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, even congestion, applying herbs directly to skin is an often overlooked first line of defense. Herbal poultices harness the power of fresh herbs to help relieve everything from burns to arthritis, and all sorts of illnesses in between. Not only are they simple to make, but using fresh herbs is oftentimes more effective than relying on dried herbs alone.
Here’s 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, so they can sink in slowly and deliver their healing properties directly to the injury site. But the difference 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 overtime, so always do a spot test before applying herbs for long periods.
- Calendula – Calendula flowers are said to have antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties that might make it useful in healing wounds.
- Burdock – Often used to treat inflammatory skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
- Dandelion – Dandelion speeds up healing and promotes healthy skin.
- Rosemary – Fresh rosemary has long been used to speed up the healing of wounds and bruises when used externally.
- Turmeric – Soothes skin, boosts your immune system and works as an anti-inflammatory.
- Thyme – Often used as a home remedy for acne and rashes. It also heals sores, wounds, cuts and scars, and relieves burns.
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)
- Clean muslin or cheesecloth
- Knife and cutting board
- Bowl for mixing
- Spoon (or mortar and pestle)
- Water (optional)
1. 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).
2. Chop the herbs into small pieces and place them in a bowl. Using the back of a spoon (or a 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.
3. 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 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 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.46