Thursday, March 8, 2012


Plants have been used as medicines from time immemorial so it should be no surprise that some of the most time tested topical remedies are also the most accessible for a home medicine chest. A poultice delivers those plants directly by applying them as a wet compress on top of bruises, cuts, abrasions, absesses, crampy muscles, or sore joints.

Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) is right there at the untrimmed edges of your garden, flowering from late winter to early fall. Once known as wound wort, the lovely spikes bruise into a healing poultice for stings, strains, burns, or cuts.

Another old external vulnerary (wound healer) is plantain or waybread (Plantago major). The leaves of white-man's-foot, so-called because it appears wherever Europeans settle, can also be infused or tinctured for it's emollient (moistening), astringent, and diuretic effects. 

Common plantain in the spring lawn

Cleavers (Galium aparine) crawling across the edges of fields also makes you pee but is better known for it's alterative effects on blood and lymph. Fine hairs on the thin shoots and leaf whorls cling to passersby, distinguishing cleavers or goosegrass from it's cousin lady's bedstraw. Young shoots can be juiced as a spring circulatory tonic but it is the mature flowering plant that is poulticed or infused as a wash for skin lesions.

Cleavers sprouting along the foundation in early spring


HERBALIST'S NOTE: The recipe below is for a fresh plant poultice. To make a dried plant poultice, layer the ground plant material between two double layers of cheesecloth, place the cheesecloth in a large strainer over a pot of boiling water to moisten the herbs, and place on the skin for 20-30 minutes covered by a warmed towel.

 1) Gather a large handful of the fresh flowering tops and spread them between two double layers of cheescloth folded over to be a little larger than the size of the skin to which the poultice will be applied;

2) Place the cheesecloth on a countertop or cutting board and use a rolling pin or wine bottle to crush the flowers into a moist mash. If the plant material isn't wet enough, add a few drops of hot water;

3) Fold in the sides of the cheesecloth and place the poultice over the injury, covering it with a moist warm towel until cool (20-30 minutes);
4) Reuse this poultice every 2-4 hours as needed for one day before discarding.

DOCTOR'S NOTE: Clean all cuts, abrasions, or bites with warm water and soap before adding a poultice to promote healing. Cuts for which the skin doesn't stay together need to be held closed with a butterfly bandaid or stitches before poulticing.

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