Poultices are similar to compresses, except the whole herb is applied rather than a liquid extract, providing effective first aid treatment.
Poultices are simple herbal preparations that can be made at home. Moist, hot herbs are pasted onto the skin to give soothing, healing relief from small wounds or painful muscles.
Fresh, powdered or dried herbs are used to prepare a hot herbal pulp, covered in muslin and applied to the area with a bandage. They can be used to treat infected cuts, bruises and sprains.
Poultices containing astringent herbs, such as shepherd's purse, applied directly to the skin can be used to ease out splinters and thorns, or to draw out pus and impurities from boils, abscesses and bites. Barley, honey or onion are also especially good for these purposes.
Astringent herb or vinegar poultices reduce bleeding and bruising, and help to tone and tighten damaged tissue.
Poultices of soothing marshmallow help reduce swelling associated with minor injuries and, in an emergency, a poultice of crushed strawberries soothes sunburns.
Ideal ingredients for herbal poultices
Black tea- restore tired eyes with tea bags, soothe and relieve itchy insect bites, black tea is highly astringent due to its potent content of natural tannins
Cabbage- folk remedy for burns, boils, blisters and bruises; cooling, cleansing and detoxifying; applied to the chest or neck, it treats coughs or sore throats.
Neem- natural insecticidal properties, use dried, crushed leaves to create your poultice; use neem to create an effective treatment for clearing ringworm; a soothing and healing treatment for eczema sufferers can be created using neem.
Borage- decorative herb with rough leaves and pretty blue flowers. Use leaves to soothe weeping eczema conditions. Wrap a poultice of borage around inflamed joints to relieve arthritic and rheumatic pain. It also reduces swelling of minor injuries.
Marshmallow- the root is rich in mucilage, polysaccharides and tannins, good for treating skin inflammations. Draws splinters and reduces subsequent inflammations.
Juhua(chrysanthemum)- an ancient Chinese treatment for eye infections. Use a poultice made from Juhua flowers to create soothing eye pads to relieve sore eyes. Juhua also possesses anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and cooling actions.
Simple steps to make a poultice:
1. Chop fresh herbs or use a food processor to mash them into a pulp. If using dried or powdered herbs, add a little water to make a stiff pulp from the mix. Use sufficient herbs to cover the affected area.
2. Place the herbs in a little water or cider vinegar in a heat-proof bowl, hold over a pan of vigorously boiling water, for 5 minutes or until the herbal mixture is very hot.
(Herbal poultices are prepared to very high temperatures, therefore, to prevent scalds and burns to the skin, make sure you take great care when following Steps 3 and 4.)
3. Wearing protective rubber gloves, squeeze out any excess water and spread the hot mixture between two pieces of fine gauze or muslin cloth.
4. Apply the poultice to the affected area while it's still hot. To keep the poultice from sticking to the skin, rub a little olive oil onto the skin before application. Keep it in place with a cotton bandage.
5. Place towels or a hot water bottle on top of the bandage so that the poultice retains heat. Apply a fresh, hot compress every 1-2 hours.
(Preparation usually takes about 5-10 minutes)
Sage and vinegar poultice
Make this simple poultice for rapid relief from strains, sprains or bruising. Both sage and vinegar are natural astringents, which will reduce inflammation. Sage also speeds tissue repair.
1. Place fresh sage leaves between two sheets of greaseproof paper or two kitchen towels. Bruise with a rolling pin, taking care not to tear the leaves.
2. Place the leaves in a pan and cover with vinegar. Simmer (do not boil) for approximately 3-5 minutes over low heat.
3. Working quickly to ensure that the leaves remain hot, remove the mixture from the pan and spread between two sheets of gauze.
4. Apply the poultice to the injured area, replacing every 1-2 hours until the swelling subsides.
Herbalists in the past believed in the healing properties of sage and vinegar, especially used in combination.
The renowned 17th-century apothecary Nicholas Culpeper advised adding the juice of sage to vinegar and drinking it as a tonic to ward off all signs of "plague."
Boiled sage was also used to warm cold joints and sinews, and to relieve muscle cramps