This is the third of our 4-part series. Today we’re talking about the herbs that can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs).

In part 1 we talked about what exactly DOMS is and whether it’s a good or a bad thing. Part 2 looked at how you can tailor your nutrition to increase your consumption of those all important antioxidants, proteins and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Today we are talking about four herbs that can speed up recovery and reduce the soreness. In part 4 we’ll be looking at what you can do to reduce the possibility of being sore after your workout, and what to do when you’ve gone hard and can’t walk the next day.

What happens when we get DOMS?

We can get stiff and sore within 8-hours of a workout which has used some form of eccentric exercise such as downhill running or resistance training. The symptoms can peak at 24-hours but sometimes the soreness can last for several days after your workout. Most common symptoms include: muscle soreness, tenderness in and around the area, swelling, a temporary reduction in strength, and an increase in the number of circulating intramuscular enzymes such as creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase, and myoglobin. Blood work would also show an increase in inflammatory markets such as C-reactive protein and various interleukins.

What can herbs do?

Your key areas of defense lie in the pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of herbs. Today we are looking at four such herbs: green tea, turmeric, ginger and panax ginseng. These herbs can reduce DOMS.

Green Tea

Just like with foods, your polyphenol count will speed up recovery. This is because polyphenols stabilise cell membranes and reduce lipid peroxidation by reducing the activation of peroxyl radicals. Green tea is loaded with polyphenols. Researchers have reported that green tea can reduce the soreness associated with DOMS and the amount of time you experience that soreness. It is dose dependent and researchers are yet to determine the optimal dose.

There is an art to drinking green tea. Use water that is hot rather than boiling. That way less of the tannins are included in your tea. It’s the astringent properties of the tannins that leave your mouth feeling dry.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Turmeric root

Researchers have found the anti-inflammatory action of curcumin, a plant chemical found in turmeric root, can move you through the sore muscle phase much more quickly and in some cases reduce the intensity of the pain and stiffness. Curcumin isn’t easily absorbed by your body (referred to as its bioavailability). Taking it with black pepper increases it’s bioavailability.

Researchers found curcumin was able to reduce COX-2 signaling. This is how non steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) reduce inflammation. 400mg of curcumin taken daily for 2 days before and 4 days after exercise reduced the amount of creatine kinase, TNF-α, and the cytokine known as interleukin-8. These all play a role in the inflammatory process.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

fresh ginger root

Ginger is your pain reliever. It also has an effect on COX-2 pathways. The sweet spot for dosing appears to be 2g per day, which is a lot of ginger.

Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng)

Ginseng root is known in Chinese medicine as the root of immortality. Interestingly researchers have found that, although panax ginseng does reduce DOMS, people either respond to it or they don’t. The interaction of the herb with the person is such an individualised event and this is one case where the research clearly shows this.


Caldwell, L.K., et al., (2018). The Effects of a Korean Ginseng, GINST15, on Perceptual Effort, Psychomotor Performance, and Physical Performance in Men and Women. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 17, 92 – 100.

Harty, P., et al., (2019). Nutritional and Supplementation Strategies to Prevent and Attenuate Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: a Brief Review. Sports Medicine Open. 5, (1). doi: 10.1186/s40798-018-0176-6

Herrlinger, K.A., et al., (2015). Supplementation with a polyphenolic blend improves post-exercise strength recovery and muscle soreness. Food and Nutrition Research. 59, (10.3402). doi: 10.3402/fnr.v59.30034

Kim, J., and Lee, J., (2014). A review of nutritional intervention on delayed onset muscle soreness. Part I. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. 10, (6), 349–356. doi: 10.12965/jer.140179

Owens, D.J., et al., (2019). Exercise-induced muscle damage: What is it, what causes it and what are the nutritional solutions? European Journal of Sport Science. 19 (1), 71-85. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2018.1505957.