Herbs for Arthritis

What you need to know about herbal products that may help ease arthritis symptoms.


Medications have revolutionized modern-day treatment of arthritis, but many people also look to herbs and botanicals, substances from plants, to help manage their arthritis symptoms.

More than half of adults in the United States use vitamins, botanicals and other natural medicines to treat or prevent disease, spending more than $30 billion on them every year, according to Consumer Reports.

Plenty of people with arthritis are included in that group. But Donald Miller, PharmD, professor of pharmacy practice at North Dakota State University in Fargo and a member of the FDA Arthritis Advisory Committee warns “systemic inflammatory diseases cause joint destruction and organ damage, so one should never rely on herbals at the expense of disease-modifying drugs,” he explains.

And make sure to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements or botanicals to fully understand the potential side effects and interactions with your medications.

Which Herbs Should You Take?

Research hasn’t always kept pace with the popularity of herbs, botanicals and supplements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t approve supplements or assure their consistency, but more natural medicines are being put to the test in some well-designed clinical trials. Visit our Supplement and Herb Guide as well as the slideshow 9 Supplements for Arthritis to learn more about which botanicals are best for arthritis.

How Are Herbs Taken?

Not all botanicals are the same. They can come in a variety of forms. And keep in mind studies conducted almost always use standardized extracts in pill form, so using other forms could make it hard to know how much active ingredient you are really getting.

Infusions and Teas

Tea is one of several ways botanicals are sold and is probably the most popular and well known form. It can also be called an infusion. It is made by adding boiling water to fresh or dried plant products – stems, leaves or flowers – and steeping them to release their active ingredients. 

Concoctions and Decoctions

Tea requires just a few minutes of steeping, but some plant products need more time for their active ingredients to release. A concoction is a mixture of herbal ingredients that can be prepared in a variety of ways, usually with heat. When the heating method is boiling, the mixture – usually of roots, bark or berries – is called a decoction. The resulting liquid is then drunk.

Liquids, Extracts and Tinctures

Botanicals are sold in liquid forms, such as oils, extract-containing drinks, syrups and tinctures. When preparations are made with alcohol and water, they are called tinctures.

Extracts can be made with many different liquids (solvents), and that liquid is often evaporated to make a dry extract. Dry extracts are put into capsules and tablets.

Tinctures and extracts are usually more concentrated than teas. When looking at the recommended dose, it is important to notice the form of the product. For example, a dose might be three cups of tea per day or one to three teaspoons of tincture per day.

Fresh or Dried Herbs

Herbs can be grown at home or purchased fresh-cut at a market. Air-dried, freeze-dried or fresh, herbs can be used in cooking or for making tea.

Updated June 25, 2015