Pain Free Gardening: Help! What to Do After a Day of Bending, Kneeling, and Lifting

Gardener with back pain

It’s mid-July here in colorful Colorado—and for that matter, all over the country. For the most part, we’re in that precious time of year when, after a long, somber winter of browsing seed catalogs, we’re anxious to start digging into the earth. Yes, we true blue gardeners are finally in the thick of our gardening chores.

As the day draws to a close, we walk approvingly through our backyard gardens and smile with satisfaction to be growing our own veggies and herbs. But, along with that sense of accomplishment, there’s also pain. Many of us basically crawl into a warm bath and, more than likely, take a couple of NSAIDs, such as Advil, Tylenol, or other dangerous over-the-counter pain relievers, and we hope that by morning the soreness will be gone. Sound familiar? 

Well, last week was just such a day for me. The weeds had gotten so ahead of me that the neighbors were peering, and I knew it was time to do the weed-pulling from my organic herb and veggie plots. No chemicals in this yard (smile). Wanting to finish this most boring of tasks, I spent too much time in the bending, kneeling, head-down position. And with an already injured disk, I was indeed in need of some pain relief by the time I came inside (sigh).

Not wanting to resort to taking an NSAID, which is the worst choice possible (see the link above), I began going through my old herbal magazine stack in hopes of finding something specific for treating my over-gardening aches and pains. After a quick search of the summer issues, to my surprise there it was, like a magic wand: a 1984 article by Frances Sheridan Goulart. Exactly what I was looking for.

Without further ado, I want to share the portion of this timeless article that details some of the recommended remedies for easing those gardening-specific aches and injuries. These remedies from yesteryear work the same today!

You may want to make this a keeper as Goulart’s information is long since out of print, and it may only survive by virtue of this post. However, lots of her books are still available, so feel free to browse Goulart’s awesome body of work. Additionally, I’ll share some of my own limited wisdom on this subject, a few recipes, and some healthy, helpful whole food supplements that I use with the purpose of pain relief in mind.

Gardening Without Pain

—by Frances Sheridan Goulart, excerpted from Herb Quarterly, 1984

[Note: I found the select remedies below especially useful.]
poison ivy
poison ivy

Itch all overYou can avoid poison ivy or poison oak if you recognize the enemy. Here’s an acid test: Crush a leaf of the suspected culprit in a piece of white paper, taking care not to touch the leaf or the resin that oozes out. If the liquid darkens in five minutes, the plant belongs to the poison ivy family. Besides calamine lotion or antihistamine for an itch, propolis, which is manufactured by honey bees from the buds of poplar trees, can help. Combine the contents of one or two propolis capsules with one small jar of petroleum jelly and smooth on as needed. Propolis is both a natural antibiotic and germicide. [Note: I recommend un-petroleum jelly instead.]

Cuts, scrapes, and bruises – To stop the bleeding from a scrape or cut, apply a pad of cotton, wool, or a clean handkerchief dipped in hot water firmly to the spot. A sprinkle of the herb capsicum (red pepper) will also help. [Ouch!] [Note: One of my personal favorites for stopping a bleeding wound is yarrow.]

Lactic Acid Build-Up – Lactic acid builds up in the muscles after strenuous or repetitious exercise, causing muscle soreness or stiffness, particularly when you perform an unfamiliar garden task. What remedies exist for such common afflictions as “Pruner’s low back pain” besides aspirin, which causes unpleasant side effects in some people? Saffron is one alternative. According to herbalists, saffron facilitates the transfer of lactic acid to the liver where it is changed to glycogen to be used by the body again as energy. Transfer is so immediate that little or no soreness of the muscles is experienced. Saffron also stimulates perspiration, essential to correct body temperature during extended periods of outdoor work. Saffron is available in gelatin capsules at health food stores or may be drunk as a tea.

mosquitoSkeeter Repellent – If you’re cultivating cukes at twilight, you’ll need a good “skeeter” repellent. What beats synthetic bug sprays? Cotton balls saturated with anise oil, lavender oil, or oil of thyme. [Note: Be very sure you don’t use essential oils directly on the skin. You may, however, add a few drops of the recommended essential oils to olive oil, coconut oil, or a carrier oil of your choice. A good guide is 2–3 drops of essential oil to 1–2 tablespoons of carrier oil. Always test on your arm before applying in quantity to your body.]

Tennis Elbow – Is tennis elbow keeping you out of the eggplant patch? Lift weights. According to Dr. Ernest Johnson, professor and chairman of the department of physical medicine at Ohio State College of Medicine, lifting dumb-bells of progressively greater weight twice a day for four to five weeks will cure this painful joint malady in most of those who suffer from it.

Bee or Wasp Sting – A bee or wasp sting is painful even for those who are not allergic to these insects, but applying raw potato or lemon slices or rubbing poppy or nasturtium leaves on the spot helps. A severe allergic reaction may cause swelling, difficulty breathing, and a change in blood pressure. [Note: If that happens, seek emergency help immediately.]

Neck Pain – The most common pain of all among gardeners is a literal pain in the neck, and it’s no wonder! At 12 to 15 pounds, your head is one of the heaviest parts of the body, and when you hold it in one position as you dig, neck tension inevitably results. Moreover, tension usually spreads throughout a muscle group, so a little bit of neck tension can mean a lot of pain in the lower back. To relieve this pain after a long day over a hot bed of weeds, sit or stand with your back upright and head erect, then suddenly let your head and neck muscles go so that your head drops freely forward. Rest there for a moment, raise your head again and repeat. Do this five to ten times, several times a day.

Gardeners Knee – If you plant, you kneel, and if you kneel, you’re headed for gardener’s knee. To prevent it, warm up with knee bends before starting to garden, and kneel on an inflatable cushion. To relieve it, make an instant ice pack by freezing a sponge inside a terry cloth towel; keep the towel in the freezer until needed. This will also provide relief from bug bites and cuts. [Note: My personal knee saviors are the great knee pads I get at my gardening center or the inexpensive ones in the paint department. To avoid unnecessary sprains, I also keep a small bench alongside me to help me get up from the kneeling position.]

Exercise Tips from a Traditional Cook and Organic Gardener

Preparing for the gardening season is a lot like planting those seedlings indoors between February and April. But few of us engage in gardening movements during the winter months. Be wise and keep yourself limbered up for the coming season. Here are seven of the best pre-gardening season exercises I’ve found. Click here for some great video tutorials of each exercise.

  1. Dumbbell Deadlift
  2. Front-Loaded Squat
  3. Farmer Carry
  4. Diagonal Wood Chop
  5. Push-Ups
  6. Renegade Rows
  7. Lunges

Whole Food Supplements that Help Keep Us Limber

When I think limber, I automatically think of the Wulzen factor, an important fat-soluble nutrient found in raw milk and sugarcane juice. Unfortunately, the Wulzen factor (also known as the “anti-stiffness factor” because it combats arthritis and relieves pain, swelling, and stiffness) has been lost to modern science.

Rosalind Wulzen made the discovery that the Wulzen factor protects humans and animals from calcification of the joints, or degenerative arthritis. It also protects against hardening of the arteries, cataracts, and calcification of the pineal gland. Calves fed pasteurized milk or skim milk develop joint stiffness and don’t thrive, but their symptoms are reversed when raw butter fat is added to the diet. It’s important to note that not all animal fats contain the Wulzen factor—it’s found only in significant amounts in raw butter, cream, and whole milk during the time of rapidly growing early spring grasses.

When you’re unable to find raw milk, butter, or cream, you can get the Wulzen factor in Betacol, a supplement made by Standard Process.

Another favorite supplement combo I take right before going to bed is Calcium Lactate powder and Cataplex F tablets. It provides calcium and magnesium in the right ratio and relaxes me into a deep state of comfort that’s hard to describe. The Cataplex F draws calcium into the tissues, which is good because it otherwise might not find its way out of the bloodstream. Taking this combo before, during, and after gardening will help with muscle cramps and the negative effects of sun and heat exposure. So after a hard day in the garden, forget the ibuprofen, Tylenol, and other NSAIDs. Take the natural way out of your gardening soreness with 1–2 teaspoons of relaxing Calcium Lactate powder in a small glass of organic apple juice, followed by 3–6 Cataplex F tablets.

Special Organic Blends for Great Muscle Pain Relief

One of the most difficult things to find is a truly reputable, reasonably priced organic source for pain relieving salves, essential oils, and other body balms. I’ve been working with one particular small business that carries pain relief at its best: Debbi’s Aromatherapy custom blend Muscle Pain Butter. Additionally, Debbi is now carrying CBD infused herbal salves. Be sure to call or visit

Testimony: In a recent case I referred a woman with trigeminal nerve damage to Debbi for a custom cream to address her facial pain. In addition to taking Inositol Powder, she applied the cream several times a day. The results in lessening the discomfort associated with one of the most painful types of nerve damage were dramatic. If you or a loved one is experiencing a similar pain situation, I highly recommend you speak with Debbi about a custom blend for your specific needs.

Reward Your Gardening Efforts with Healthy, Cooling Thirst-Quencher Recipes

Watermelon-Strawberry SmoothieWatermelon-Strawberry Smoothie

—From Get Inspired Every Day!

9 cups watermelon pieces, seedless
12 oz. frozen strawberries
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Optional sweetener if your fruit isn’t perfectly ripe


  1. Place the watermelon pieces into a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Add strawberries and lemon juice. Blend again until smooth.
  3. Serve right away or refrigerate for up to 1 day.

Raw Milk Date Smoothie

—Adapted from Real Simple

¾ cup whole raw milk
⅓ cup halved and pitted organic dates
½ cup ice


  1. Place raw milk and dates in a blender.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until the dates have softened, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add ice and blend until smooth and frothy.

Carrot-Pineapple Smoothie

—Adapted from Real Simple

¾ cup chopped fresh pineapple
½ cup ice
⅓ cup fresh organic orange juice
¼ cup organic chopped carrot
½ organic banana


  1. Place the pineapple, ice, orange juice, carrot, and banana in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth and frothy.
An afterthought from the Traditional Cook…
When the world wearies
and society ceases to satisfy, there is always
the garden.

—Minnie Aumonier, quoted in Herb Quarterly, 1984


To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Photo at top from iStock/Highwaystarz-Photography

Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semiretired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Visit her website at Also check out Maria’s Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD (also available as an e-learning course) and be sure to follow her Tips from the Traditional Cook blog.
Products by Maria Atwood

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