Blink twice and you may miss the “Brazilian Blur,” 33-year-old Golden State Warriors guard Leandro Barbosa, who's also evidently really fast at healing himself. His speedy recovery after knee surgery three years ago is at least partly due to a strange, green Brazilian liquid that burns going down, Barbosa told The New York Times. Barbosa is so convinced of the power of this herb, supposedly a medicine given to horses that’s extracted from a Brazilian plant called Arnica do mato, that he downs it twice a day, and also told the paper that his entire family now does the same.
So what exactly is this potent elixir — and should you pick up some of this magical healing herb for yourself?
“Several species of plants used in Brazilian folk or traditional medicine have been called Arnica and other names," says Cathy Wong, a naturopath in Boston. It also moonlights as Arnica do campo, Arnica do mato, and Brazilian Arnica or Arnica-brasileira,"after the arrival of early European immigrants noticed that these plants had aromas and effects similar to Arnica Montana L., which grew in Europe,” she says. Meanwhile, none of the faculty at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, which includes the president of the American Herbalist Guild, has ever heard of this herb, says Gail Doerr, vice president for university and student affairs.
Availability is one obstacle — finding Arnica do mato in the U.S. is no easy feat. (Barbosa has it shipped from Brazil.) And finding anyone here who knows what it is or how to use it is almost as impossible.
Arnica Montana is the stuff that’s sold in health food stores as an anti-inflammatory homeopathic treatment for muscle and joint pain. “Lychnophora eriocoides (Brazilian Arnica) and Arnica Montana (European Arnica) both contain flavonoids, sesquiterpene lactones, and essential oils,” says Christophe Merville, director of education and pharmacy development for Boiron USA. “Arnica de mato is a plant from the daisy family (same as Boiron’s Arnica Montana) with similar properties, analgesic [pain relief] and anti-inflammatory.”
In South America, Solidago microglossa DC and Solidago chilensis Meyen (which also goes by Arnica silvestre, and erva-lanceta) and Lychnophora ericoides Mart. (also called Arnica do cerrado) have been used as folk remedies either applied topically or ingested — for pain, inflammation, arthritis, bruises, and wounds, Wong says. They’ve also been known as remedies for urinary and digestive problems.
Solidago microglossa is native to South America, from the south of Brazil to northern Argentina; Solidago chilensis meyen is also found in the West Indies and Madeira (Portugal); and Lychnophora ericoides Mart. is a plant native to Brazil and specifically the “cerrado” biome, Wong says.
Merville said he couldn’t find evidence that Brazilian Arnica has been used as a homeopathic medicine in the U.S., and Wong said she hasn’t heard of anyone prescribing it either.
"They have a long history of use as a folk remedy, but there hasn’t been much research on these herbs,” she says. “Preliminary studies have found that some of the phytochemicals have anti-inflammatory effects.”
A study published in January tested several herbs, including Brazilian Arnica, for effectiveness in relieving lower back pain. Researchers reported moderate results but wrote in their conclusion that because “completeness of reporting in these trials was poor,” more research is needed.
Because of the lack of clinical trials, Wong says, “A proper and safe dosage isn’t known. And because there are distinct species that have the same common name, there’s potential for confusion; people may think they’re taking one herb but may actually be taking something else." For example, Arnica montana L., contains a highly toxic compound helenalin, and these two species of Brazilian Arnica go by the same name. In addition, Wong says, Arnica do mato might cause contact dermatitis and it isn't yet known how it might interact with medication or other supplements. So for now, leave hay — and Arnica do mato for horses.