The “Poultice” has been around for a very long time, exactly how long, I’m not sure, but it does have documentation that goes a fair way back, at least in ancient history, anyway.
One of the earliest written mentions I can find at this stage, is that there are two mentions of what could be called a poultice, (but it is not a poultice), is in the Bible. These two mentions are in 2 Kings 20:7 and Isaiah 38:21, both of these are speaking about the same event where a King called Hezekiah, had such a serious ‘boil’, that it threatened his very life. In the Bible it says: “For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.” KJV.
Just a quick note, ‘plaister’ is the older version of the word – ‘plaster’, so I will use the modern usage here.
Difference between a Plaster and a Poultice
A plaster is usually made from freshly ground herbs, that are stimulating, such as, cinnamon, cayenne and mustard, mixed with a binding agent, such as, flour and water, using the herbs own volatile oils or adding essential oils, then spread onto a cloth and placed directly over the affected region. Yes, I know, that does sound like a poultice, but no.
A poultice is a lot more bulkier, which is made up of a herbal mash and/or powder, bound up in a ‘protective cloth’ or combined with a thick base material that is mucilaginous, that is ‘protective’, such as, marshmallow, slippery elm or mullein, and/or a ‘filling’ oil, (similar to a carrier oil in effect) and then it is placed onto the body. A principle difference here, is that a poultice uses stronger and more irritable herbs and may burn and uses a system to protect against the burning or irritation.
Therefore, a poultice is thicker, uses more stronger, healing and/or vulnerary herbs, and herbs that are mostly of a ‘cooling nature’, and a plaster uses more stimulating herbs with the effect of volatile oils, that are of a ‘warming nature’ and soothe irritation.
I do believe that the use of poultices has been around for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine for boils, infections of the skin and other infections, such as, abscesses plus burns. And also, they can be used for both external and internal conditions. (No, you don’t eat the poultice.)
Nicholas Culpeper also mentions poultices in his book “Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and English Physician”, which if you look closely, he is stating what is a poultice more accurately, ” Poultices are those kind of things which, the Latins call Cataplasmata, and our learned fellows, that if they can read English, that’s all, call them Cataplasms … They are made of herbs and roots, fitted for the disease and members afflicted, being chopped small, and boiled in water almost to a jelly; then, adding a little barley meal or meal of lupins, and a little oil, or rough sweet suet, which I hold to be better, spread upon a cloth, and applied to the grieved place.”
It is also interesting to note that he also goes on to state, “use no poultices, (if you can help it) that are of an healing nature, before you have cleansed the body,”.
Why you should use a poultice?
The poultice is specifically used to help draw or pull out, and this applies to infections, wounds and cysts, or to stimulate, to increase circulation to help encourage elimination, such as an old injury that hasn’t gone down. Or to cool and soothe, such as, a recent injury that is inflamed, either way, it should be promoting healing.
Poultices are great for all sorts of conditions, which are not very serious, and you can treat yourself at home. They can be used for muscle pain, oedema, bruise and sprains, osteoarthritis, rheumatism, boils and abscesses, wounds, fevers, mucus congestion of the chest, coughs, pneumonia, bronchitis and inflammation.
If you are using them for a serious condition, always use a health care professional.
If you are strongly idealistic as I am towards things natural, using where possible, organic or at least ‘more’ natural products, you honestly don’t know what is in some of those blends sold in chemists or supplied in hospitals.
Although modern medicine has many amazing things, which can be used in times of injury, and frankly, I’m glad that they are there at times, I personally prefer to use natural methods, that have been tried and found true.
And Honestly, there is something marvellous about tending to yourself and being self-sufficient. And I’ll ask you a simple question, what if disaster strikes and the world’s economy collapses or there’s another world war and medications are restricted? And then you or a loved one has an injury, what do you do?
But I will say this, that if you do have suspect that you do have a serious injury, please don’t hesitate to go to the hospital and have things checked out, as sometimes the damage is more serious than you think.
How to make a Poultice?
One the important things to remember as Mr culpeper said, fitted for the disease and members afflicted, meaning that with each and every condition, the major ‘hack’ is to choose the right herb or herbs for the job. Plus, different fillers and oils etc., can also make quite a difference towards healing and its speed.
Another thing to think about when choosing to use a poultice, or a plaster for that matter, do you need to make a hot or cold poultice, and what do I mean about that? You see, sometimes a situation will require a hot poultice, for example, does the condition benefit for increasing circulation, or would it be better to reduce inflammation, but alas, sometimes it appears to need both at the same time, but one will be better than the other.
You will need to make enough to cover more than double the size of the area of concern. So you will need to adjust your formula to suit. Further below, I have supplied a few recipes for basic poultices and one plaster.
Choice of herbs for a Poultice
So what herbs would you choose for “that” condition? I have listed just some of the many herbs, fillers and oils that can be use in both plasters or poultices. Yes, you can use them individually or in combination.
- Comfrey: fractures and ulcers
- Linseed/flaxseed: infections of the chest, bronchitis and chronic cough, also, splinters, oedema, infection, pain and poisons
- Bran: synovitis, sciatica and neuritis
- Hops: boils, muscle pains, rheumatic panis, sciatica and neuralgia
- Chamomile: muscle pains and neuralgia
- Potato: sprains and bruises (used fresh and cold)
- Slippery elm: ulcers
- Onion: infection, inflammation, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and congestion
- Mustard: aches, sprains spasms – cold areas that need circulation, colds and flu
- Black walnut: inflammation
- Catnip: hives, sore breasts from breastfeeding and oedema
- Chickweed: burns, boils, skin rashes and diaper rash
- Chicory root: inflammation
- Lobelia: inflammation, rheumatism and boils
- Marshmallow: draws poisons
- Ribwort or Plantain: draws poisons, infection and other foreign material
- Poke root: boils, abscesses, caked breasts, and difficult urination (place over bladder region)
- Wintergreen: inflammation, wounds, rashes, oedema, and toothache
- Witch hazel: sores and wounds, sore eyes, bed sores, and exudative skin diseases
Fillers are not just for filling sake, but assist in the drawing process, and keeping in the heat.
- Barley meal
- Whole wheat flour
- Hayflower: this keeps it heat five times longer than a hot water bottle
- Apple cider vinegar
- Mineral water
- Vegetable oils
- Castor oil
- Olive oil
Generally poultices can be made with equal quantities of each herb, when unsure.
- Boils and abscesses: Slippery elm and Marshmallow (to draw pus)
- Lobelia and Slippery elm: oedema, wounds and ulceration
- Chickweed and Slippery elm: inflammation
- Blood poisoning and gangrene: Marshmallow and cayenne
Variations and additions
- If you suspect an infection you can add a few drops of myrrh tincture.
- To assist with pain, you can add arnica, but not on open wounds (I would rub arnica on after you have removed the poultice.)
- Cinnamon, ginger and cayenne, can be added for extra stimulation, but give extra protection to the skin
- Acacia can help with soothing and relaxing
Advice before starting
Adding cling or glad wrap helps to hold in the moisture as once the poultice is dry, you need to replace it. More serious infections, wounds or ulcers, you need to have the poultice replace regularly, say 15 to 20 minutes, for “very serious”, even less, and keep changing through the night, but if it is not concerning, then you can leave it on for one to four hours, remember once its dry, its useless. Otherwise, put it on just before bedtime, and leave it on over night.
- Place 40 grams of linseed seeds in a blender or spice grinder and grind to powder
- Place the powder into a bowl
- Add 120ml of cold water and mix until it forms a paste (Usually a 1:3 mix.)
- Spread the paste over the area to twice its size
- Wrap cling wrap over the whole region
- Wrap a bandage or similar to hold everything in place
- Slice and dice 3 whole onions
- Sauté until slightly soft
- Place in a loosely woven cloth
- Place over the region affected
- Wrap in cling wrap
- Wrap over with a towel
- Place a heating pad or hot water bottle over the towel
- Place 100 grams of comfrey root powder into a bowl
- Carefully add hot water until the powder becomes a firm paste
- Apply very thickly up to 2.5cm / 1″ to the area and further
- Cover with cling wrap
- And wrap a cloth or towel to hold in place
- Place 4 tablespoons of whole wheat flour into a suitable bowl
- Add in 1 tablespoon of mustard powder
- Slowly add water until it becomes a thick paste
- Apply paste to area concerned
- Wrap with cling wrap
- Tie a cloth over the area to hold things in place
- If the paste is somewhat irritating: add egg white instead of water
- After removing the poultice, powder with some flour and wrap in dry cotton
Do not use comfrey on deep wounds or cuts as this speeds up the healing faster than the cleaning deeper in, possibly causing it to seal in infection.
Do not apply pure mustard powder or mustard oil directly to the skin.
If you are really desperate to make a poultice, for example, you are in the middle of ‘nowhere’ and cannot get medical help, almost any broad green leaf or herb will do, unless you’re allergic to it, the leaf is spiny, hairy, poisonous or very acrid.
If you suspect that you may have a serious injury or condition, please see your health care professional and seek medical advice. For example: one time I thought that my daughter had a bad bump falling off some playground equipment, so I rubbed some comfrey etc., on it, but she was still quite upset and wouldn’t settle down. So I thought, this seems more serious than a bad bump, so off to the hospital, and it even took them quite some time and several x-ray attempts to find the small green stick fracture.
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
“Usually the biggest thing to come from lots of comfort is a big belly”Herbal Panda