians. However, it is absent or has become extinct in the British Isles, the Italian and Balkan peninsulas, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia. It grows in nutrient-poor siliceous meadows or clay soils, on alpine meadows and up to nearly 3,000 m.
Flowering occurs between May and August, in Central Europe. This insect-pollinated species is visited typically but not exclusively by syrphid flies. 
Is it because it is sturdy enough to survive the rigors of high altitudes? Is it because of the physical effort of climbing in order to gather a bunch for the backpack, prior to bringing it down? Arnica montana has a huge therapeutic reputation. This plant is notesworthy for its heavy use in homeopathy. Extracts are made and administered in various forms, such as granules. What is it good for? Reputedly, for small stuff, the bumps and bruises in daily life. 
Actually, a number of studies have proved that it lacks any value to surgery or medicine. Arnica extracts act merely by a placebo effect. Nevertheless, companies marketing arnica-based drugs have collected way so many specimens from European mountains that the species is now threatened with extinction. There are even proposals to cultivate it, in order to make it survive. The companies marketing it will presumably continue to thrive upon faith from true believers — in inexistant virtues.