Poultices have a very similar action as compresses, but involve applying the whole herb, rather than a liquid extract, directly to an affected area. Poultices are used to ease nerve or muscle pain, sprains, or broken bones, and to draw pus from infected wounds, ulcers, or boils. They are also effective in drawing out such foreign objects as splinters.
In times past, poultices were a favourite household remedy, often involving the use of bread or mashed potatoes as a carrying mixture for herbal infusions or oil. Like compresses, hot poultices can be used for swellings, sprains, or to draw pus or splinters, but cold pastes or poultices can also be useful, as in the case of comfrey root applied to varicose ulcers.
Powdered herbs can also be used to make poultices. The powder is mixed with a little hot water to form a paste and then spread directly onto the affected area or onto a gauze. If applying poultices directly to the skin, the skin should first be greased with a little vegetable oil to prevent sticking. When using a hot poultice, it should be renewed when it cools.
Some poultice examples are as follows:
- Selfheal relieves sprains and fractures.
- St. John’s Wort relieves muscle or nerve pain.
- Slippery elm powder, mixed with calendula, draws out boils and infected wounds (as does tinctures of these herbs plus a myrrh tincture).
Simmer a sufficient quantity of herb to cover the affected area for two minutes. Sqeeze out any excess liquid. Gently rub a little oil on the area to prevent sticking and apply the herb as hot as can be tolerated. Bandage into place with gauze or cotton strips. Leave for up to three hours and reapply, if necessary.
A simpler method, rather than soaking bread or potato in an herbal infusion, for example, is to sweat the herb in a saucepan with very little water, strain it, spread the mixture onto a gauze, and apply to an affected area. The poultice can be held in place with a loose bandage.
Sage and Vinegar Poultice
Bruise whole fresh sage leaves by flattening them with a rolling pin, but do not break or tear them. Put the leaves into a pan and barely cover with vinegar. Simmer gently for five minutes over a very low heat. The vinegar should not boil, but it should steam so that the sage leaves soften and blanch. After five minutes, remove the leaves and lay them on a cloth. Work quickly, but carefully, as the leaves will be very hot. Fold the cloth into a package which will just cover the affected area. Apply as hot as can be tolerated and cover with towels to retain the heat. Leave on for an hour or so until the swelling has subsided. Sage and Vinegar poultices are traditional for treating bruises or sprains. Vinegar brings bruises to the surface, cooling and reducing swelling. When used together, they are unsurpasses for easing sprains.
Vinegar and Brown Paper Poultice
Put five or six sheets of strong brown paper into a pan and cover with sage vinegar. Place a lid on the pan and steam over a very low heat for a few minutes. The time will depend on the type of paper used. It should soften and absorb some of the vinegar without breaking or disintegrating. Remove the paper and wrap it in overlapping layers around the affected part. Apply as hot as possible and build up several layers. Cover with plastic wrap and bandage in place. Leave for four hours and reapply twice a day until the swelling and bruising have subsided.
This is an effective remedy enshrined in the children’s rhyme “Jack and Jill” (Jack “went to bed to mend his head with vinegar and brown paper”). It is very supportive and strengthening for bruises and swellings. Vinegar can also be diluted with warm water and used as a fomentation for sprains and bruises. Diluted with cold or ice water, it makes a good compress for hot, swollen joints or hot tension headaches.
- 4 ounces to one pound (depending on the area to be covered) of pure, green, healing clay
- Distilled water
Mix the clay with enough water to make a thick paste. Spread with a spoon onto the center of a piece of cloth, as a diaper, an area that corresponds to the affected area of the skin. Apply the clay directly to the area, pressing it into the flesh so that it adheres. Cover with a dry cloth and leave on until the clay pulls away of its own accord. This indicates that the therapy is completed.
Comfrey or Plantain Poultice
- Fresh comfrey or plantain leaves
- Distilled water
Blend the leaves and water together in a blender or with a mortar and pestle until a mucilage is formed. Place on a gauze pad and apply to the affected area. Wrap with a bandage to hold in place. A little olive oil applied to the area first will prevent the poultice from adhering to the wound and prevent any skin irritation that may arise from sensitivities to the plant.
Both can be used on deep cuts, scrapes, stings, and burns, as well as to draw out such foreign objects as splinters or glass. Faithful application will eventually see the skin regenerate.
This is used in cases of deep lung congestion and bronchial inflammation. It will bring penetrating relief from the annoying itch when it hurts too much to cough. It can also be applied over the ear and lymph nodes to treat ear aches, only make the poultice smaller.