Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor
Herbal poultices are simple, traditional remedies used topically on the skin to relieve pain, infection, and swelling. They are water-based, which makes them especially choice when oil-based remedies (that hold in moisture and heat) are contraindicated. Herbal oils and salves shouldn’t be applied to weepy skin conditions or bacterial and fungal skin infections because they can hold in moisture and reduce airflow. Additionally, I find that herbal poultices are often more effective topical remedies than oil-based herbal preparations, simply because poultices are more concentrated, as they contain plenty of fresh herbal material.
In general, herbal poultices are beneficial for poison ivy rashes, weepy eczema, hives, insect bites, psoriasis, pimples, boils, fresh sunburns, and fungal and bacterial skin infections. The specific herbs used affect the exact medicinal properties of each poultice.
Poultices are prepared by blending therapeutic plants (fresh or dried) into a green slurry or paste, after which they are applied directly to an afflicted area. The slurry is then covered with a clean, dry cloth or bandaging material, depending on the size of the area being treated. Adding a binder such as clay makes the poultice easier to apply and helps it stay put. Clay has its own skin-healing benefits as well and is especially helpful for drying weepy skin conditions such as poison ivy.
As you might surmise, poultices can be a messy business. A tamer version involves wrapping the moistened herbal material into a loose-weave, permeable cloth and placing it on the area to be treated. The most primitive version of a poultice is the aptly named chew and spit poultice, which is applied, as you might imagine, solely on one’s own body.
Below, you’ll find one of my favorite poultice recipes. Take note that this recipe uses fresh herbs. If you’re working with dried herbs, bring a small amount of water to a boil, turn off the heat, and add a sufficient amount of the dried herbs until the herbs rehydrate and forms into a thick paste. Stir and let cool for comfort of application.
Soothing Herbal Poultice Recipe
This cooling and moistening poultice is helpful for dry, irritated skin conditions such as psoriasis, rashes, chicken pox, and chafed skin. It can also be used to soothe insect bites, mild abrasions, cuts, and scrapes. The combination of herbs provides a soothing blend of healing properties that are demulcent, anti-inflammatory, and vulnerary (wound-healing).
- 1 handful fresh calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis)
- 1 heaping handful fresh violet leaves (Viola sororia and V. odorata)
- 1 heaping handful fresh plantain leaves (Plantago spp.)
- 4 to 6 ounces very hot water (not boiling hot)
- 2 Tablespoons powdered clay
- 10 drops lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia), optional
Yield: About 2 cups
Using a food processor or a blender, combine four ounces of hot water with all other ingredients until the poultice is smooth, with the consistency of pesto. You may need to add more herbs, clay, or water to achieve the desired consistency. Refrigerate for up to three days, and apply as needed. If using dried herbs, substitute ¼ cup (60 ml) of the dried herb for one handful of fresh herb.
Meet the Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea:
JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.
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