DIY





Healing with Poultices

Treating minor ailments with herbal remedies may be as easy as finding the right plant for the job.

| April/May 2018

An international traveler was touring in Botswana when he exposed himself to far too much sun and experienced tremendous heat, pain, and blistering on his face, chest, arms, and legs. Some large Cape aloe (Aloe ferox) plants grew close to the hotel. He severed a couple of fleshy, 3-foot-long leaves, went up to his room, split the leaves to expose the glorious cooling gel, and applied them directly to his body. Ah! He was saved! The aloe relieved the pain of the blisters.

This anecdote illustrates some of the signal aspects of healing with poultices. Poultices are simply whole or mashed herbal material — leaf, root, or seed — layered or spread on skin without extraction or complex preparation. They use local ingredients, offer speedy relief, and cost little or nothing.

A fascination with the fragrance, shape, color, taste, and texture of plant leaves has led me to study the art of poulticing, which I call “laying on leaves.” Poultices may be applied as hot as 105 degrees Fahrenheit to increase circulation to the affected area, or they may be applied cold, which is especially effective for cooling burns. They fight infection and infiltrate the injured area with healing substances from the plant, such as antiseptic essential oils or tannins that shrink tissue and ease pain. Poultices also pull poisonous or infected matter from wounds. Properly applied, the poultice may help resolve cysts, pustules, and splinters by reducing associated inflammation.

Because the plant material is most often applied directly to the skin, you should avoid spiny plants and common allergens. I’ve had good success using aloe, burdock, castor, chickweed, comfrey, dandelion, jewelweed, marshmallow, mullein, and plantain for making poultices. My herbal teacher always told me, “For a poultice to be good, it has to suck.” By this, he meant that the herbal material must adhere closely to the skin so its healthful compounds can permeate the tissues and the moisture can draw out foreign bodies or infection.



Remembering all the times I’ve seen poultices used, or used them myself, to treat long-standing conditions or emergencies, I can think of one commonality — they worked every time! An herbalist can apply the beneficial compounds of the plant immediately and directly. The activity isn’t diminished through processing or storage, nor is an intermediary agent, such as alcohol, added to dilute the plant material. Poultices are an unadulterated and intimate communion between plant and patient. That’s why I feel the poultice works so well. 

Basic Plantain Poultice

A general drawing and healing poultice can be made by picking fresh plantain (Plantago major) leaves and kneading them with your fingers until they’re well-bruised, softened, and freely emitting their juices. Then, layer the leaves on the injured skin to exert their healing influence. Plantain contains the well-documented cell proliferant known as allantoin, and can promote rapid regeneration of healthy skin when used to treat abrasions, wounds, and ulcerations. The best healing herbs are multifaceted, and plantain is no exception: It also contains soothing mucilage and a great deal of tannin, which astringes body tissue, increases muscle tone, and reduces pain. One of the best clues for differentiating plantain leaves from look-alikes are the strong, elastic fibers that run from the base of the stems to the margins of the leaves. You may notice these fibers when picking a leaf — they usually extend somewhat from the end of the broken stem. These fibers help hold the leaf together, even after it’s been bruised and exuded its juices.






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