I’ve had occasion to use poultices with my boys—poison ivy and a sprained knee come to mind. But you may ask, “What is a poultice?” or “When do I use a poultice?” or even, “How do I make and apply a poultice?”
What is a poultice?
A poultice is a mixture of raw, cooked, or mashed herbs applied topically to an affected area.
When do I use a poultice?
A poultice is used to heal bruises, soothe abrasions, or reduce the inflammation of strained muscles. You may also use a poultice to draw out infection from a wound, ulcer, or boil. A small child that may fight you approaching with needle and tweezers to remove a splinter will often welcome a bandage. The right mixture applied to the bandage will, in fact, draw out that splinter without any fight. Poultices are also used to loosen chest congestion, aiding in expectoration of phlegm. Cold poultices draw the heat from inflamed or congested areas. Hot poultices relax spasms and relieve pain.
How do I make and apply a poultice?
If a hot compress or poultice is needed, you may use fresh or dried herbs. Simmer the herb mixture for 1-2 minutes. Strain out any excess liquid. Apply to the skin while hot, but not hot enough to burn. Be careful when administering to small children or patients that cannot communicate well. Test the herbs on yourself first. Cover the herbs with a bandage and secure in place. Change the poultice every 2-3 hours.
If you want a cold poultice, you will want only fresh plant material. Grate, mash, or crush the herb. Apply to the affected area and leave on until warm. Replace.
What herbs do I use for a poultice?
- Self-heal and comfrey are used for sprains and fractures. Comfrey will also reduce swelling and heal wounds. St. John’s wort relieves nerve and muscle pain. Marshmallow root, too, relieves inflammation in sore muscles.
- Slippery elm powder mixed with calendula and plaintain will draw from a boil or wound. Honey, too, will draw and I have had plenty of success using it by itself. Fresh cabbage leaves, broken and crushed, will draw poisons out from the body. Other materials to use for drawing are onion, oatmeal, potato, and turnip.
- A mustard plaster will break up congestion in the sinuses or chest. Be careful, though, as mustard will burn the skin. Mix the crushed seed with tepid water and flour (a 4:1 ratio) and place in a folded cotton cloth. First, cover the skin with olive oil and then make sure to remove and check frequently and move the compress around to prevent burning. Onions will also break up congestion.
- Besides using plant material, compresses can be made using teas or extracts. A cloth dipped in arnica can be applied to unbroken skin to relieve bruising and sprains. Hot castor oils packs are unparalleled for rheumatic joints or congested muscles. Cool sage tea soothes abrasions and vinegar compresses are healing for sprains, sore throat, swollen glands, and aching muscles. Lastly, witch hazel is known to reduce the inflammation in varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
One last word of caution. When dealing with infected or putrid wounds, always keep your eyes open for red streaks coming from the site. This indicates the infection has entered into the lymph system and spreading throughout the body. It would be wise when dealing with infected wounds to also take oral antibacterials such as garlic and goldenseal. If red streaks appear, it is time to consult with a medical professional. And, as always, if you are taking prescription medications, or have health issues that might complicate the use of herbals, it is wise to consult with your doctor.