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.
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.
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.