Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra/fulva) – first aid, band aid, all round good healing aid

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra/fulva) – first aid, band aid, all round good healing aid

The inner bark (the layer beneath the rough outer bark) of this particular elm tree is one of the most soothing and healing herbal agents for any and every kind of mucosal or skin irritation I have ever encountered. It coats, soothes and heals membranes and has anti-inflammatory, immune stimulating and emollient or moisturising properties. The clinging  and coating mucilage protects damaged or irritated membranes and allows healing to take place uninterrupted thanks to its protective coating. It is rich in soluble fibre and has a decent nutritional content including vitamins C & E,  B vitamins, calcium, starches and sugars.

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra/fulva) powder

Read more about this incredible remedy and its’ many medicinal applications here

Horseradish : a root with a healthy kick

Horseradish : a root with a healthy kick

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) belongs to the Brassica/Crucifer family so its family members include radishes, rocket, mustards and cabbages, all of whom are known for varying degrees of heat on the taste buds. Not only does it make a tasty addition to dishes if the grated root is made into a creamy sauce but it has some serious medicinal benefits too – it is a fiery stimulant similar to cayenne /chilli pepper in its actions. Firstly, how to find and identify it.

It does grow wild in damp places and is not uncommon in the UK but if you have never come across any then buy a couple of plants online or at the garden centre and plant in a dampish corner of the garden where it can take hold and prosper. It can be invasive given the right conditions but too much horseradish wouldn’t bother me.

The leaves look superficially similar to dock leaves (which would have a tall rusty flower stem) and foxglove leaves (which are covered in soft down) but if you pull a leaf from the base and smell it, the horseradish pungency is unmistakable. The white flowers (not always present on all plants) bloom in summer on a branching, leafy flower spike, are identifiable by their 4 petal cross configuration and are typical of the family. The leaves can be eaten raw or lightly steamed and are considerably milder than the root.

Horseradish leaves

Horseradish leaves

The optimum time to harvest the root is fast approaching ,though you can harvest pretty much any time. When the leaves begin to wither, all the goodness, pungency and vitality of the plant is drawn down and everything this plant possesses is concentrated into the tap roots. This is the time to dig up the root if you want maximum heat from it. Give it a good wash and either chop into small pieces to dry, grate it fresh and make into a sauce or crush and pack into bottles full of either vodka, wine or cider vinegar to preserve it for future use. It can also be made into a syrup or the fresh root preserved for some time in a bucket or pile of sand, left in a cool place, preferably outside.

Young horseradish leaves in Spring

Young horseradish leaves in Spring

Herbalists have been known to prescribe a session of horseradish root grating for people with sinusitis and thick catarrh in the head or chest, if you think chopping onions is intense then try horseradish to experience another league of weeping. The root produces a fiery volatile oil in response to being crushed or grated. Beware though, it is capable of producing blisters and even ulceration of nasal tissues if inhaled too deeply or too frequently. You can also hold a quarter teaspoon of fresh grated root in the mouth until the flavour has subsided for sinus or head congestion

The fresh root, when used on the skin as a poultice, reddens the skin and greatly increases blood flow to the area. It can be used for painful joints in arthritis, rheumatism, lumbago, sciatica etc. Put some oil on the skin first (to avoid skin blistering), wrap the fresh root in a thin cloth and place on the skin until it starts to feel too hot. Remove the poultice then rinse the skin thoroughly. It can also be used this way in cases of bronchitis and respiratory/chest infections to clear deep-seated congestion, much like a mustard compress.

When taken internally the root is a powerful antibiotic and extremely useful as a preventative and treatment for colds, flu and all kinds of infections and fevers. Urinary tract infections often respond well to horseradish root as does the digestive process (hence its use as a digestive promoting condiment with beef etc). Dose is a half teaspoon of dried root as a tea up to 3 times daily.

  • Horseradish is a powerful stimulant and whilst being incredibly useful and beneficial should be used with caution – avoid with internal ulcers, kidney inflammation, during pregnancy (has been used to induce abortion) and breast-feeding, in the very weak or debilitated or in children under 5.  As with all self medication, use common sense, take it slow and listen to your body. Too much can also make you vomit!
Horseradish flowers

Horseradish flowers

** Here is a link to some great stories about using horseradish as medicine.

Tips for making better poultices

Tips for making better poultices

 

Poultices are one of the easiest and most effective ways to get herbs working fast on the body. Poultices are herbal applications that use the actual plant material itself. They can be used to promote the healing of wounds, to help kill infection, to cover and protect whilst healing takes place, to speed up healing, to relieve pain, to draw out poisons or foreign objects, to disperse lumps and swellings, to reduce inflammation, to warm something up or cool something down and are a great way to treat boils, nasty spots, abscess, cysts, lumps and the like.

The general principles are to allow the herb maximum contact with the skin and to keep the poultice wet/juicy if possible. Drawing poultices can be allowed to dry out. If using a poultice on a wound/graze/burn etc, be sure to add some agent that will kill infection, such as an essential oil like lavender or some golden seal powder or tincture. If applying a poultice to any area of open skin, make sure the wound has been thoroughly cleaned before adding the poultice.

*Even though they are applied to the skin externally, some of the herbs active constituents will still be absorbed into the blood stream and exert their effects on the body so choose your ingredients wisely. That goes for any other ingredient such as oil, beeswax etc. A very wise woman once said to me “if it goes on your skin, it should be safe enough to eat”.

Methods

*Apply the fresh herb/s directly to the area. Mash (or chew in the mouth if out in the field) the herbs a little to make them juicy and release their goodness. Lightly wrap with a bandage or similar to hold in place.

*Use dried herbs soaked in a little boiling water and apply the wet herbs. Fix in place with a light bandage or similar.

*Make a paste from powdered herbs using either oil, vinegar or water to bind the herbs into a thick paste. Spread over the area and leave as is or cover lightly with a bandage or similar.

*You can apply a hot water bottle over the poultice to increase heat and therefore blood circulation and speed up healing processes.

*Rub a little olive oil over the area before applying the poultice to prevent sticking when the poultice dries out.

*Sometimes a poultice is applied on top of a piece of light gauze or fabric to stop the herbs coming into direct contact with the skin.

Useful herbs and ingredients.

*Herbs to thicken a poultice mix include slippery elm powder, clay, charcoal and marshmallow powder.

*To make a slimy soothing poultice add irish moss, slippery elm, comfrey root or marshmallow root powders.

*Herbs that draw out and disperse include marshmallow root, comfrey root, chickweed, slippery elm, plantain leaf and clay.

*Herbs that help to clean the bloodstream of poisons include plantain leaf, charcoal, goldenseal, burdock root and leaf and echinacea root powder.

*Add a few drops of a specific tincture or essential oil to the poultice mix for particular benefits (e.g goldenseal tincture or lavender essential oil for antiseptisic properties, cayenne tincture for blood circulation).

How often to use or replace?

*Drawing poultices should be checked every few hours to see if poisons are exuding. If they are, wash off the poultice and replace with a fresh one.

*As a general rule, poultices should be replaced every few hours with fresh applications.

*Poultices become more ‘drawing’ as they dry out.

*Some poultices when applied to wounds or burns for example may prove very difficult to remove and replace regularly. Sometimes herbs will begin to grow into the wound and become a part of it while healing takes place and removing a poultice at this point may open up the wound again.  I have seen this happen on burns and deeper wounds or grazes. Don’t be too alarmed if this happens and you really want to remove it. Either leave it until it grows off naturally (usually within a few days) or soak the poultice regularly to soften and make removal easier if you feel you have to check on progress.

*If the poultice dries on and is difficult to remove but you feel the herbs may have stopped working, you can re-wet the poultice using a strong tea of healing herbs, either the same herbs as in the poultice mix or different ones entirely.

 

Please feel free to ask questions or share your experiences of poultices in the comments section below. Happy Poulticing!