Even as someone who happily explores the more woo-woo side of herbal medicine, whenever I’m feeling under the weather, I immediately look for things I can “take” to make the pain go away. Whether it’s an herbal tablet or tea, I’m far more comfortable swallowing my medicine than applying it topically.
But when it comes to injuries, rashes, muscle pain, and even congestion, applying herbs directly to the skin is an often overlooked first line of defense. Herbal poultices harness the power of fresh plants to help relieve everything from burns to arthritis, and all sorts of conditions in between. Not only are they simple to make, but using fresh herbs is often more effective than relying on dried herbs alone.
Here’s a little bit more information on what a poultice is and how to make an herbal poultice for any kind of injury or illness.
What is a poultice?
Before we dive into the world of poultices, I want to talk quickly about a similar, and often-confused, herbal healing technique: compresses. Both compresses and poultices are a way of applying raw herbs to the skin that lets them sink in slowly and deliver their healing properties directly to the injury site. But the difference between the two types has to do with their delivery method:
For an herbal compress, you want to soak a clean cloth in an herbal extract (or tea). Then wring out the excess liquid before applying it to the wound. If using a hot compress, once the cloth cools, soak it again in the hot liquid, and reapply as needed.
Although the word “poultice” sounds strange, it’s similar to a compress, except instead of using the liquid extract, you’re going to use the whole herb. To make a poultice, you simply want to crush the herbs into a pulp and spread it directly onto the skin, where it will be held in place with muslin or cheesecloth.
As opposed to creams and salves, using fresh herbs allows you to reap the healing benefits while the herbs are at their freshest and most potent. For both methods, the temperature can alter the healing action. A warm or hot herbal mixture will help to increase circulation, relax tense muscles, and alleviate pain, while a cold mixture is said to help soothe inflammation. Choosing warm, tingling herbs (like ginger root) can also stimulate the skin, increase circulation, and improve healing.
The best herbs for poultices
When learning how to make an herbal poultice, it’s important to choose your herbs wisely. Herbs affect everyone differently, and your body can develop a reaction over time, so always do a spot test before applying herbs for long periods.
Rosemary – Fresh rosemary has long been used to speed up the healing of wounds and bruises when used externally, and it is also antibacterial [source].
How to make an herbal poultice
- Fresh or dried herbs of choice (I find that turmeric, rosemary, and thyme are often universally beneficial and the easiest to find, but always do your research before choosing the herbs that are right for you). If you are buying them, try to choose organic if possible—you don’t want any chemicals interfering with the healing properties of the herb.
- Clean muslin or cheesecloth
- Knife and cutting board
- Bowl for mixing
- Spoon (or mortar and pestle)
- Water (optional)
- Pick out your herbs and estimate how much you will need based on the size of the area that needs to be covered (your best guess is fine).
- After thoroughly washing them with fresh water, chop the herbs into small pieces and place them in a bowl. Using the back of a spoon (this is a great use for your mortar and pestle if you have one), crush the herbs into a pulp. As you mash, the herbs will release their natural juices, but you may need to add a teaspoon of water to help the mixture come together into a paste-like consistency.
- Spread the crushed herbs onto the injury. How much to apply is up to you, but just make sure that the area is evenly and completely covered.
4. Finally, wrap the area of skin with a layer of gauze or cheesecloth to hold the paste in place. Since cheesecloth is rather porous, I use several layers to keep the herb mixture contained. You might even wish to finish up with a layer of plastic wrap to keep the liquid from rubbing off on clothes or bedding.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Gina Jansheski, a licensed, board-certified pediatrician who has been practicing for more than 20 years. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical review board here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.102