Pedicularis:  A Powerful Skeletal Muscle Relaxant

Pedicularis: A Powerful Skeletal Muscle Relaxant

Pedicularis as a Skeletal Muscle Relaxant

This article was originally published by the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine and has been adapted and edited for length and clarity.

As there are a number of Pedicularis species, it is hard to generalize on how to ethically harvest them. Around upstate New York Pedicularis canadensis is usually found in spread out patches, and should usually be left alone. But in the Southeast it is much more common and if one spends time traveling and looking, they can usually find a patch or two to gather from.
The same holds true for the Rocky Mountain and Western species. While none are endangered, they can be spread thin.

Make sure there are a number of large self-sustaining patches where you are gathering. Come back and check on them to make sure that you are doing an environmentally healthy job gathering them. It is often best to keep your wildcrafting spots to yourself, or share with trusted friends. If teaching, instill the importance of ethical and sustainable harvesting to your students.

Elephant's Head.jpg


Pedicularis is a useful skeletal muscle relaxant. A quick review; skeletal muscles are those that you can generally move voluntarily (‘I am now going to look over my right shoulder’), and smooth muscles are those that are a part of your viscera and are involuntary, you don’t have to think about coordinating your gastrointestinal tract to propel food from one end to the other.
It can be useful for back pain, upper to lower. Now, this is not a narcotic, so it cannot remove all the pain associated with sore skeletal muscles, but by relaxing the tension it can decrease the need for stronger pain medicines. Also please remember that when pain is decreased, it does not mean that the underlying problem is resolved, and so caution is necessary to make sure one does not reinjure themselves (an all too often occurrence).

Pedicularis is also useful for neck and shoulder tension. For massage therapists, giving this plant to particularly tight patients before working on them can be helpful. An advantage of skeletal muscle relaxants is that they do not dumb down one’s thinking and so can be taken throughout the day (with the consideration of not reinjuring).

While I have outlined the back, shoulders and neck here, Pedicularis can be tried for any skeletal muscle pain.

For medicine I have primarily used Pedicularis groenlandica (aka Elephant’s Head), the main reason is that it is one of the first I learned and find this species to be effective. But many other herbalists use a number of the different species growing around the US. And I am beginning to experiment more myself.


Another advantage of Pedicularis is its general good safety record, negative side effects are uncommon. The most common is the medicine causing some ‘spaciness’ or mild disorientation. For some people this will be enough to warrant trying a different remedy, for others it can be helpful as it reduces their sensation of pain further.


Pedicularis combines well with a number of other plants.  Other skeletal muscle relaxants include Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, please be aware of side effects from this plant) and Skullcap (Scutellaria)..

And also use with anodynes (pain relievers) such as Wild lettuce (Lactuca), Hops (Humulus) and Valerian (Valeriana). One of my favorite combinations is equal parts Pedicularis, Black cohosh, and Skullcap in a tincture. If the injury is recent, than I might add 10 drops of Arnica tincture into a one ounce bottle of the above blend. I sometimes keep the anodyne herbs separate, especially if there is a lot of pain, so that they can take large amounts of the skeletal muscle blend without losing mental function and take a larger amount of the anodyne tincture to help with sleeping.


Pedicularis species are a valuable medicine for the practicing herbalist’s remedy kit. They are a useful skeletal muscle relaxant with minimal side effects. It is a lovely plant to get to know and watch where it grows. Spend some time around a local species to appreciate its beauty and charm.


  1. This abstract is from a technical article describing some Pedicularis species up-taking toxic constituents

  2. This is a rough photocopy of the above article.

  3. A non-technical article–a discussion on the environmental considerations for the plant and its parasitism, and a quick note for herbalists.

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