Arnica Two isomeric alcohols contained in the herb, called arnidol and foradiol, have proven counterirritant properties, while the compound helenalin reduces inflammation and swelling. For bruises, mix 1 part commercial tincture with 3 to 10 parts water and use in a compress. Internal use of arnica is toxic, and prolonged external use can cause dermatitis.
Yarrow The antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties of yarrow are due to chamazulene (a protein-carbohydrate complex) and sesquiterpene lactones in the volatile oil. To use in a bruise compress, pour 1 cup hot water over 2 teaspoons dried yarrow leaves, available commercially. Steep for 10 minutes, strain, then dampen a clean cloth with the liquid and apply to a bruise. Itching and inflammation signal yarrow dermatitis; if these symptoms occur, discontinue use of yarrow immediately.
Witch hazel An infusion made from the leaves or powdered bark of witch hazel may have a concentration of anti-inflammatory tannins stronger than that of commercial witch hazel products. To make an infusion, pour 1 cup hot water over 2 to 4 teaspoons dried leaves or bark and let sit for 10 minutes before using in a bruise-soothing compress.
Tip: Joe Palooka Was Wrong
Despite its traditional use, a cold slab of steak pressed against a black eye is little more than an unsanitary and expensive cold pack. You're better off with a cool, antiseptic compress.