For hundreds of years, various indigenous populations around the world have used plants to alleviate aches, pains, and discomfort. Despite the evolution of civilizations and societies, natural herbal pain relief has remained both effective and viable, and dozens of botanicals serve as the foundation of many modern medicines.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the best soothing ethnobotanicals from around the world in a journey that spans across Thailand, the Pacific Islands, Africa, and beyond!
Best Ethnobotanicals for Natural Pain Relief
Red Kratom Strains
Kratom — the ground leaves of the mitragyna speciosa plant — has been used as a natural pain reliever within various Southeast Asian countries for centuries.
Native to Thailand, Malaysia, and elsewhere, the kratom tree thrives in tropic and subtropic environments and bears wide, glossy green leaves year-round. Typically, indigenous locals collect the leaves, dry them, and grind them to a fine, powdered consistency to produce kratom powder.
Throughout its history, kratom has had many medicinal and recreational applications. However, the plant’s effectiveness as a natural herbal pain reliever has been widely recognized by both locals and researchers abroad.
Although dozens of kratom variants exist in the form of kratom strains and colors, red kratom strains are commonly regarded as the best kratom for natural pain relief. Users regularly praise the soothing aromas of kratom strains such as Red Bali, Red Thai, and Red Kali above other kratom strains like White Maeng Da and Green Malay. Although all kratom technically possesses pain-relieving properties, red kratom’s aroma seems to excel at easing pain and discomfort.
According to science, the secret to kratom’s efficacy as a natural herbal pain reliever lies deep within its leaves, where you’ll find dozens of alkaloids — a class of nitrogenous organic compounds found exclusively in plants.
In particular, two of kratom’s alkaloids — mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine — appear to be chiefly responsible for kratom’s soothing qualities. In research, both alkaloids exhibit analgesic properties, but of the two, mitragynine is much more readily abundant and can be found in kratom leaves at a concentration of about 1-2% by weight. On the other hand, 7-hydroxymitragynine is present in kratom leaves at much smaller quantities but is considered to be much more potent than mitragynine.
Akuamma is another remarkable natural herbal pain reliever, as well as one that bears many striking similarities to kratom. Growing natively throughout tropical regions of Africa, the Akuamma tree — Picralima nitida — produces seeds that have been used within traditional medicine as treatments for malaria and diarrhea.
However, Akuamma also excels as one of the best natural pain relievers. Like kratom, Akuamma’s pain relieving properties can be attributed to the plant’s alkaloid content.
Each Akuamma seed contains several or more alkaloids, including pericine and akuammine, both of which have been shown to provide effective pain relief. Akuammine, in particular, is structurally similar to the mitragynine alkaloid found in kratom and plays a central role in Akuamma’s effectiveness as a natural herbal pain reliever.
Kanna, botanical name sceletium tortuosum, is a succulent plant that’s native to South Africa. The plant has an extensive history of use that dates back to prehistoric times, with written records appearing as early as 1662. Kanna has been used as a prominent natural herbal pain relief by numerous cultures, including the South African Khoisan tribe.
Kanna contains several notable alkaloids that imbue the plant with soothing properties. Some of these alkaloids, including mesembrine and mesembrenone, have the ability to alleviate discomfort and even elevate one’s mood. These characteristics make Kanna one of the best sources of natural pain relief as well as a competitive alternative to other ethnobotanicals like kratom.
Today, most Kanna is sold in one of several forms:
- Kanna powder — a finely-ground powder made from Kanna leaves, stems, and roots
- Kanna extract — a highly-potent, premium-grade dried Kanna powder
- Fermented Kanna — a powder made from aged Kanna plant matter
Regardless of which Kanna product you choose, each is capable of offering effective natural herbal pain relief.
Muira Puama goes by many names, including marapuama, mirantã, and its botanical name, Ptychopetalum olacoides. Indigenous to Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, the bark of the Muira Puama tree has a history of diverse medicinal applications, including use as an aphrodisiac, energy booster, and appetite stimulant.
However, Muira Puama also seems to possess notable pain-relieving properties. Although it may be slower-acting in comparison to other natural herbs for pain relief, Muira Puama is rich in naturally-occurring compounds called diterpenoids, which are anti-inflammatory. Other research has proven that the plant can reduce stress and anxiety levels in mice.
Muira Puama can also be applied to the skin, but this method requires extensive preparation. Muira Puama’s versatile nature and robust content solidify it as one of the best sources of natural pain relief.
Sakae Naa has an extensive history of use as a kratom alternative within its native region of Southeast Asia. Although the plant is primarily considered to be anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic, Sakae Naa may also be an effective source of natural herbal pain relief.
The Sakae Naa tree, Combretum quadrangulare, grows throughout the wetlands and jungles of Thailand, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries. Traditionally, natives used the plant’s seeds, roots, and leaves to treat intestinal parasites such as roundworm and threadworm. However, research has revealed that the plant’s leaves also possess mild analgesic properties and may be effective at alleviating pain and discomfort.
It is believed that Sakae Naa leaves provide fast-acting, short-term effects that typically last up to four hours. During this time, the user may experience slight mood elevation, sedation, and a decrease in perceived discomfort and pain.
As a kratom alternative, Sakae Naa is a capable natural herbal pain reliever; however, while some users regularly cite Sakae Naa leaves as being one of the best sources of natural pain relief, other users find the plant’s effects to be underwhelming.
Next to kratom, the Kava plant is one of the most popular ethnobotanicals in existence. Native to the Pacific Islands, Kava root has been used by locals for hundreds of years for various purposes, including natural herbal pain relief.
The Kava plant itself thrives in wet, hot, and humid environments and grows naturally within Hawaii, New Guinea, and elsewhere. Its botanical name, Piper methysticum, translates to “intoxicating pepper,” as Kava is a member of the Piperaceae (pepper) family of plants.
To prepare Kava, locals grind the roots with a mortar and pestle. Breaking up the roots releases moisture rich with kavalactones — naturally-occurring compounds that imbue the Kava plant with unique soothing properties. One of Kava’s kavalactones, kavain, is purportedly responsible for the plant’s pain-relieving effects and efficacy as a natural herbal pain reliever.
Although Kava is generally used for relaxation and stress relief, the plant’s diverse range of kavalactones solidify it as a viable wellness alternative for pain relief. Unlike the other botanicals on this list, Kava is also legal in most countries — making it both an effective and accessible natural herbal pain reliever!
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