Shelf Life: Mystery Tea at Food City

By Wynter Holden

While hunting for rum raisin ice pops (yum!) in the nearest Food City today, I stumbled on something in the spice aisle that made me raise an eyebrow. Two, actually. There in the loose tea section was a package of small flowers and leaves labeled "Arnica - For external use only." Curious, I turned the bag over.

Unfortunately, I couldn't read the instructions. At my mother's prodding, I took German in high school instead of Spanish. When's the last time your cashier only spoke German, or you couldn't read the signs on a local strip mall because they were in Deutsch? Yeah, that's what I thought. Great suggestion, mom!

Not to be deterred, I hid the package under a bag of Lipton noodles and headed up to the checkout. Why hide a bag of tea? Potential embarrassment. For all I knew Arnica was herbal Viagra, or a soak to get rid of crabs. Normally, I would've looked it up on the Internet. But this time, I opted for a little experiment first.

I don't have any flower or herb allergies. So, I decided to play detective and figure out the tea's proper use myself.

I put my red tea kettle on the stove and shook a heaping teaspoon full of the Arnica into a small white Japanese tea cup. I breathed in the steam. Not bad, but not exactly potent like eucalyptus or camphor. It smelled like...well, tea. If not inhaled, I figured it was supposed to be a topical rub. Makes sense, considering the "external use" warning. I rubbed a little on my arm and felt a slight tingling sensation after a few minutes. My guess? Some kind of muscle salve.

I wasn't far off. Arnica, also called wolf's bane, is a homeopathic remedy for bruises and sprains. And the dosage was about right -- one to two teaspoons per cup of water. It's poisonous when ingested (thus, the warning label) but fine for use in oils, creams, lotions or topical teas as long as the skin isn't broken. Granola-crunchy homeopaths swear by it and a few studies have shown it reduces bruising. I guess it wouldn't hurt to keep a little in the medicine cabinet for the next time I go roller skating.

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