15 Herbs and Spices for Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptom Relief

Herbs and spices can be used as natural remedies to reduce the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis. Find out about dietary options that may help.

Medically Reviewed
herbs and Spices

Some flavorful, aromatic spices also have anti-inflammatory properties, while certain medicinal herbs may help RA symptoms.

It’s no secret that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) involves inflammation, so adding anti-inflammatory herbs and spices to your diet is a good idea. Admittedly, on their own, these food ingredients aren’t likely to have a significant impact on easing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. But as part of an anti-inflammatory diet, consuming certain herbs and spices throughout the day could have an additive effect in reducing inflammation and other symptoms, according to the Arthritis Foundation. And, at the very least, adding them to your recipes will liven up your meals.

Related: The Best Foods to Add to Your Diet to Fight Rheumatoid Arthritis

In addition, some medicinal herbs can help you manage or even minimize uncomfortable symptoms.

It’s important to note that you should never use herbs or supplements in place of standard medical care for RA. Always consult with your doctor before starting on any supplement, as some can pose harmful interactions with medications.

What follows are 15 herbs and spices worth considering if you have rheumatoid arthritis.

Culinary Herbs and Spices for an Anti-Inflammatory, RA-Friendly Diet



ginger root

Used in Asian medicine and cuisine for centuries, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, including the ability to suppress inflammatory molecules called leukotrienes and to synthesize prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that cause pain and inflammation, according to research published in the journal Arthritis. In a study published in May 2019 in the journal Gene, 70 patients with rheumatoid arthritis took either 1,500 milligrams (mg) of ginger powder or a placebo for 12 weeks. Results of this research suggested that ginger may improve RA symptoms by affecting the expression of certain genes.

Try stir-frying a chicken or veggie dish with chopped fresh ginger, eating fresh pickled ginger, or adding grated ginger to soups or smoothies.

Galina Roofener, a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, agrees that ginger can be a beneficial part of your plan to alleviate joint pain caused by arthritis and recommends working with a trained herbalist. Find one near you one with the directory of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).




A fragrant herb that has high antioxidant capabilities, thyme has a rich history as a food flavoring. And it’s been found to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that could be therapeutic for rheumatoid arthritis, according to research published in Pharmacognosy Communications [PDF]. In fact, thyme was found to be the most commonly used herbal medicine among people with RA, according to a study published in December 2018 in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

A sprig of fresh thyme or the fresh leaves can be flavorful additions to meat, poultry, bean, tomato, or egg dishes, as well as soups and stews. It has long been used in Italian, French, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines, and “thyme’s pungency is one of its greatest benefits, but can be a drawback if it is used incorrectly,” according to Spiceography. So don’t go overboard with it.



turmeric in a spoon

A golden spice that’s long been used to lend color and flavor to foods, turmeric also has been used in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for a variety of conditions, including arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders. Besides having anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric and curcumin (the active ingredient that gives turmeric its yellow color) also have analgesic effects, according to research published in August 2016 in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

Want to try turmeric? Add it to soups, stews, and curry dishes. Helpful hint: Combining turmeric with black pepper helps your body absorb the yellow spice even better, according to research published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.

If you're taking it as a supplement, the Arthritis Foundation recommends 500 mg of curcumin extract capsules twice a day.

Remember to consult with your doctor before starting on turmeric. Roofener cautions that because turmeric has blood-thinning properties, it should be avoided in large doses if you take a blood-thinning medicine.


Green Tea

green tea in cups

Consumed in Asia for millennia, green tea contains polyphenols, which are antioxidant-rich substances that can help reduce inflammation, protect joints, and trigger changes in immune responses that would ease the severity of arthritis. Research published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases compared the effects of green tea and black tea on arthritis and found that green tea extract had superior anti-inflammatory effects.

So treat yourself to a daily tea break with a cup of hot green tea, iced green tea, or even a cup of matcha, using a powder made from ground green tea leaves. You’ll do your health, and perhaps your joints, a world of good.

Related: Can Drinking Tea Help Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms?




A delicious spice, cinnamon has powerful antioxidant properties that help inhibit cell damage from free radicals. But that’s only part of what’s behind cinnamon’s health halo: It also helps reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and it appears to protect cognitive function as people get older.

What’s more, a study published in May 2018 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that when women with rheumatoid arthritis consumed four capsules of 500 mg of cinnamon powder daily for eight weeks, they had a significant decrease in blood levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), as well as reduced disease activity, including tender and swollen joints.

Another study published in September 2020 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine also found that supplementation with cinnamon lessened C-reactive protein levels and other biomarkers for inflammation and oxidative stress, which occur in people with RA. Authors of this research concluded that cinnamon supplementation may enhance the reduction of inflammation and oxidative stress levels in humans.

Related: Cinnamon May Be a Safe Way to Reduce RA Symptoms

Dried cinnamon can be added to oatmeal, smoothies, soups, stews, or even oranges for a delicious and healthy dessert. Cinnamon sticks can be added to teas or ciders for an extra flavor infusion. Just don’t overdo it, Roofener cautions. "Although it’s fine on your cinnamon bun, if it’s overdosed, it might not be safe for pregnant women." Large doses of the spice also could interfere with blood clotting and blood thinner medication.




Sliced, minced, or chopped, fresh garlic can liven up any dish and may help ease rheumatoid arthritis pain. Like leeks and onions, garlic contains diallyl disulfide, an anti-inflammatory compound that decreases the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Experimental research published in the Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology, and Oncology found that the administration of garlic had anti-arthritic activity — preventing cartilage destruction and reducing inflammation — in arthritis-induced rats.

In a study published in June 2020 in Phytotherapy Research, 70 women were randomly assigned to take either 500 mg of garlic powder tablets twice a day or a placebo for eight weeks. At the end of the study period, those who took the garlic reported significantly lower pain intensity and fatigue scores. They also had lower levels of C-reactive protein and tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which are proteins involved in inflammation.

Related: Pain Management in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Garlic can be added to many foods, including pasta dishes, roasted chicken or vegetables, stir-fries, and sandwich spreads.


Black Pepper

black pepper kernels

It’s a staple on most dining tables and widely used to add a dash of flavor to everyday dishes. But did you know that black pepper, including piperine, the active compound it contains, has bona fide health benefits? It’s true. Research has found that black pepper has antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and gastro-protective effects.

study published in September 2018 in the European Journal of Pharmacology suggested that the administration of piperic acid has anti-inflammatory effects, inhibiting swelling and the production of cytokines in animals. Earlier research, published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy, found that piperine administration relieved inflammation, pain, and other symptoms of arthritis in animals.

Related: Rheumatoid Arthritis and Your Diet: What to Consider

You already know what to do with black pepper: Use it to season any dish you’d like — salads, soups, eggs, and more.




Cayenne and other chili peppers contain capsaicinoids, which are natural compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Many ointments and creams containing capsaicin (the main ingredient in cayenne) are available to relieve arthritis pain. A study published in the December 2018 issue of Osteoarthritis Cartilage found that capsaicin cream was just as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) at reducing pain for people with osteoarthritis.

You can add cayenne pepper to sauces, marinades, and rubs. Or simply sprinkle dried cayenne onto your favorite dish. But beware: This spice can be hot and may irritate the digestive tract.

If you can’t take the heat, cayenne also comes in a capsule form.

Cayenne may interact with different medicines, so be sure to talk to your doctor before trying this supplement.

Medicinal Herbs for an Anti-Inflammatory, RA-Friendly Diet


Willow Bark

Willow Bark

Willow bark has significant anti-inflammatory properties and reduces various markers of inflammation, according to an article published in Phytotherapy Research. When researchers gave willow bark extract to 436 people with rheumatic pain due to osteoarthritis and back pain, they saw a significant reduction in pain after three weeks, according to a report published in the journal Phytomedicine.

Roofener stresses that you should consult with your doctor before taking willow bark, as it may increase the action of aspirin or an NSAID.


Indian Frankincense


Derived from the bark of the Boswellia tree, found in India and North Africa, Indian frankincense has strong anti-inflammatory properties as well as analgesic effects. It also may help prevent cartilage loss. However, the Arthritis Foundation notes that there's some concern that Boswellia may stimulate the immune system, and advises caution for those with RA.


Green-Lipped Mussel Extract


Technically this substance is a seafood extract (not an herb) that is touted for inflammation-fighting properties. Nutritional supplements containing extracts from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects. So it stands to reason that these supplements could be helpful for RA; however, little research has been done in people, and so far results from studies in animals and humans have been mixed, according to the Arthritis Foundation.


Borage Seed Oil


The oil comes from the seeds of the borage plant, native to certain parts of Europe and North Africa, and it’s a rich source of gamma linoleic acid (GLA), a type of omega-6 fatty acid. Research published in the journal Rheumatology suggested that when people with RA take daily oral supplements of borage seed oil, they experience significant improvements in joint tenderness, swelling, and pain after six months.

Related: Home Remedies and Alternative Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis


Thunder God Vine


Used for hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine, thunder god vine reduces inflammation from autoimmune diseases, including RA, when taken as an oral extract. A review published in July 2016 in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that treatment with thunder god vine (aka Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F) was superior to conventional drugs, including sulfasalazine and methotrexate, in treating RA symptoms.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “some studies have suggested that thunder god vine plus standard medical treatment may be more effective than standard treatment alone for symptoms such as joint swelling and tenderness.”

However, thunder god vine should never be used as a substitute for standard RA treatments.

On a cautionary note, the NCCIH warns: “Thunder god vine can be extremely poisonous if the extract is not prepared properly.” According to Roofener, it also has strong emetic properties, which means it could cause vomiting.


Devil’s Claw


A plant used for centuries in Africa to treat pain and many other medical conditions, devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) has considerable anti-inflammatory effects. One study found that when 259 people with rheumatic disorders took daily tablets of devil’s claw for eight weeks, they experienced significant improvements in pain, stiffness, and function, especially in the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, and back. Research published in 2021 in the Pakistan Journal of Medical Research has suggested that devil’s claw may be as effective as certain osteoarthritis medicines at helping knee and hip pain after 16 weeks of treatment.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, you should not take devil's claw if you're pregnant or have gallstones or ulcers. It can also affect your heart rate and could interfere with blood-thinning and cardiac medications, as well as diabetes medications.




Ashwagandha, also called “Indian ginseng,” is an herbal treatment that’s been used for thousands of years to ease pain, reduce stress, and treat other conditions. Research published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research found that taking ashwagandha powder followed by treatment with Sidh Makardhwaj (another type of Indian medicine with herbal and mineral ingredients) eases pain and joint swelling in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The dosage will depend on the type you take.

“There have been many human clinical trials that have found anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects associated with ashwagandha,” says Lise Alschuler, ND, professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson. “Many of these trials suggest that at least two to three months of usage is necessary before the benefits will be noted.”

Alschuler says ashwagandha is generally safe for people with RA. However, patients should consult with their doctors if they are taking diabetes or thyroid medicines, as the supplement could cause an additive effect. Additionally, pregnant women should talk to their providers before taking ashwagandha.

The Bottom Line

"Adding herbs and spices to your diet for their anti-inflammatory properties is usually safe," Roofener says. To keep it that way, she advises using herbs or supplements at least two hours before or after taking your medication. She adds, "if you want to use them in high doses as medicine, make sure to check with your doctor first,” or work with a Board Certified Traditional Chinese Herbalist. After all, some herbal supplements can cause unpleasant side effects or interact with medication you may be taking.

Additional reporting by Julie Marks, Madeline Vann, MPH, and Stacey Colino.