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”.
*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!