Chances are if you talk to your mother or grandmother, she will be able to tell you a thing or two about making and using a poultice. Sadly, in this age of modern medicine, poultices have fallen out of use and very few doctors will send you home with a prescription for this powerful form of natural treatment. In ancient times however, poultices were very common. Almost every traditional medicine system has some version of poultices in their repertoire; whether it be Ayurvedic hot oil bags, the warm leaf mash of an Australian Aboriginal Nganghayi or the use of cakes of pressed figs in the Bible (2 Kings 20:7).
A poultice is a paste made of herbs, clays, activated charcoal, salts or other beneficial substances that is wrapped in a piece of cloth and placed on the skin to draw infection, treat boils and abscesses, relieve inflammation or a rash, or simply draw the poison from a bee sting. It can be used to treat any aching, inflamed or painful part of the body. Medicinally, the action of poultices is used to draw toxins and other materials out of the body through the skin which is our largest eliminative organ. A compress on the other hand is applied to an area to break up congestion and allow the body to expel the toxins through the bowel and kidneys. In practice, the term poultice is used to refer to both.
The next time you have a bump, scrape or bruise, save yourself the time and cost of a doctor’s visit and consider preparing a soothing poultice. The process of applying a poultice to the body is quite simple:
- Make a cloth bag of old cotton sheeting. If time permits, you might want to sew up three of the sides of your sheet to hold the actual poultice and wash and re-use after each use;
- Prepare the herb or vegetable mixture. This needs to be a moist mass. Depending on the material, some methods include mashing, blending or grating. Some vegetables may require steaming first to make this possible;
- Pour or spoon the mixture into the bag and pat to an even thickness;
- Lay the poultice over the area of skin to be treated and cover with plastic wrap to prevent leaks and stains. Where potentially irritating herbs or vegetables are used, such as cayenne pepper, it is recommended that you apply a smear of olive oil or vegetable first.
In normal situations you would leave the poultice on overnight and remove the next morning. However, in acute situations, particularly infections, the poultice may need to be changed every two to three hours as it absorbs toxins and foreign material.
There are a number of materials that make great poultices due to their highly absorptive nature and general availability. When you are in pain, there is no time to look around for hard to obtain plants or herbs. Some of the more frequently used poultice materials include:
Onion – raw or lightly steamed onion either mashed or grated is fantastic for any pus producing wounds, ear aches or chest complaints. While not technically a poultice, half an onion on the bedside table or headboard is fantastic for congestion or night time coughing.
Cabbage – a powerful poultice for bruising and swollen tissues. Cabbage is frequently used by new mothers in the early days of breastfeeding.
Potato – used raw is good for any swelling, inflammation or acidic conditions. Potato is regularly used for strains, bruises, infections, boils, abscesses, rheumatic and arthritic inflammation, minor burns, including sunburn.
While not as readily available as other poultice materials, charcoal is something that should be a part of every home’s first aid kit because of its powerful absorptive capabilities. To use in a poultice, mix charcoal with just enough water to make a thick paste and add some olive oil to prevent it from drying out. Charcoal is useful in any situation where a drawing action is required.
Poulticing is an effective, powerful treatment that has been used for centuries with no adverse effects. When next faced with an infection, ear ache or fever, rather than reaching for pharmaceutical medication try a natural poultice and benefit from its amazing results.
Cold potato poultice
- Grate the raw potato, with or without the skins;
- Spread it on the affected area;
- Place a gauze cloth or bandage over it to keep it in place.
Or, you may find it easier to spread the grated potato on a gauze pad first and then tape the pad to the affected area. Leave the poultice on for as long as possible, preferably for 24 hours. You can replace it after 12 hours if you want. When you remove it, you’ll see that it has turned black (this is how you know it’s working!).
This poultice is useful for:
- Inflamed insect bites
- Any other skin condition that needs draining
The cold poultice can also be used to treat eye conditions (such as conjunctivitis symptoms, like redness and tearing, watery or thick discharge, a “night crust” or swollen eyelids), but in this case, leave the poultice on for 30 to 60 minutes in the morning and again in the evening for 2-3 days. After each session, wash the eyes with a weak solution such as 20% boric acid.