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Herbal Supplements for Osteoarthritis

Updated on January 5, 2013

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is the leading cause of chronic disability in the United States (affecting up to 27 million people) and there are around 8 million sufferers in the UK.

Although people of any age can be affected, osteoarthritis is usually associated with old age and is more common in women than in men. Any joint can be affected, but it is more common in hips, knees, fingers and the base of the big toe.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, it is usually treated with weight loss, gentle exercise, analgesics (pain relief) and even surgery to replace hip or knee joints.

In fingers and toes, osteoarthritis can cause hard bony growths on the joints called Herberdan's or Bouchard's nodes. These can significantly limit movement.
In fingers and toes, osteoarthritis can cause hard bony growths on the joints called Herberdan's or Bouchard's nodes. These can significantly limit movement. | Source

Symptoms and Causes

Due to the pain caused by osteoarthritis, people often move less, which causes further problems with the surrounding muscles. Aches and pains, and a "burning" sensation are often described in association with this disease.

The most common characteristics of osteoarthritis are:

  • Inflammation of the soft tissue in and around the joints,
  • Cartilage damage, causing bone damage as there is no protection against friction in the bones,
  • Boney growths or "nodes" forming on the edge of smaller joints e.g. fingers or toes.


"Cracking" of fingers is not a cause of arthritis!

The "cracking" sound you can hear is actually caused by the release of air from that joint.

Herbal supplements

As I said earlier, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. It is usually treated with prescription pain relief that can have side effects, and lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, gentle (not prolonged) exercise, physical and occupational therapy, and educucation,

There are herbal supplements that you can take, either bought at health food outlets or made yourself, that can help with the symptoms of osteoarthritis. This is not to be used as a replacement for seeking medical advice, and any treatment you choose to use should be discussed with your GP to ensure it does not interfere with treatment you have been prescribed.

To make your own stinging nettle preparations, harvest the young nettle tops before they flower.
To make your own stinging nettle preparations, harvest the young nettle tops before they flower. | Source


The stinging nettle possesses many medicinal qualities, and has been used throughout history as an analgesic to relieve pain, and as an anti inflammatory to reduce swelling on joints. For osteoarthritis, it best made into a tincture or drunk as a tea. Preparations can be bought, or made at home as the nettle grows prolifically practically everywhere!

Always consult medical advice from your GP or pharmacist before taking any herbal supplement, as they can interfere with prescribed medications.

Nettle Tincture

A tincture is made by using alcohol to extract essential compounds from plants, and is highly effective! Vodka is best as it is colourless and almost flavourless, but brandy, whiskey or rum could also be used. Ensure the alcohol is 40% (80% proof) or it may go mouldy!

  • Fill a jar with fresh young nettle heads
  • Cover with alcohol
  • Run a knife inside the sides of the jar to dispel any air bubbles
  • Seal, and leave in a dark place for 8 days to 1 month, shaking occasionally.
  • Strain, and decant into small bottles.
  • This will keep for up to 5 years!

Take 1 - 4ml three times daily for swollen, painful joints. This is obviously alcoholic so check it does not interfere with other medications you may be taking.

Nettle Tea

50g fresh young nettle tops

500ml freshly boiled water

Steep the nettles in the boiled water, cover and leave for 10 minutes. Strain, this makes 3 cups of tea to be drunk over one day.

Use cabbage leaves (savoy works best, pictured here) to make a poultice to relieve the painful swelling of arthritic joints.
Use cabbage leaves (savoy works best, pictured here) to make a poultice to relieve the painful swelling of arthritic joints. | Source


Cabbage leaves are not only highly nutritious, but have been used throughout European history as a treatment for sore and swollen joints. Cabbage leaves contain glutamine, a powerful anti-inflammatory, and when made into a poultice and placed against the skin of the affected area, it has been shown to dramatically reduce the swelling and help with the pain associated with osteoarthritis.

Cabbage Leaf Poultice

  • Take some cabbage leaves and remove the central rib
  • Lay them flat on a chopping board and bash with a rolling pin to release the juices
  • Place over the swollen joint and hold in place with a bandage
  • This is best done at night and removed in the morning to relieve painful, swollen joints.
  • Also works for sprains, swellings, ulcers and strains.

Turmeric root, used as a "cure all" in Indian medicine.
Turmeric root, used as a "cure all" in Indian medicine. | Source


Turmeric is a well known spice that is often used as an ingredient for curries, but it has also been used for centuries in Indian and Chinese medicine because of it's powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and for this reason it is effective in the relief of swollen arthritic joints.

  • The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which as well as having anti-inflammatory properties, is also an antiseptic and antioxidant, and has shown to be safe taken in large doses with no side effects.
  • Can be made into a paste to apply externally to the painful joint, or into a tincture to take internally.
  • Preparations can also be bought in health food outlets.
  • It is also used to heal wounds and for digestive and liver disorders. Recent studies have shown it may useful in the treatment of some cancers and for Alzheimers disease.

Turmeric Paste

  • 30g turmeric powder
  • 150ml water

Put the turmeric powder and water in a pan and simmer until it is a thick paste. Put some gauze over the affected area and cover with the paste. Do this for just a few minutes 3 times daily to relieve swollen joints.

Golden Milk

  • 200ml milk
  • Half teaspoon of turmeric paste
  • 1 teaspoon almond oil and honey to taste
  • Fruit can be added for flavour e.g berries or bananas

Put the milk and turmeric paste in a pan and heat to just below boiling point. Add the honey, almond oil and fruit (if desired) and whizz in a blender until frothy. Drink as a health giving smoothie.


Glucosamine can't really be described as a "herbal supplement". It is actually a dietary supplement sold in health food outlets all over the world and is derived from the shells of shellfish, some fungi and rarely it is produced from grain.

Although glucosamine is not a herbal supplement, I feel it is important to talk about it here as it is (in my opinion) incredibly effective in the treatment for osteoarthritis!

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials of glucosamine have remained inconclusive, so there is no medical evidence for it's effectiveness, and no funding granted for use in prescription medicine as a treatment for osteoarthritis.

So why do I recommend it?

So with no clinical evidence, and the controversial nature of this supplement, why do I want to tell you about it here? Well the reason is the evidence of my own eyes.

  • Glucosamine is widely used by vets all over the world to treat animals with arthritis (mainly dogs) and has been shown to be hugely beneficial.
  • People who take this supplement regularly report an improvement in their symptoms and the need to take fewer pain relief medications prescribed for their condition.
  • My own mum uses it and swears by it!
  • It can't hurt to try it, different things work for different people so it may work for you!
  • Always consult with your GP or pharmacist when taking supplements on top of prescribed medications.
  • Glucosamine sulfate is the only preparation that is used for osteoarthritis.
  • It is illegal in the US to market or recommend glucosamine as a treatment for any disease or condition, for this reason I am only suggesting you give it a go. It may not work!


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Great tips, Debra! Headlines are not my strong point quoteisns work well, and there's always the tried and tested favourites how to's and ways to.I work with local businesses, the headlines that work really well include the guarantee, but many won't run with that as they expect a queue of refunds. Those that do are surprised it doesn't happen of course the product/service needs to be spot on.Jan recently posted..

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      we only use natural herbal medicines, my mom is over 90 and I close to 70. we enjoy good health at the moment

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Actually glucosamine and chondroiton are both indicated for arthritis secodary to hip dysplasia and arthritis due to age related changes in other joints. We have been using it for so many years, with such good results, that it is no longer considered an alternative medicine (or neutraceutical), but is really a conventional, sandard treatment.

      Warm compresses work for only a short period of time, which is why I was curious about the cabbage leaf, which I have not tried.

      You mentioned "ask your vet about it though". I am a veterinarian. The thing about holistic and non-traditional medicine is that you do not have to ask practitioners of traditional medicine. The answer is usually "oh that wont work". (I commented on a hub about breast cancer in a dog last night. The usual answer from a conventional vet is that the dog must have surgery ASAP. There are herbal alternatives, and sometimes that is the best route to follow.) At times alternatives are worth trying.

      I am looking forward to hearing back from you. Thanks.

    • Jennifer Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Stone 

      5 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      I have never tried the cabbage leaf with dogs to be honest, but it wouldn't hurt to try! I've found a warm compress applied to the area can provide instant relief for the dog, or a hot water bottle that's not too hot! In dogs I can't recommend glucosomine enough! Vets are allowed to prescribe it or you can just buy it, but I have seen dogs lives turned around in just 2 weeks from starting the treatment! This, however, has been with age related arthritis rather than the type associated with hip dysplasia, which, as you know, a dog has probably lived with for most of it's life. I would still ask your vet about it though, because it may provide relief and alleviate the need for other medication (I've never been a fan of pain relief meds, in dogs or humans!), or surgery.

      I'm actually going to do a bit more research on this subject and speak to a friend who works with sick and injured dogs to get her opinion too, and I will be in touch to let you know what I've found out. I'm actually interested to know more myself now that you have asked, thank you for such a good question! All the best, and I'll be back in touch soon, Jen

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Do you have any idea if the cabbage leaf poultice is effective in dogs? It would be great to find a non-invasive alternative for arthritis secondary to hip dysplasia.

    • Jennifer Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Stone 

      5 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      Always exploring, thank you! According to a consultant I saw for a broken finger, everyone is likely to get it! I don't believe that's true but it is common! Thanks for your comments, all the best, Jen

    • Jennifer Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Stone 

      5 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      Hi Kashmir! Thanks for your comments! All the best, Jen

    • Jennifer Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Stone 

      5 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      Shiningirisheyes, it is good not to have to take the pain medication prescribed because of it's side effects! Thanks for your comments, all the best, Jen

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Very informative hub for those suffering with osteoarthritis. Thank you for sharing..

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great informative hub with very useful and helpful information for those suffering with osteoarthritis . Well done !

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      My Mother suffers from osteoarthritis and takes supplements rather than pain meds. I will be sure and share this hub with her as well.

    • Jennifer Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Stone 

      5 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      Thanks Bill! All the best, Jen

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jen, this is great information for people who have this problem. Thankfully I do not, but I will pass this on in hopes that others will read it. Great job!


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